I'll say this...that was the most surreal game day I can ever remember. It just feels weird to be at work knowing that it's game day, ya know? I don't know how the gnats do it all the time.
But it wasn't just the fact that I was at work on game day...it was also: 5:00 PM. On a MONDAY. Dec 28th. On ESPN2, live from Shreveport. With no Defensive Coordinator, and a defense run by two grad assistants, a d-line coach with no contract, and our head coach who has no experience coaching defense. Against a 6-6 Big 12 team. So....yeah. Just surreal in every way.
Despite all that, once the game started it was just football, for the last time this year. No matter what, I think all of us Dawg fans were happy to say good riddance to the 2009 season.
Let's break this one down old-school, shall we?
(OR: A Tale of Two Halves)
- Oof, that first half was bad. Especially for poor Vince Vance. I have no idea what was going on with him, but he looked totally helpless out there. My brother put it this way: "He looks like he's never even heard of this game called football." He was just blocking air most of the time.
David Hale said that Boling and Richt both said afterwards that the problem in the first half was scheme, that A&M were doing some things we had not seen on film and hadn't prepared for, but I don't know...if #55 wasn't Vince's responsibility on those plays when Caleb almost died in the first half, who did he think he WAS supposed to be blocking? There was nobody else out there...
Anyway, whatever problems they were having in the first half, they seemed to fix them in the second half. Which brings me to my next point...
- Great job by Bobo and the offensive staff making adjustments at halftime. Looked to me like we started running to the outside more, as A&M had obviously watched the tape of us against Tech and decided to take that away at all costs, as well as doubling A.J. everywhere he went on the field. So we started using A.J. as more of a decoy and attacked the edges with the running game, until the last drive when we had worn them down to the point where we could just ram it down their throat at will.
- Speaking of A.J., he seemed a bit rusty, which can be expected since he hadn't played in six weeks. Especially on a couple of those deep balls, his timing seemed off and he was having trouble picking up the ball. But he still had six catches, and the first Aron White touchdown was wide open because the deep safety rolled to A.J.'s side and left the middle wide open. A.J. changes the game without even having the ball thrown to him.
- Kudos to Clint Boling...he shut DOWN Von Miller, the nation's sack leader. Boling is one of the most under appreciated players in the country, in my opinion. Over the last few years he has played every position except center, and has been extremely effective everywhere we have lined him up.
- That second half game plan was just MANLY. The running game really opened up the more we were on the field, and it was especially satisfying to see Chapas and Munzenmaier get some love on that last drive.
- Overall, it was a pretty decent offensive performance. We were helped out a lot by the defense and special teams, but we did take advantage of those opportunities with touchdowns, not field goals. I would give the offense a solid B.
- The defensive line was DOMINANT. All night. Geno Atkins, Cornelius Washington, and Justin Houston were in the backfield all night, and if Jerrod Johnson wasn't such a great athlete they probably all would have had multiple sacks. Even Brandon Wood showed what he can do when healthy. A&M wasn't able to get a running game going all night, and both of the interceptions were a direct result of pressure being applied on the QB by defensive linemen...most of the time without the benefit of a blitz.
- The linebackers, on the other hand...oof. Poor tackling all night, and the poor pass coverage we have all come to know and loathe. Rennie missing the first quarter didn't help, but even he got into the missed tackle act when h did get in the game.
I will give Rennie credit, though...he made one of the biggest defensive plays of the game when he CREAMED Johnson a yard short of the first down on a third down play in the third quarter. At that time, we were up 24-14, but A&M was driving...Rennie's stop led to them going for it on 4th down, which turned out to be the Sanders Commings interception.
- The secondary was just OK...Reshad Jones continued his tremendous play with another great night. He has really bounced back to have a great year after being so disappointing in 2008. If that was the last time he dons the Red and Black, then kudos to him for going out on a high note.
Speaking of which, Prince Miller also had a nice night...some nice hits on run support and short passes into the flat, and he played nice coverage all night. The one long pass they hit on him was not his fault...he had great coverage and it took a perfect pass and tremendous catch to make the play.
- On the flip side to that...Bryan Evans. I try not to call guys out too much as individuals, but that was just a terrible performance. Missed tackles, blown coverages, etc...I still have no clue why Bacarri Rambo has not seen the field more in the last half of this season, and I'm just glad that I no longer have to try and figure it out.
- The game could have been even more of a blowout if we could have held on to a couple of those sure interceptions. Reshad and Branden Smith both dropped what were probably pick-sixes.
- Lots of talk, obviously, about who the new DC will be. Almost as important is who he will pick to fill out his staff. The secondary, especially, does not appear to be a particularly "coached up" group. It will be interesting to see how they respond to a new voice.
- Overall, the defense held a very high powered offense to only 14 points (I'm not counting the last touchdown...when you have linebackers on the field wearing numbers 64 and 65, it's safe to say you're emptying your bench). For a defense being coached by the D-line coach and two grad assistants, it was a very impressive performance.
Congrats to Coach Garner, Coach Mitch Doolittle, and Coach Todd Hartley. You guys definitely earned a little extra in your Christmas bonus.
- Do I even need to say it? EVERY single aspect of special teams was dominant. Punt coverage, kick coverage, punt block/return, FG block, kick return...special teams really won that game for us.
- Congrats to Brandon Boykin for setting the SEC record with his third kickoff return for a TD this year. He is a gamechanger, and it's definitely exciting to look forward to what he is going to do to this league over the next couple of seasons.
- Boy, Ron Franklin was off, wasn't he? Washaun EARLY, Shaun Chapas playing tight end...he just sounded...old, I guess.
- Best part of the telecast? The Slam Energy Drink commercials. Has there ever been a sadder group of "celebrity" endorsers? Some kicker I never heard of, a female soccer player, Michael W. Smith...man, I'm kind of offended that I didn't get a call. After all, I write a blog that is read by literally TENS of people.
- Great stuff from Rodney Garner in Hale's blog today. He has handled himself with complete class during this whole scenario, and I truly hope he sticks around.
- A big thank you to all of the seniors who played their last game Monday night. They have bled, sweat, and basically worked their butts off for the last 4-5 years and given us hundreds of hours of entertainment. DGD's, every one of them, and I wish them all well in their future endeavors.
Goodbye and good riddance to the 2009 season...can't wait for 2010! When does spring practice start?