Wednesday, September 19, 2007

SEC Game of the Week Four

A Rising Tide
Georgia at Alabama
September 17, 2007
By Bob Epling

A rising tide lifts all boats?

Tell it to the folks clinging to a dinghy in Auburn.

Sell it to football followers holding on to rafts in Oxford, Starkville, and Fayetteville.

No, rather than lifting anybody up, the Tide rising from Tuscaloosa seems more likely to wash over the rest of the SEC West, leaving nothing but Crimson and Cream in its wake.

Only a big, surly pack of Bengal Tigers way down in Louisiana appears on safe ground right now, and LSU will venture north to try and stem the Tide soon enough.

In the first tangible returns from a $32 million investment in new coach Nick Saban, Alabama fans gleefully celebrated a come-from-ahead then come-from-behind 41-38 victory over defending division champ Arkansas Saturday night at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa.

As we went to press, there was no word on whether Alabama trustees had yet decided to add Saint Nick’s name to the gridiron edifice.

The Tide rolled to 21-0 and 31-10 leads, lagged as Arkansas scored touchdowns on four straight possessions to claim a late 38-31 lead, then recovered to score 10 points in the last five minutes for the win. QB John Parker Wilson hit WR Matt Caddell with the game-winner from 4 yards out with eight seconds on the clock.

More than just a win, the game suggests an eventual turning of the tide in the SEC.

The league’s flagship program for many of the SEC’s 75 years, Alabama football has been more ripple than riptide for the past decade and a half. Florida has won two national titles since Alabama last won one in 1992. Tennessee has one. LSU added another (with Saban at the helm).

Even the school Bama fans consider the cow college from the Plains was robbed of a chance at a title, and Auburn has not been hesitant to crow about the five straight Tiger wins in the rivalry.

Saban’s arrival figured to reestablish Alabama as a league power in time, and the transition looks to be happening sooner than later.

Auburn has been fortunate to lose only two of three games. The flop against Mississippi State last weekend was particularly ugly. Arkansas essentially trails the Tide by two games after the tough loss in Tuscaloosa. Ole Miss and Mississippi State could be spoilers but not contenders.

That leaves only LSU in the division. Mark November 3rd as the day the west will be won.

First things first. This week Georgia comes to the Capstone.

The young Dogs, more Bullpups than Bulldogs along the offensive front, opened the season with what seemed a solid win over Oklahoma State (the subsequent collapse of the Cowboys has lessened the significance of the victory).

They followed with a disappointing 16-12 loss at home to South Carolina. In that game, Georgia failed to score a touchdown for the first time since 2001. A 45-16 win over Western Carolina last week looks impressive, but the Dogs were inconsistent before pulling away in the second half.

Offensively, Georgia struggles on the offensive line with two, and sometimes three, freshmen playing. In time they will grow up, but envisioning true freshman Trinton Sturdivant facing off with senior Tide DE Wallace Gilberry brings no comfort to Dog fans.

Defensively, lackluster linebacker play sometimes causes outstanding overall team speed to be discounted, and a complete failure to stop the South Carolina running game late in the fourth quarter doomed the Dogs in their SEC opener.

While Alabama is the SEC’s all-time winningest program, Georgia has the conference’s best record the past ten years (98-31), with three trips to the SEC title game in the last five seasons.

Mark Richt is a cool counterpart to the combustible Saban, and his teams reflect that demeanor on the field, sporting a stellar 23-4 record in opponent’s home stadiums since he arrived in 2001.

Another factor favoring the Dogs might be the forecast ... it could certainly be cloudy and overconfident in T-Town.

Georgia will not be rolled over. But, the Tide should continue to rise.

Better grab a life jacket.

Game Ball: Alabama

Quote: “If you are going to have great wins, you are going to have great adversity.” Alabama coach Nick Saban after his team’s thrilling 41-38 comeback victory over Arkansas.