by Randy Moore
The outcome of Saturday night's Tennessee-Georgia game comes down to this: Will the Dawgs face (A) the Tennessee team that was outscored 28-7 during the first three quarters last Saturday at Auburn or (B) the Tennessee team that outscored Auburn 14-0 in the fourth quarter and came within a whisker of tying the game in the final minute?
If the answer is A, Georgia will win handily.
If the answer is B, the Vols will win.
I'm guessing the answer is B. Although Tennessee looked terribly vulnerable in the first three quarters last weekend, the Vols showed me two things in the final quarter that bode well for this weekend:
1) They didn't fold when the odds were against them. They fought.
2) They were virtually unstoppable once they went to a no-huddle offense.
Even when the outlook was bleakest at Auburn, the Vols never gave up. That wasn't the case a year ago. Tennessee fell behind Florida 14-0 early and tanked it, ultimately losing 30-13. The Vols spotted Alabama a 17-7 lead and never got back in the game, eventually falling 34-14. Tennessee saw Miami jump out to a 16-3 lead and never seriously threatened the Hurricanes, bowing 26-3. The Vols spotted Maryland a 14-0 lead in the Peach Bowl, then quit, ultimately suffering a 30-3 humiliation at the hands of a lesser team.
There is no quit in this Tennessee team, however. If there were, it never would have rallied when Auburn pushed the lead to three TDs early in the fourth quarter.
''I was proud of our team because we never gave up,'' quarterback Casey Clausen said this week. ''We competed, fought to the end. Just imagine if we would've played the whole game like we played that (final quarter).''
I think the Vols WILL play a whole game this Saturday. And, if they do, they will be victorious ... even against a Georgia team that may be the class of the Southeastern Conference.
Another encouraging development in the Auburn loss was Tennessee's offensive efficiency once the Vols went to the no-huddle attack. Down 14-0, they went into hurry-up mode and sped 83 yards in 10 plays to score a touchdown just before halftime. Down 28-7, they motored 63 yards in nine plays and 80 yards in eight plays to score fourth-quarter TDs. The Vols then raced 42 yards in six plays on their final drive of the game before Clausen was intercepted by Carlos Rogers in the final minute.
Despite the loss, Clausen was encouraged by Tennessee's big finish.
''I totally believe if he (Rogers) doesn't make that play, within the next two or three plays we score again and have a chance to win,'' he said.
Asked if that big finish might carry over this Saturday against Georgia, Clausen nodded.
''I think so,'' he said. ''I expect the intensity to be high, the electricity to be there and us to go out ready to play a big game.''
Although Auburn shredded Tennessee's defense last weekend, that doesn't mean Georgia will do the same. The Tigers enjoyed success because of the individual brilliance of Cadillac Williams, who burned the Vols for 185 rushing yards. Georgia has no one even close to Cadillac's level. And, while the Dawgs have a superb quarterback in David Greene, his top two receivers -- Fred Gibson and Reggie Brown -- are nursing hamstring injuries that could limit them this weekend.
As for Tennessee's offense, it has played very well on occasion but only in spurts. Obviously, that won't get the job done against Georgia.
''We played well at times the first five games,'' Clausen conceded. ''We'll start the game fast, then get in a lull, then pick it up again. Or we'll come out and struggle -- like last week's first half -- then the second half we'll come out strong.
''Against good teams we can't do that. You can't spot a team like Auburn or Georgia 14 points. You're already behind the 8-ball. We've got to come out from the opening kickoff and make plays. We're on scholarship for a reason ... and that's to make plays. The coaches can put us in so many situations but, in the end, it's up the players. We've got to go out and make plays.''
Based on the encourging emergence of young receivers such as James Banks, Chris Hannon and Jayson Swain, I think Tennessee will be able to make some plays this Saturday night. And, with a week to plug the leaks Auburn exposed in Tennessee's defense, I think Vol defensive coordinator John Chavis will have his troops ready to play well this Saturday.
In addition, the Vols have the homefield advantage. They have momentum, based on their big finish at Auburn. And they have motivation, after losing three times in a row to Georgia.
That's a tough combination to beat. That's why I think Tennessee has an excellent chance to neuter the Dawgs.
Dogs Have too Much Bite
By Jeffery Stewart
Never one to disparage the Vols, especially a team that has shown heart throughout the year including last week when their backs were against the wall at Auburn, I wouldn't discount Tennessee's chances at home in a game of this magnitude.
The winner takes over the driver's seat in the SEC East and can capture the division crown even with another defeat in conference play. If the winner goes the rest of the way undefeated and captures the SEC title, there's a very good chance that team will play for the national title at the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.
Normally an SEC Champion with one loss is good enough to earn a shot at the national title. Example: Florida won the national championship in 1996 with one loss and Tennessee would have gained a spot in the 2001 Rose Bowl with a victory over LSU. As most undoubtedly recall, the Vols lost a home game that season to Georgia. That theory didn't hold up last year when Georgia lost but one game and won the SEC, however there are rarely two undefeated teams in a year.
