While moral victories were few in Georgia’s 38-10 meltdown last week versus Alabama, we can hang our hat on the fact that the Dawgs have a tremendous chance to get better as a team by learning from what went wrong in the game.
Sometimes taking one on the chin early in the season can be a good thing. A tough loss can expose unseen weakness and teach some hard lessons in the film room that help bring out potential that would’ve gone untapped if a team had only continued to win games. How Georgia responds to this adversity will help determine whether this season ultimately goes down as a disappointment or a success.
The Dawgs will attempt to wash away the bad taste of last week’s debacle on Saturday’s trip to Knoxville for a 3:30 p.m. clash with Tennessee.
Before we move on, a quick point of irony: Georgia faced Bama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin for only the second time last Saturday. The first meeting was in 2009 – his one season as the Vols’ head coach – when he handed the Dawgs a similar 45-19 result in what remains Tennessee’s most recent win in the series.
Since he left, Georgia’s won five in a row, sweeping both Derek Dooley (fired after the 2012 season) and current skipper Butch Jones (whose job might be in danger if his team’s fortunes don’t improve quickly). The last four of those five games were decided by a single score, which speaks to both the perennial competitiveness of the rivalry and to Tennessee’s scrappiness in spite of records at or near .500 in the last two seasons.
Whether in Athens or Knoxville, this rivalry game has historically been one that both teams bring their best to and fight out to the last second.
Georgia’s last visit to Neyland in 2013 is a perfect example. Plagued by freak injuries that wiped out a number of key players, the Dawgs allowed Tennessee to overcome a two-touchdown deficit and take the lead late in the 4th quarter. But fighting to assemble a scoring drive with just moments left, Aaron Murray found Rantavious Wooten for a touchdown on 3rd and goal with just four seconds left to tie and force overtime, in which an inopportune fumble into the endzone on a would-be touchdown reception by Pig Howard would open the door for a Marshall Morgan field goal to win it on the ensuing Georgia possession.
The Dawgs escaped with a win, and will be lucky to do the same again this time around versus a Volunteer team that’s improved in many ways since that first year under Jones. The only thing that hasn’t gotten better for them is their luck.
Week two, Tennessee lost to Oklahoma in a pair of overtimes after blowing a convincing 17-3 lead at the end of the third quarter. They did nearly the same in Gainesville two weeks ago. Leading Florida by 13 with 10 minutes left, the Vols gave up two touchdowns in the final five minutes and lost 28-27. The disappointment only continued in a return to Knoxville last Saturday as Arkansas overcame an early 14-point deficit to win 24-20.
Tennessee will no doubt be looking to end that streak of misfortune by any means necessary when the Dawgs come calling Saturday on Rocky Top.
And Georgia will have its hands full with an offense that features multiple rushing weapons plenty of teams would kill to have just one of. Quarterback Joshua Dobbs, who measures 6-3, 207, is one of those rare Cam Newton-style quarterbacks whose elite speed is compounded by height and a long stride. His arm is only average, but allows him to make plays both as a thrower and a runner. And he’s dangerous in both respects.
The other two members of the Vols’ three-headed backfield monster are the similarly-built Jalen Hurd – a fast guy whose size makes him a load to tackle – and Bama transfer Alvin Kamara – a smaller, faster change-of-pace guy they like to get the ball to in space.
Containing all three will be a challenge for a Georgia defense that, all things considered, did pretty well against Derrick Henry a week ago. Stopping the run and forcing turnovers are two key ingredients in a recipe for success handling the talent Tennessee will throw at them. Leonard Floyd, who was terrific at helping bottle up Nick Marshall in last year’s Auburn game, should play a critical role in both pressuring and chasing down Dobbs in a pocket that’ll be about as wide as the field.
As a always, Nick Chubb and Sony Michel’s success on the ground will figure into the offensive gameplan that’s destined to succeed if both ballcarriers are effective. For Greyson Lambert, re-establishing some confidence and comfort with the offense will be important with an eye on this game, as well as equally-tough ones coming later this month.
There are no off weeks in the SEC. And Tennessee – consistently a make-or-break opponent for the Dawgs – presents a stiff test here for a team whose ability to rebound and get better after a loss should have a lot to say about where it’s going this year.
The rivalry has produced some entertaining contests in years past. Saturday’s 45th meeting between Georgia and the Vols promises to be another one.
The prediction: Georgia 30, Tennessee 27