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COLUMN | ENTERPRISE | FEATURE | GAME | LOOSE DEADLINE
FIRST PLACE: GAME (IMMEDIATE DEADLINE)
ATHENS, Ga. – Hedges to hedges, dust to dust.
We gather here tonight to pay our respects to the national championship hopes of the Georgia Bulldogs. Please gather 'round the gravesite. The Bulldogs' national title dreams will be interred at the 50-yard line, near the spot where, in tonight's first quarter, 365-pound Alabama nose tackle Terrence Cody flattened Georgia tailback Knowshon Moreno after a screen pass. The Right Rev. Larry Munson couldn't be here tonight to deliver the eulogy, but we can guess at what he might have said.
Good God. They're just killing us. Killing us. Terrence Cody is occupying our entire offensive line. Andre Smith is mauling our defensive linemen. Glen Coffee is running through us like a 59-cent burrito. We're discombobulated on offense. We're confused on defense. And Julio Jones? My God. A freshman?
Who knew Alabama strength coach Scott Cochran would be so right? As Crimson Tide players stretched before Tuesday's practice, Cochran yelled, screamed and then, just for a few seconds, lowered his volume. "They're wearing black because they're going to a [compound adjective that would get a bar of Dial stuffed in your mouth] funeral," he said, not quite under his breath. A camera caught the entire soliloquy, and, naturally, it was given unto the masses through the magic of YouTube.
Which brings us to this reading from Alabama 41-30.
Yea, though the Crimson Tide walk through the valley of the shadow of Herschel Walker, they shall fear no Dawg. For Nick Saban art with them. His scheme and his staff, they comfort them. He preparest a game plan for them in the face of their enemies. He cheweth their fannies at practice. Their signing class runneth over – with five-star recruits.
With death comes rebirth. Alabama fans, wearing angelic white Saturday, now can dream anew of the national title they consider their birthright. The No. 1 spot in the polls is up for grabs thanks to USC's loss at Oregon State on Thursday. The eighth-ranked Tide booted Georgia from No. 3. Florida will vacate No. 4 after losing at home to Ole Miss on Saturday. Some voters doubtless will consider Alabama's 31-0 halftime lead, its 129- 50 rushing advantage Saturday, two wins against top-10 teams and the fact that the Tide have not trailed for a solitary second all season and vote 'Bama No. 1. That will not please Saban, who does not want to get his team to get ahead of itself. Too fresh are the memories of last year's 6-2 start that preceded a four-game losing streak. That streak, the Alabama faithful remember all too well, included a home loss to Louisiana-Monroe.
"So if you want to drink the Kool-Aid ..." Saban said.
Even after his team demolished one of the nation's best in its own house, Saban seemed downright funereal. He couldn't find fault with the first half – who could? – but he made clear that the Tide lost the second half, 30-10. "Aw yeah," offensive tackle Andre Smith said. "He ripped us pretty good."
Saban swore he wrung a few drops of joy from the most important Alabama win in almost a decade. "I know I don't look happy," Saban said. "But I am happy." Rumor has it he even cracked a smile. "Maybe," quarterback John Parker Wilson said.
Wilson smiled enough for both of them. With Smith, left guard Mike Johnson, center Antoine Caldwell, right guard Marlon Davis and right tackle Drew Davis protecting him, he had to feel like a visiting head of state. On one second-quarter play, Wilson had enough time to read his progressions, balance his checkbook and knit a sweater before throwing a strike to one of three open receivers. "That guy just had too much time to watch everything develop," Georgia coach Mark Richt said.
Meanwhile, when 'Bama chose to travel by land, that line bulldozed the Bulldogs. That success on the ground made it impossible for Georgia to leave a safety to help with 6-foot-4 freshman Jones, who broke free against man coverage late in the second quarter for the 22-yard touchdown catch that put 'Bama up by 31 going into the half.
'Bama's defensive line was equally rude to its host. When Cody lined up across from true freshman center Ben Jones, Georgia avoided running inside the hashmarks. That allowed Alabama's ends and linebackers to squelch star runner Moreno, who is at his best when he can blast through a hole between the tackles before bouncing outside. Moreno, who finished the game on the bench with an elbow injury, gained 34 yards on nine carries. By the time 'Bama took a 17-0 lead midway through the second, Georgia had to abandon the run entirely.
The quickest way to lose a football game is to get dominated at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. "We got ourselves into a mess," Richt said. "I don't know how else to explain it other than Alabama took it to us." Said Bama tackle Smith: "They had probably never been hit in the mouth like that."
The Bulldogs and their fellow Cocktail Partiers, Florida, could spend Nov. 1 looking like two lonely drunks at the end of a desolate bar while the rest of the national title contender party moves to the hip new club across the street. You know the one. It used to be the place to go, then it just sort of fell off the map. Now it's under new ownership, and there's a line out the door every Saturday night. Call it Club Tide.
That crowd is fickle, though, and Saban knows it. That's why he appreciated the dichotomy of his team's performance; he can use all of Georgia's garbage-time scoring to convince his players that if they relax for even a second, Kentucky will morph into the second coming of the 1984 49ers next week. Saban knows we'll all look ahead to 'Bama-LSU on Nov. 8, but his players can't, lest they suffer the same fate as the Trojans, Gators and Bulldogs.
But before we throw the final shovelfuls of dirt on the title aspirations of USC, Georgia and Florida, let's remember one thing: LSU lost twice and still won the 2007 national title. Those hopes can be resurrected faster than Alabama's Cody can break a futon. Still, on a Saturday night in Athens when everyone wore black, it felt like a funeral. The sign one Alabama fan held as the clock wound down cinched it. It bore three letters.
Comment of the judge, Gene Duffey: Excellent lead, short and to the point. The writer quickly puts into perspective the magnitude of the Georgia loss in regard to the season. Good takeoff of Georgia legendary radio announcer Larry Munson. A little short on quotes, but the ones used were good ones.
► Second place: Bob Condotta, Seattle Times
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