Dawgs have to learn to deal with early success, rapid rise

The big win over Clemson is definitely something players and fans should celebrate. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

The big win over Clemson is definitely something players and fans should celebrate. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

I’ve noticed a mild debate among fans online about just how much celebration there should be over the defeat of Clemson and Georgia’s rapid rise in the polls.

Many are taking the tack of Mark Richt, noting that it’s just one game and a long season remains, including some pretty tough challenges. As one fan put it in commenting on the Blawg, “Time to slow it down a tad. I suggest that everyone and team watch 1st half of 2012 Carolina game, before our heads burst.”

Others are just enjoying the ride as the talking heads of ESPN proclaim the Dogs an early favorite to be one of the four teams in the inaugural College Football Playoff. Commented one fan celebrating a strong win and a rise in the polls: “Fans can dream, though, of what might be, especially when they see a possibility in their reach, can’t they?”

Of course, they can, and Georgia’s second-half domination of what had been touted as one of the nation’s stronger defenses is certainly worth celebrating, as is the awesome running attack the Dogs unveiled.

But longtime readers will know my inclination is to remain more cautiously optimistic, so my head was spinning a bit Labor Day afternoon as my brother Tim and I watched a raft of college football discussion shows on the Worldwide Leader in Sports hyping the Dogs and Todd Gurley’s Heisman chances.

After all, while Georgia’s offense moved the ball almost at will on the ground in the second half, it sputtered a bit with a few wasted series in the first half, and the Dogs really showed no vertical passing game. As I noted in my postgame blog, that fortunately wasn’t needed against the Tigers, but you can bet that upcoming opponents (especially South Carolina) will look at Saturday’s game video and perhaps decide to sell out against the run and dare Hutson Mason to beat them with his arm.

It's up to Mark Richt and the other coaches to keep the team grounded amid all the hype. (University of Georgia)

It’s up to Mark Richt and the other coaches to keep the team grounded amid all the hype. (University of Georgia)

And it took a half for Jeremy Pruitt’s defense to get on track as well. Yes, that second half against Clemson was probably the best half of defense against a major opponent that Dawgs fans have seen in some time, but the spotty first half, with a few secondary breakdowns and poor tackling showed they’re still learning and, as Pruitt noted, need to get better in a hurry considering what lies ahead.

Still, the defense thankfully got stronger as the game went on, which is the way you want it to be in a season-opener. And the offense managed to overwhelm a pretty good team despite being far from full-strength.

So, yes, I do believe the Dogs belong in the Top 10, though the coaches poll position of No. 8 was closer to what I expected than the leap to No. 6 in the AP listing.

Along those lines, the computer rankings, which are no longer a part of the process in determining a national champion, weren’t quite as impressed with the Dawgs as their human equivalents, with USA Today’s College Football Computer Composite (based on five computer rankings) putting Georgia at No. 11 (one of the computers had the Dogs as low as 17th!).

I know, I know, the computer rankings have always been all over the place. But the point is that it’s way too early to be declaring anyone a shoe-in for the College Football Playoff. And, remember, as quickly as Herbie and the rest of the ESPN crowd scrambled aboard the Georgia bandwagon, that’s also how quickly some of them will jump off at the first bump in the road.

The main thing is the Dogs themselves must keep on an even keel. As Mike Bobo said, “Every week you’ve got to ignore the noise and continue to work. We’d be naive to think they’re not going to listen to it and watch it. But that’s our job as coaches to get them focused week in and week out and get them ready to play on Saturdays.”

After all the hurrahs of this week, Bobo and company have quite a task ahead of them doing that.

Feel free to share your thoughts on where Georgia belongs in the polls and whatever concerns you still have as the South Carolina game looms.

Go Dogs!

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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg


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