Devil's Advocate Looks at Georgia Game

Welcome to Devil's Advocate — Inside Tennessee's version of point/counterpoint — where each week analysts Randy Moore and Jeffery Stewart take opposite sides of the field to make their case for our readers' regular amusement and occasional edification.

Why UT may dump Dawgs by Randy Moore It was that great philosopher Johnny Majors who once said: ''You're never as good as you look on your best day and never as bad as you look on your worst day.'' All of those Tennessee football fans who are wailing and gnashing their teeth should keep that in mind. They figure this weekend's game at No. 3 Georgia is going to be a lopsided loss. That seems a logical assumption since Tennessee is coming off a 34-10 homefield setback to Auburn and Georgia is coming off a 45-16 blowout of LSU.

Going back to Majors' motto, I don't believe Georgia is as good as it looked last Saturday and I don't believe Tennessee is as bad as it looked last Saturday. I think a Vol team on its worst day caught an Auburn team on its best day. Likewise, a Georgia team on its best day caught an LSU team on its worst day. Result: Two deceptively one-sided outcomes.

That's one of several reasons I think Saturday afternoon's Vol-Bulldog clash between the hedges will be a shootout, not a blowout. Here are some more reasons:

• Tennessee has played four games and looked BAD in only one of them. The Vols were impressive in dispatching Nevada-Las Vegas, Florida and Louisiana Tech. This suggests last weekend's flop against Auburn was a fluke.

• Georgia has played four games and looked GOOD in only one of them. The Dawgs struggled mightily against Georgia Southern, South Carolina and Marshall. This suggests last weekend's beatdown of LSU may have been a fluke.

• Tennessee played a relatively good game against Auburn except for 11 critical plays. Six turnovers killed the offense; five pass completions of at least 30 yards killed the defense. If the offense reduces its turnovers from six to two and the defense reduces the big pass plays from five to two, the whole complexion of the game changes.

• Tennessee plays better as an underdog. Look it up: The last two times the Vols were double-digit underdogs came in 2001 at Florida and in 2003 at Miami -- and Tennessee WON each time. I call it the ''Chip on the shoulder effect.''

• Tennessee plays better on the road. Again, look it up: The Vols have beaten Florida two times in a row at Gainesville ... Alabama five times in a row at either Tuscaloosa or Birmingham ... South Carolina five times in a row at Columbia. Conversely, all of UT's most humbling losses (except for the two recent Peach Bowl debacles) have come at home -- 30-13 to Florida (2002), 34-14 to Alabama (2002), 26-3 to Miami (2002). 41-14 to Georgia (2003) and 34-10 to Auburn (2004). Inexplicably, the Vols have become Road Warriors.

• Finally, the Big Orange has motivation on its side. Georgia has beaten Tennessee four times in a row. Coming off a big win over LSU and facing a team they apparently own, the Dawgs are likely to be overconfident this Saturday. Conversely, the Vols are coming off a homefield humiliation by Auburn and seeking redemption against a foe that has supplanted them as the Beast of the East in SEC football.

Given all of the above, I see no reason Tennessee shouldn't compete -- and maybe win -- Saturday in Athens.

A Leap Too Far

Jeffery Stewart

My esteemed colleague has laid out a compelling case for a potential Tennessee win on Saturday against No. 3 Georgia in Athens. That's no small trick for the most gifted of barristers. Undoubtedly, there are enough upsets each week in college football to think any team is unbeatable, regardless of where the game is played.

Georgia had an impressive and emotional victory over LSU last week, and it will be a challenge to refocus for a Tennessee team that was routed by Auburn in Knoxville. Mark Richt can stress the importance to his players and, logically, the Tennessee game has more direct impact on UGA's title chances than the LSU contest. But football isn't a game of logic. It's a game of passion, and avenging two losses to LSU from 2003 is closer to the heart of Georgia's players and fans than a fifth straight victory over Tennessee would be.

It's unlikely the Bulldogs will play at the same fevered pitch they reached against LSU, but they will play hard and they will be energized by a big home crowd in Athens, where they haven't been beaten since a 24-17 setback to Auburn in 2001.

Georgia will also come into this crucial SEC contest with a blast of momentum and breeming with confidence. Of equal importance is the fact the Bulldogs are healthy and back to full strength on offense. Additionally, the emergence of freshmen running backs Danny Ware and Thomas Brown brings the offense up to speed while the defense remains as solid as ever.

By comparison, Tennessee has many more question marks and unresloved issues, from depth in the defensive line and linebacker corps to personnel problems in the secondary, the lack of a first class pass rusher and inexperience in general, particularly at quarterback.

Tennessee's flaws were laid bare and exploited by Auburn. How much of the Vols confidence was left intact is unknown. How many adjustments can Tennessee effectively make in a week's time? How will the Vols respond to playing before a hostile crowd for the first time this season? How quickly might they deflate if Georgia jumps on them early?

Assuming Tennessee will play a tougher brand of football against Georgia after having its pride harpooned by Auburn is reasonable. Believing that will enough to sway the outcome in the Vols favor is overly optimistic. It's just as likely the Vols will go in the other direction until what time they are able to restore their confidence against lesser foes on the schedule.

It's true UT has pulled some major surprises on the road the last three years under the direction of Casey Clausen, who seemed to flourish in hostile territory. However, he was never able to beat Georgia in four sesaons and the Vols haven't won in Athens since 1998.

The best the Vols can probably hope for is to be competitive and to take Georgia deep into the contest and play for the big break. I know Tennessee's program is beyond the point of being satisfied with a moral victory but when you realize the alternative might easily be another blowout, you take it and build upon it.

The speed of Tennessee's fall from the nation's top 25 as well as the climb back will depend greatly on how much resistence the Vols offer against Georgia on Saturday. The old college try just won't be enough for victory at this time or against this opponent.


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