Devil's Advocate

You've heard all the reasons why Tennessee won't beat Georgia on Saturday, including the fact the Vols have lost the last two homes games against the Bulldogs and haven't beaten a top 10 team in Neyland Stadium since 1999. Now read why none of this will matter.

Tennessee knew coming into the 2005 season that the schedule was going to a meat grinder that would take its measure of the Vols as well as its toll.

In that respect, it hasn't disappointed. If anything the schedule has been even tougher than anticipated with upcoming foes Georgia, Alabama, Notre Dame and Vanderbilt each stronger than predicted.

Additionally, the Vols have faced unforeseen problems such as the two-day delay of the LSU game in Baton Rouge and an offense that didn't take up where it left off in 2004.

The shortened scheduled and fatigue factor showed last week against Ole MIss — a game in which Tennessee started fast but failed to finish strong. It's not a surprise given LSU was still in the rear view mirror and Georgia on the horizon, that the Vols would have had a letdown after getting on top of the Rebels early.

However, it would be very surprising if any emotional or physical hangover persisted this week against Georgia. Let me cite a recent example: In 2003, the Vols faced a similar situation in terms of tribulation when they were forced to play an energy and emotion draining five overtimes to defeat Alabama in Tuscaloosa, 51-43. Like the 21-point rally against LSU in the second half to force an overtime win, it took a lot out of the Vols.

The following Saturday they looked lethargic in Knoxville during a 23-6 victory against an overmanned Duke team. That's the same margin of victory and a very similar performance as UT had while beating Ole Miss 27-10 last week. That effort prompted further questions about the offense and the team's readiness to compete against an undefeated and higher ranked Georgia squad.

Back to 2003: after the Vols' uninspiring victory over the Blue Devils, they traveled to Miami and, as a 13-point underdog, scored a 10-6 upset over the Hurricanes that allowed UT to close the season with six straight wins and a 10-2 regular season record. The thing that made the victory all the more impressive is that Miami was coming off its first defeat of the season at Virginia Tech and was defending an eight-season home win streak.

The coaches have adjusted their practices to allow the Vols to recover physically over the last 13 days and UT has an excellent chance to recapture the offensive form it demonstrated in the second half against LSU.

It's true that Georgia has had an extra week to prepare for this game, but will that really be an advantage? I think not. You don't have to be around the SEC long to know what Tennessee is going to try to do. Florida's Urban Meter said as much as he was preparing the Gaiters to play Tennessee last month. Undoubtedly, the Vols will add wrinkles to exploit UGA personnel they've scouted, but essentially it will be a power running game combined with a controlled passing game. The Bulldogs have active linebackers which may lead to more play-action passing by the Vols, but they will largely stick with what they're most comfortable with.

Georgia doesn't need an open date in terms of recovery because it has nothing to recover from. Home games vs. Boise State, South Carolina and Louisiana-Monroe followed by a road game against Mississippi State is hardly murder's row and it does nothing to get the Bulldogs ready for the type of hostility, intensity and crowd noise they'll face in Knoxville. Certainly having a week off after the season opener against UAB didn't help the Vols get ready for Florida. It did throw the timing of the passing game off which is more likely what it will do to Georgia.

Conversely, Tennessee has had tough back-to-back road tests at Florida and LSU that will match, if not exceed, the challenge it faces against Georgia. We know the Bulldogs are undefeated, but we still don't know how good they really are. What's more is they don't know how good they are. That's not the type of doubt you want to have going into a hostile environment against one of the best defensive units in the nation.

Finally, the Vols know they haven't beaten a top 10 team or Georgia at home since 1999, which is all the more reason they will be fired up and ready to rock the House that Bob Built. They also know they can't win the SEC East without beating Georgia, while the victory is far less urgent for the Bulldogs.

All signs point to a Vol victory.


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