Justin Scott-Wesley, Jonathan Rumph and Malcolm Mitchell won’t play on Saturday according to coach Mark Richt. That news has to be disheartening for that trio and Georgia fans. Its certainly plausible that’s the reason Georgia hasn’t been itself in the passing game in 2014.
“We’ve been solid in that area,” Richt said. “It just hasn’t been what we are used to.”
"While the Bulldogs have run the ball effectively in each game of the year - sometimes with devastating effectiveness - Georgia’s passing game hasn’t topped the 200-yard mark yet this season. The last time Georgia failed to pass for 200 yards or more in four consecutive games came more than four years ago - 2009 Georgia Tech game (76 yards passing), 2009 Texas A&M (158 yards passing), 2010 Louisiana game (193 yards) and 2010 South Carolina (192 yards passing)
"We are hopeful on those guys for next week,” Richt said. “But I don’t see them playing this week.”
2. Special teams (coverage) has gotten much better.
“I think our special teams are much improved so far. We have hopes of being better as we go,” Richt said at the press conference.
With the notable exception of Marshall Morgan’s two missed FG attempts in Columbia and a scattered punt here and there, the Bulldogs have been noticeably better in the special teams game. The Bulldogs are No. 4 in kickoff return, No. 30 in net punting, No. 3 in punt return defense (Dawgs are actually allowing -1.5 yards a return… pretty good) and No. 75 in kickoff return defense. That last one is a little misleading. Georgia is only allowing 20.6 yards per return, which is hardly horrible. Considering that touchbacks result in the ball being placed at the 25-yard line anyway - any kick that Georgia manages to get to the 5-yard line is a wash.
But the improvement in coverage has been noticeable. Also: there have yet to be any special teams disasters this season. Last season Georgia seemed to excel at special teams disasters - Clemson (failed FG snap down 3), South Carolina (dropped punt attempt setting the Gamecocks up at the Georgia 18-yard line), North Texas (blocked punt for a touchdown), Vanderbilt (Allowed TD on fake FG attempt, fumbled a punt return and failed punt snap - resulting in 21 points for Vanderbilt), Kentucky (Reggie Davis punt fumble sets up a Kentucky FG) and Nebraska (Another Davis fumble - setting Nebraska up at the Georgia seven-yard line… and resulting in the touchdown).
Georgia has used special teams in 2014 as a weapon. The Dawgs have scored on extra points, field goals, punt return and kickoff return - they’ve covered all of those bases in three games.
3. The mad, mad race to Atlanta.
This could have been a lot easier for the Bulldogs, but instead Georgia and the rest of the SEC East sit with at least a loss in the first four weeks of the 2014 season. Richt said Tuesday that there is no power team in the division.
“I don’t think you can sit here and say that there’s one team that is going to blaze a trail (to Atlanta),” he said.
“I don’t think we are going to try anything other than giving ourselves the best chance to win. We are about to start the first of seven SEC games,” Richt said. “We are not going to be experimenting. When you lose the first one your back is truly against the wall. We are thinking we have no margin for error. All you can do is battle like mad and hope that you can get it. I think home field might mean more this season than some other seasons. We will see how it goes.”
But Richt pointed out the reality that exists as a result of the upset loss in Columbia two weeks ago: “If we don’t win this week the SEC East won’t be very wide open for us. It might be until game seven or eight until this thing is decided,”
4. Even it up?
The Bulldogs have trailed Tennessee in the series history between the two from the night the Vols beat Georgia 38-6 in 1993. Tennessee and Georgia rarely played before the conference split into divisions in 1992 - only 21 times from 1899 until 1988. And while the game certainly produced some fabulous games with crazy endings (1968, 1973 and 1980) the two programs really didn’t play enough for there to be much bad blood.
That changed in the 1990s just when the Vols started what turned out to be a nine-game winning streak against Georgia - a Georgia program that wasn’t in the same galaxy as the Vols at the time. The game became as big or bigger than the games Georgia’s traditional rivals Auburn, Georgia Tech and Florida.
Then Mark Richt and Hobnail Boot happened. Tennessee slipped from national relevance after rolling through four head coaches in six seasons. Richt has gone 9-4 against the Vols since taking over. The Bulldogs have won four games in a row against Tennessee for the first time since a stretch from 2000-2003.
Richt, for his part, isn’t worried about the past.
“I am not worried about a streak against Tennessee to be honest,” he said.
5. Only a well-played game will result in a win.
Despite the fact that Georgia is a 17-point favorite over the Vols, which is the largest point spread the Bulldog have had over the Vols since 2012 (-14). The series has only had one other time, when lowly 1996 Georgia was a 14-point underdog to No. 7 Tennessee in Knoxville, when the point spread in the series has been so lopsided.
“We absolutely have to have a fabulous performance to get the win,” Richt said - skeptical of being favored by so much against the Big Orange.
Perhaps he’s right to be skeptical. Only twice (2010 and 1999) in the since 1995 has the heavily-favored team performed in accordance to Las Vegas’ standards.
2013 - No. 6 Georgia (-13) at Tennessee - Georgia needs overtime to win 34-31
2012 - No. 5 Georgia (-14) vs. Tennessee - Dawgs need defensive stop to win 51-44
2010 - Georgia (-11) vs. Tennessee - Dawgs blow Vols out 41-14
2008 - No. 10 Georgia (-12) vs. Tennessee - Dawgs win 26-14
2004 - No. 3 Georgia (-12) vs. Tennessee - Vols upset Dawgs 19-14 on way to SEC East title
2001 - Georgia (+11) at No. 6 Tennessee - Hobnail Boot. Vols’ only regular season loss comes to Richt, Dawgs at 26-24.
1999 - No. 10 Georgia (+10) at No. 6 Tennessee - Kickoff return dooms Dawgs as Vols cover 37-20.
1996 - Georgia (+14) vs. No. 7 Tennessee - Peyton Manning and company have to play solid in second half to win 29-17.
1995 - Georgia (+12) at No. 8 Tennessee - Vols need game-winning FG to top Georgia 30-27.