Red Duck Quacking
Sunday, August 15, 2010
Okay… new coaches, new system, new style and 14 rookies. All that against the nation’s #6 team (according to the preseason poll) and the defending ACC champions. Let’s just say that my wish-list for our scrimmage with Florida State was pretty modest. I was hoping we would play well and leave Tallahassee with our players believing that their new coaches aren’t idiots and that we were all on the right track. That’s what I was hoping.
Then there are those days where everything just comes up roses.
Let’s flash back…
Our bus left Athens at 9 A.M. Thursday. It was my first road trip as a Bulldog and because I must be livin’ right, my first Bulldog road trip lunch stop was at a Cracker Barrel somewhere in South Georgia. To know me is to know my unconditional love for the Barrel and all it stands for. The Barrel is the brass ring for road trip breakfasts and lunches, and let’s face it, the dinners aren’t too shabby either. Find me at the Barrel and you’ve found a happy poet.
The Cracker Barrel gift shop also provided our Monkey of the Day sightings with a stuffed animal and a greeting card. Are you a believer yet?
There’s been a recent addition to our team that bears mentioning. Monkeys aren’t the only animal we keep an eye out for. Since Steve’s ‘Look Like a Duck’ sermon, there has been a preponderance of duck sightings in our camp, but none more impressive than the ceramic one sent to us by Ashley Baker’s family. I’m not exactly sure of who turned the duck into a Bulldog duck, but that sucker sure looks good in bright red with the black ‘G’ on its back. When Ashley brought it on board there was no doubt that our new mascot would be a regular on these trips.
We rolled into Tallahassee around 3, checked into the hotel, then did a quick turn around and headed to FSU for a light training session. Our timing was impeccable. In Tallahassee even Mother Nature is a Seminole as just as our bus pulled up, so did the thick black clouds and one monster storm.
Before the rain actually began, Steve went to visit the office of FSU’s head coach Mark Krikorian. The rest of the team stayed on the bus. So when the rains came down with the fury of Zeus, there was a couple hundred yards of torrential downpour between Steve and our bus. Coach Krikorian was kind enough to lend Steve an umbrella. Of course the umbrella was garnet and gold and emblazoned with ‘FSU’ all over it. This went over particularly well with a bus full of loyal Bulldogs who insisted our driver not open the door, then began chanting, “Get off the bus! Get off the bus!”
Eventually they let Steve back on and we returned to our hotel. And as soon as we got to our rooms, the rain magically ceased to be. Funny how that works.
The weather held up nicely for us on Friday, as did the monkeys. First sighting at 8:30 A.M., TV cartoon.
We got in a light morning session, mainly to introduce a couple of corner kicks and do just enough possession to shake out the cobwebs. Then lunch at McCallister’s and before long we were on our way to Seminole Soccer Stadium to take the Dawgs out for a test drive.
If you’re new to my blogs, this is how pregame works: Steve speaks first, reviewing the tactics for the match. Then I follow with some words of motivation. Hopefully.
We had an agreement with FSU that neither team would produce scouting reports following the match, and that fit in nicely with my team talk. The coaches wouldn’t talk about the opponent after the game, so our players wouldn’t worry about them during the game. At least that was my hope.
When you play a team like Florida State, it’s easy to get star-struck by their recent accomplishments.
I wanted to extract their resume from our collective psyche. So the theme of my talk was very simple. This game was not about them. This game was about us. It was about taking what we’ve done in training and applying it against some live ammo. We’ve worked a lot on keeping the ball, organizing the runs of our forwards, and organizing our defense. We wanted to see our players apply what they’ve learned.
The other thing we’ve focused on is our pressure – its organization and its attitude. There’s only one way our pressure works, and that’s if we’re the aggressor. Regardless of how good FSU was supposed to be, we needed to take the game to them. And we did. Man, did we ever.
Apparently the past two preseason matches between UGA and FSU ended up in landslide Seminole victories by the score of 5-1. So imagine my delight when we nearly scored in the first minute, got behind them again a few minutes later, and basically put up a wall of pressure that the defending ACC champion struggled to negotiate. We were everywhere! It was like one big red swarm. We pressured relentlessly, turned the ‘Noles over up high and really took the game to them.
