Dawgs on Top in a Peach of a Comeback
I am thankful, today, that Azeez Ojulari was raised right. I am glad that he was taught to finish what he started. I am glad he was taught loyalty and to respect his duty to his teammates. I am glad that he his love of the game supersedes his consideration of self. I am glad, in short, that Azeez Ojulari, who declared for the NFL draft shortly after being named Most Valuable Player of the 2021 Peach Bowl, was a damn good dog ‘til the end—and wasn’t hundreds of miles away tweeting at “my boys” like others whose names I will not mention. I will say, if they were really “your boys” you would have been in Atlanta doing battle with them, not sitting on a couch somewhere watching on television.
That’s all I have to say about that. Like Norman Dale told the Hickory High School pep rally in Hoosiers, I want to talk about who we are, not who we are not.
And who we are—or who we were Friday afternoon—was a bunch of Junkyard Dogs who were feeling their way and trying to adjust to one another on the fly. There were gaps to be filled and players thrust into competition a little bit ahead of what their born-on date should have read. But they were never without fight, and that’s what kept them in the game until they jelled enough to take over the game. A lesser team with lesser hearts and a lesser culture would have packed it in long before getting the ball back for one last-ditch effort with a minute-and-a-half to play.
Honesty compels me to admit that I got more than a little tired of all the talk before (and during) the game about how Cincinnati was carrying the mantle for all the Group of 5 conferences that rarely schedule big boy opponents, but prefer the big fish/small pond that life in the AAC and the MAC and the Sunbelt provides. Having said that, my hat is off to the Bearcat players and coaching staff. They were well prepared and came to play and play hard. And I would never stoop to the level of a Dan Mullen and say that Georgia played her last game twenty days earlier against Missouri.
Like I said earlier, I’d rather talk about who we are than who we are not. In modern college football the coaching staffs never get to stop recruiting. They have to recruit high school kids and stay two or three classes ahead. They have to recruit the transfer portal. For the last couple of years, they have had to recruit the kids on their own teams to keep them out of the transfer portals and now they even have to recruit their own kids to actually hang around and finish the season. It’s ridiculous and disheartening and threatens to ruin college football for dinosaurs like me.
Except that when the players deploy between the white lines and they turn on the lights and kick the ball off, for sixty minutes most players really are competing for the love of the game. Credit Kirby Smart for creating a culture in which those Dawgs that showed up showed up to get after Cincinnati’s asses, even when things weren’t going as planned.
Enough pontificating. Let’s get around to what I loved about Friday’s game, and what I didn’t.
I wasn’t in love with the play calling most of the afternoon. Our intermediate passing game seemed to have been abandoned for much of the day. It seemed we just dropped back and launched the ball deep a few times too many. And I was surprised that we weren’t able to run the ball with more consistency but give credit to the team in red for that. And I know Jake Camarda made All America and got off a couple of boomers in the second half, but dang it seems like he is good for one shank per big game. Friday’s four-yard slice set the Bearcats up nicely for one of their touchdowns. The 79-yard run on the second play of the second half—well, I can’t explain that one.
And honestly, were you as shocked as I was to learn after the game that J.T. Daniels had passed for 392 yards? We have to be able to run it better, but the fact that we passed for 392 yards on what appeared to be a less than stellar day bodes well for 2021, because we are now in the Age of Offense in college football, for a couple of reasons. One is that they are rapidly outlawing defense. Case in point. With 11:38 left to play in the half, Cincinnati QB Desmond Riddle ran the ball up the middle and intentionally slid down after a 3-yard gain—because he realized that Georgia defensive back, Lewis Cine, was about to level him. Cine did everything he possibly could to keep from hitting Riddle, finally diving harmlessly over his supine body. But a flag was thrown, and Riddle was rewarded for ducking the tackle and Cine was punished for playing football.
But I digress.
I pray we can somehow keep George Pickens eligible for a calendar year. I don’t know if that is possible, but I hope so because he is a rare talent. And I kind of enjoyed the little dance he did across the back of the endzone after catching a 16-yard TD pass from Daniels. I do wish would experiment with putting two hands on the ball sometimes, though.
When I said my prayers Friday night, I thanked God that Jordon Davis wanted to “ball with his brothers” one more time, because he was a force in the middle, just as he has been for three years. And if he wasn’t able to pick up an air fryer for his mama’s birthday, I hope he’ll let me know so I can send her one, although after the NFL draft on April 29, he will be able to buy her any kind of appliance her heart desires, and a house to put it in.
And y’all realize that The Mailman had to come in for one pressure-filled play when J.T.’s helmet came off, and that he delivered a 12-yard strike for a first down. Good for Stetson!
Tell the truth. How many of you were watching social media blow up when Kirby elected to punt the ball with under 3 minutes left in the game while trailing by 3? How many of y’all were the ones blowing up the internet?
There was a time in the not-so-distant pass that I would have been prime among you. But I have watched Kirby grow and mature and have come to trust his instincts. This was not the Kirby Smart who thought it would be a good idea for Rodrigo Blankenship to run with the ball against LSU on a fake field goal attempt. This was not the Kirby Smart who thought it would be a good idea to “sneak” Justin Fields into the SEC Championship game against Alabama for a fake punt. This was the Kirby Smart who realized that the Georgia defense hadn’t let the Bearcats piss a drop since the long touchdown run on the second play of the half. This was the Kirby Smart who believed in his team and in his place kicker---a walk-on from St. Simons who was asked to kick it a hundred thousand miles to win the Peach Bowl and elevate the spirits of the Bulldog Nation, while crushing those cheering for the underdog all over the football-watching world.
And Jack Podlesny nailed it. 53 yards—and it would have been good from 54 or 55.
Jack Podlesny nailed it and they were dancing in living rooms from Rabun Gap to Tybee Light and then after the Bearcats misplayed the ensuing kickoff Azeez Ojulari put an exclamation point on the game, the season and his career by tackling Desmond Ridder in the endzone for a safety as time expired.
Glory, Glory. It is great to be a Georgia Bulldog. It really is.
And now we have to wait 246 days before we can start all over. But nobody does the off-season like Georgia fans. We are undefeated from about Jan. 12 to the end of August.
See you in Charlotte on Sept. 4. I’ll be easy to spot. I’ll be the old gray-haired man in the red shirt. Happy New Year, y’all—and Go Dawgs.
Darrell Huckaby is an author, educator and syndicated newspaper columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.