The Vols have suffered three straight setbacks at the paws of the Dogs. Before those losses, Tennessee compiled a nine-game victory streak in a series that has can best be described as streaky. Preceeding UGA's three-game win streak, the Vols had a glorious nine-game run. Before that Georgia won four straight over Tennessee. Before that the Vols went 5-0-1 against Georgia. Prior to that the Bulldogs won five straight over Tennessee, and before that UT won two straight over Georgia. Ironically, the Georgia-Tennessee series started off 1-1-1.
Georgia comes into this contest a 2-point favorite and were 4-1 last season when favored on the road. This season the Bulldogs fell to LSU in Baton Rouge despite clearly outplaying the Tigers for most of the game. No doubt Georgia has a quality club that demonstrated the ability to go into a hostile setting and win. In 2002 they came away with close victories on the road against South Carolina, Alabama and Auburn. In 2001, UGA swept all their road games against Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Kentucky and Georgia Tech.
The common denominator in those victories was a solid defense, an excellent kicking game and a resourceful quarterback in David Greene. Greene was a mere freshmen when he calmly led the Bulldogs down the field in the waning seconds to defeat Tennessee in 2001. Now he's a battle-tested junior with a great grasp of Georgia's offense. He's also very effective as a play-action passer as he demonstrated on the Dogs winning TD against UT. That's when he faked a hand-off and found the fullback wide open for a score.
Greene has an arsenal of weapons at his disposal that includes wide receivers Fred Gibson, Damian Gary, Michael Johnson, Reggie Brown, Mario Railey and freshman Sean Bailey. Tight end Benjamin Watson is a dangerous pass-catcher and he's backed up by Leonard Pope (6-7, 250) who was rated among the top five nationally as a high school senior. Likewise sophomore tailback Tony Milton was No. 17 and freshman Kreg Lumpkin was No. 3.
Georgia's offensive line is very young (five sophomores) but very talented. The youth up front has probably been UGA's achilles heel on offense this season, however they are improving as a unit and probably played their best game of the season last week in the victory over Alabama. That could spell doom for a Tennessee defense that wasn't able to slow down the rushing attacks of either South Carolina or Auburn. If the Vols have the same sort of problems against Georgia, Greene will make them pay for it through the air in ways S.C.'s and Auburn's QBS couldn't.
Why should we believe the Vols are better able to stop the run this week? Well the return of tackle Justin Harrell is a positive and indications are he will be available for 15 or so plays. However this will be the first time the redshirt freshman has ever played in a college game and the first time he's ever played tackle in competition. It's not fair to expect a lot from him right away, but if he remains healthy he will become a factor as the season enters the stretch. Otherwise, Tennessee has the same players that have struggled so mightily to maintain their position inside, providing an anchor in the center which will allow the Vols linebackers to fill their run gaps. Georgia's backs may not be as good as either Demetris Summers or Carnell Williams, but they are deadly if given room to run.
Additionally, because of their depth and diversity of personnel, Georgia can dictate a lot of what the Vols will do on defense through formations alone. Tennessee has shown itself to be vulnerable to the tight end getting behind the linebackers on crossing routes and Georgia's WRs and QB only compound that problem.
If the Vols fall behind Georgia like they did Auburn, there won't be any meaningful comebacks. Auburn was vunerable in the secondary, but Georgia isn't. In fact, Georgia has the best defense Tennessee has seen this season which means the Vols will likely encounter serious problems moving the ball consistently. The Vols did have success with the no-huddle offense and it's a great way to change the pace of the game while limiting defensive adjustments in terms of personnel and strategy. Unfortunately, UT played that card last week and Georgia has made preparations and adjustments in anticipation of seeing it this week. Defensive coordinator Brian Van Gorder won the Broyles Award last year as the nation's top assistant as the Bulldogs were No. 3 in scoreless quarters nationally with 29.
The biggest problem facing the Vols might be Georgia head coach Mark Richt, who does as good a job of preparing game plans and making adjustments as any coach in the league. Add UGA's solid special teams play to the equation and this one figures to be UT's toughest home game of the year. That's saying a lot in light of the South Carolina contest.
Finally, Georgia has an advantage in scheduling because it had an off week before Alabama. This will be Tennessee's fourth tough test in a row and you've got to wonder how much the Vols have in emotional reserve. They certainly started the last two games sluggishly before bouncing back with better play. However, such a pattern is usually indicative of a team that is struggling to find its focus. The comeback last week, while exciting and encouraging, may have taken a lot out of the Vols. We'll know that soon enough but, undoubtedly, next week's break will be greatly needed.
If the Vols are to win this one they'll have to gain an edge in turnovers and keep the score low. That means establishing a running game, mixing in the pass, moving the sticks, controlling the ball, working the clock and maintaining good field position. That would give the defense the rest it needs and take Georgia's offense out of rhythm.
That seems like a lot to expect. Maybe too much.