Brad Stephens brings his own Southern flavored sports perspective and humor to Bartow Sports Zone. He is a Bartow County native and has his own law office in Cartersville, but he's mostly a Georgia Bulldogs' football fan.
Fire up the band and tie a yellow ribbon ‘round the ole oak tree – college football is back.
For those of us below the Mason-Dixon line, this time is sacred. Nothing on Earth captivates the mind of Southern males (and many females) like Saturdays in Athens, Tuscaloosa, Baton Rouge, Knoxville and other bastions of gridiron madness across this great land of ours.
It is a time to relive old glories; to remember the good old days and the unstoppable teams that brought championships banners home to the masses. An opportunity to revel with 90,000 of your closest friends with the days between kickoffs filled by arguments about who is going to start, who is going to finish and who is going to have bragging rights for 364 days.
The old become young and the young become enamored with the gladiators in helmets and shoulder pads, hoping for a chance to catch a glimpse of their heroes trying to etch their place in Southern folklore. You see, nothing immortalizes a man down here more than carrying a team to victory on a Saturday. There is a romanticism about this glorious, violent dance that cannot be recreated; it is our pastime above anything else.
Beneath it all is the simplistic ideal that it is all a game. For all the pomp and circumstance, it certainly is just a game. In our fair state, there is a highly anticipated brouhaha in our midst. For the Dawgs of Georgia, the opponent rolling into Sanford Stadium on Saturday is the dreaded Warhawks of Louisiana-Monroe (“ULM”). A formidable foe from a state known for Cajun cuisine, “Duck Dynasty” and mean lady named Katrina.
Many may wonder, “why would this be highly anticipated?” The Dawgs and Warhawks have no history of note – Georgia won the last meeting 44-7 in 2005. ULM plays in the Sun Belt Conference with (insert cricket noises). This is not to insult ULM, I just know as much about them as I do quantum physics.
I personally cannot name one player from ULM without Google and a cup of coffee to motivate me. I do know they beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa in 2007 because all of my Bama friends wanted Nick Saban fired after that loss. Wouldn’t that have been the mistake of all mistakes? Patience is a virtue, boys and girls.
ULM’s claim to fame has to be that Willie Robertson and Tim McGraw matriculated in their bayou at some point in the past. Maybe the excellent education that received at ULM provided the way to stardom and success. So, if you need duck calls and “Indian Outlaws,” then Monroe, Louisiana is right in your wheelhouse.
No, this game is anticipated because of Georgia’s question marks. Mark Richt answered one of those last week, naming recent transferee Greyson Lambert the starting quarterback over longtime backups Faton Bauta and Brice Ramsey. While many fans are ecstatic, there are others who wonder how a guy who moved in this summer could win the job. Apparently, Lambert is smarter than the guy who invented coffee cup sleeves, so he was able to decipher the gargantuan playbook Georgia has pretty quickly.
“Chubb left, Chubb right and Chubb up the middle” are the only plays I need Lambert to know. Then, we repeat said plays with the Haitian Sensation, Sony Michel. I feel that Sony will have a big year. He was showing flashes of his talent before being sidelined with a shoulder injury. After all, Michel was a dominant running back in high school down in Miami. If you can stand out in Dade/Broward County, Florida, you can play anywhere.
ULM is going to find out how the other half lives with the Dawgs’ backs and offensive line. Nick Chubb clearly fears nobody – the boogeyman checks his closet for Nick Chubb, so I am told. The offensive line of Brandon Kublanow, Kolton Houston, John Theus, Greg Pyke and Isaiah Wynn are a proven bunch that will smash ULM’s defense like a lovebug on a windshield driving below Macon.
What about the receivers? Malcolm Mitchell is the lone senior. He has all the talent but is as injury-prone as Wile E. Coyote. Justin Scott-Wesley is gone with a knee injury, again. Isaiah McKenzie is a proven return man but can he withstand the punishment of playing every down in the SEC? “Joystick,” as he is known, is smaller than my fifth grade Trapper Keeper.
The other options on the two-deep are Terry Godwin and Michael Chigbu – two true freshmen with accolades but no field experience. These two have shined at fall camp, so they will see the action immediately. When Lambert goes back to pass, the uncertainty will fill the air like me when I am trying to decide between “scattered, smothered and covered” or just “country” hash browns.
The defense is being coordinated by the sneering, seething, relentless Jeremy Pruitt. Apparently, this man can motivate the bark off of a plum tree, so all reports indicate that the defense will be top notch this season. Every position has game experience, especially in the case of Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins, who feel like they have been in Athens since the Reagan Administration.
The only real question is whether true freshman tackle Trenton Thompson will start, which seems to be the buzz. Thompson is giving the veteran offensive linemen fits in camp and reportedly ate three walk-ons, so I will be surprised if he does not put his hand in the dirt on the first play. The highly-regarded Thompson looks to do the fine town of Albany, Georgia proud on Saturday and I firmly believe he will make his mark. Trenton cried and hugged his mama when he committed to the Dawgs, how can you not pull for this guy?
Special teams. Hmmm. I would say “cringe-worthy” comes to mind. Outside of Marshall Morgan and the field goal unit, every time any other special teams unit took the field last season was a dice roll. Mark Richt’s early years were rife with big special teams plays….for the good guys. Now, it seems the big plays happen and we are the ones looking at the sidelines saying “what had happened?” I would rather be shanked in jail than see another punt shanked in Sanford Stadium.
Collin Barber appears rejuvenated and ready to step up. Being a Cartersville boy, I am pulling for him to the utmost. The coaches are plugging the best players in on punts and kickoffs now. Maybe, just maybe, I will not have to ingest an entire bottle of Maalox before every quarter. We shall see on Saturday.
In any event, best of luck to the Dawgs on Saturday. Also, best of luck to your teams as well. Unless you’re Auburn, Tech, Tennessee and Florida – I hope your bus breaks down and you lose your playbooks. (smile)