Tennessee at No. 5 Georgia
Saturday, 3:30 p.m., CBS
Line: Georgia -13
Well, Derek Dooley, now is the time. It’s been nearly two-and-a-half years since you’ve arrived on Rocky Top, and while your program has improved exponentially since Day 1, it still isn’t entirely showing up in the win column. At some point you’ve got start winning games, and Saturday at Georgia would be a great place to start. This game isn’t a “must win” for Dooley to keep his job, but we are starting to get close to that point.
So can the Vols pull an upset between the hedges? Let’s take a look.
For Tennessee to Win: They need to play four quarters of football. It really is that simple.
Look, with the Vols, it isn’t about talent. Not this year. They have plenty of it. But as we saw in the Florida game, for whatever reason, this team just can’t string together four good quarters of football against quality competition. There’s always a missed tackle, a bad Tyler Bray interception, whatever. But there is always something that does go wrong.
And while that “something” might have been excusable in year one of Dooley’s time at the school, and maybe even last year, it isn’t any longer. Elite football teams play for 60 minutes.
That’s something that apparently, Tennessee is still learning.
For Georgia To Win: They need to get the run game early.
At this point, we all know what Aaron Murray is capable of doing under center, but what has made the Dawgs so much more dangerous this year than last, is that Murray now has a stable of backs to take the pressure off of him. Georgia is averaging 242 yards per game on the ground and incredibly in Saturday’s win over Vanderbilt, four backs averaged over five yards per carry, on at least five touches each.
Not too shabby, and not numbers that are inconceivable on Saturday afternoon. Tennessee ranks just 77th in the country in rushing defense, meaning it could be another big day for Georgia’s backs.
Key Player, Tennessee: I mean seriously, could it be anyone other than Tyler Bray? The short answer is no, and the simple truth is that Bray is key to victory.
As he has been in years past, when Bray is on, he’s as good as any quarterback in college football. He enters this game tied for first in the country with 12 touchdown passes, and his 1,300+ yards through the air is third nationally as well. The problem is that as good as Bray can be at times, he can be equally bad as well. His second half meltdown against Florida was as awful as it gets, with two of his three interceptions this season coming in those final 30 minutes against the Gators.
So which Bray will we get? That is what every Tennessee fan is wondering right now.
Key Player, Georgia: Welcome to a first in Crystal Ball Run history: We are going to name someone as a “Key Player” for this matchup that frankly, we’re not even totally sure is going to play. That man is Bacarri Rambo, and if he does see the field could be the difference in a Georgia win.
Again, we’re not really sure where things stand with Rambo, if only because he’s been suspended the first four games of the season, and Mark Richt hasn’t announced whether he will be back Saturday afternoon. All indications are that he will play, and if so, he’ll be a huge addition for Georgia. The Dawgs need all hands on deck Saturday to take on Bray, Justin Hunter and this passing attack.
If he plays, Rambo will make a huge difference. That still is a big “if” of course.
Key Stat: Our key stat is “one,” which as crazy as it sounds is the number of SEC victories Tennessee has since the start of last season. That sole victory came in overtime against Vanderbilt last year, not exactly music to the ears of Derek Dooley’s detractors.
So again, we’ll end this article where we started: With Tennessee’s orange-pants-wearing head coach. At some point he’s got to start winning big games, against elite teams.
Saturday afternoon in Athens would be a heck of a time to start.
For all his opinion, analysis and insight, be sure to follow Aaron on Twitter @Aaron_Torres.