I'm going to go ahead and play the eternal optimist and say that I'm cautiously hopeful about the season after watching this game. This isn't to say that there's not reason to worry. As we have at times over the past couple of years, this was a game that we to a certain degree dominated. However, we were incapable of putting the game away, with drives stalling in the red zone and the field-goal unit botching scores. Obviously, getting a touchdown on one of those drives and a field goal on the other would make this game 17-3, a victory that would have struck fear into the hearts into our opponents. We didn't get anything, though, and gave State a chance to win in the process. The game reminded me a lot in that sense of last year's Vandy and, to a certain, UGA games, only this time we managed to sneak out the win, at least in part because N. C. State just wasn't as good as those two teams.
And let's not downplay the fact that State probably isn't as good as advertised, or at least they weren't ready last night. I thought Russell Wilson played better than people are giving him credit for--he made some key throws at times, some of which weren't caught or got called back for penalties that weren't his fault--but I would have to say that he's certainly not making me think Heisman right now. If this guy wins first-team All-ACC, well...you know what I'm thinking. He didn't have the speed to be the elite scrambler I thought he was and his supposedly canny pocket presence was exposed by our defensive front. That's going to continue when the 'Pack play the ACC's elite. And as far as the rest of the team, I guess you could say the place kicker knew what he was doing. I was certainly unimpresed with the offensive line, and although they managed to hold us in the red zone, the defense wasn't always there, either. They did manage to get a little pressure on Garcia at times and their rushing defense looks good on paper. However, a couple of big losses such as Jarvis Giles's ill-advised cutback brought our rushing average down; overall I thought our line was opening some holes on them. All in all, it's great to get a road victory in a hostile atmosphere to start the season, but let's not make anything of it that we shouldn't.
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However, I also saw a few positives that have me hoping that this team can win seven or eight games. First of all, it didn't show on the scoreboard, but the offense wasn't bad. Although in no way great, the running game and line looked markedly improved. I have a feeling Brian Maddox and Jarvis Giles can do things for us this year. (I'm still unsure why Spurrier didn't get Maddox more carries in the second half; he was on his way to a 100-yard game at halftime.) Second of all, I think Garcia looked much improved. Again, he wasn't great. He missed some open receivers, his pocket presence will have to improve, and as lots of people have commented, he'd better learn to slide real soon. I appreciate the fearlessness and that hurdle was pretty, but there are players in Athens and Gainesville that will break him in half if he keeps that stuff up. I'm sure the coaching staff knows and is telling him this; hopefully he'll learn before he gets knocked out of the season. His interception wasn't pretty, although it was definitely the kind that look worse on TV than it really is. He saw what looked like an open receiver but didn't see the end in coverage, who was probably right outside his field of vision; that's not as unforgivable as throwing into triple coverage. At the same time, Garcia did manage to make some good reads and find some open receivers at times. The throw to Moe Brown to seal it at the end was great. Perhaps just as importantly, he had only one turnover last night. Garcia may not have looked like Tim Tebow, but he didn't do the things that he and Chris Smelley did last year to blow games for us. He's playing smarter, and with more wins and improved confidence, he'll also start to play better.
Which brings us to the most important and final point: our defense looks to be great, and if we can avoid beating ourselves, and we showed evidence that we're capable of doing that last night, our defense will keep us in almost every game we play this year. I'm still worried about the secondary and losing Rodney Paulk is a big blow. However, initial evidence is that the secondary has grown up fast and will be much better than advertised. Moreover, I thought Shaq Wilson made some good plays and looked ready to step in for Paulk. Finally, Eric Norwood and our defensive line are going to give us one of the SEC's best pass rushes this year. Norwood, Cliff Matthews, and Nathan Pepper looked fantastic last night. And keep in mind that we were without two starting linemen, one--Clifton Geathers--an elite pass rusher himself. Opposing quarterbacks beware.
So, I see some reason to be hopeful. Some reason to doubt, too, but more to be hopeful: this was probably the best a team could look in a 7-3 win. If a few more things come together, we could win some games this year. UGA is next and with that game comes a chance to pull off a season-defining upset. I'm still not sure we can do it, but we've got a chance, and don't forget that we get to rest our legs and regroup while the 'Dawgs fly into the pressure cooker Saturday.
So, do you agree? Disagree? Somewhere in between? Feel free to use the Fanposts if you want to write a long review.