About ten minutes in I looked at Robin and she was just sitting there quietly with a grin on her face. She was enjoying the view, watching the Dawgs take it to this team that had whooped them in seasons past. Seeing her team’s new attitude made Robin happy. Not strictly for the team or the program, but for the girls.
We went to the half at 0-0. We were the better team in the first half, so we all figured that the Noles would ratchet up the pressure in the second half and things would level out. But as it turns out, we were actually even more dominant in the second stanza. FSU is a possession team and they enjoy making opponents chase. But they just couldn’t weave their way through the pressure we kept heaving on top of them.
FSU had one very good sustained attack in the second half and it resulted in a PK. I thought about yelling for our players to hunt for rebounds, but for whatever reason I decided against it. So what happens? Naturally Ashley plays it perfectly and makes the save while our players stay planted on the 18 yard line as the shooter finishes her own rebound. Doh!
As a rebound fanatic, that drives me bananas. Your keeper should only have to make one save. On a PK you’re fortunate if she can do even that. But if she does, it better be one of us who’s first to any rebound left dangling out there.
That goal really could have swung the game away from us, but we dug in and answered in splendid fashion about 30 seconds later. Carly Shultis had the ball 25 yards out in front of the FSU goal. As Laura Eddy streaked past her, Shultis scooped a sublime little chip just over the center back and into Eddy’s path at the penalty spot. The ball died on the first bounce. Eddy side-footed a half-volley on the second bounce just inside the right post and we were level at 1-1.
It was Shultis’ first game against collegiate competition. It’s against a national powerhouse. And she feathers a pass of such daring as to dwarf any pass I have ever made in any game… EVER. Eddy’s finish was composed and clinical, but it was the audacity of Shultis that stole the moment. This preseason has now presented two of the best goals I have ever seen and neither of them count. That just ain’t right.
The rest of the game was more of the same and played mainly in the FSU half, and we left Tallahassee with a 1-1 draw.
Our staff was pleased with our performance, particularly our work rate. Our willingness to run and chase and hit was fantastic. When I addressed the team on the first night of preseason I said that we must not let talent be the signature of this team… that our signature must be our work rate and our courage and our willingness to chase. On Friday it certainly was.
It was a good start for the Dawgs. I was hoping for belief and I know that we left Tallahassee with an abundance of it. We went 20 players deep and our level did not drop. We still have work to do. We’re going to get better. But that was a pretty smooth test drive.
On the bus ride home we started throwing riddles around, which led me to creating a puzzle for a group of interested players, which in turn led to a small wager. There were 12 problems to be solved in my puzzle. If the players got all 12 before we got to Athens, everyone on the team would be awarded one point for Breakfast Club.
Breakfast Club is our 6:30 A.M. running club for those players who have not accumulated 32 points on their fitness standard. Each day they get one point for attending Breakfast Club, and occasionally we re-run a fitness test so they can accumulate some points in bulk. To get out of Breakfast Club you must reach the 32 point marker. Bailey Powell had a particularly vested interest in this puzzle being solved as she was sitting at 31 points - only one point shy of graduating the BC. If the puzzle got solved, she got to sleep in Sunday.
So as we rolled through the Georgia night, as most of their teammates slept, a half-dozen Dawgs put their brains to work trying to save everyone a day of Breakfast Club.
I went back to check on their progress and they only had two problems left. I knew it was just a matter of time before they would get one of them. My only hope was the other one - problem #3.
With about 30 miles left in our trip I heard a celebration erupt at the back of the bus and I knew it was over. Jenna and Chewy brought their solution sheet up for my review. It was just a formality. They knew they had won.
Want to see how your brain compares with a few of the Georgia Bulldogs? Solve this:
3 = LB in BMS
12 = D of C
12 = Days of Christmas
First one to email me the correct answer gets a free Soccer Poet bumper sticker.
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