A wild 51-44 game between Georgia and Tennessee didn’t have the look, feel or final score of your typical SEC showdown. But while there was plenty to take away from one of the wackiest games we’ve seen this season, there were two things more important than the rest: For Georgia, this victory was about surviving, advancing and getting one win closer to their second straight SEC East title. And for Tennessee, it was another crippling, grey-hair-inducing, and oh-so-close loss for Derek Dooley, in a coaching career that is starting to become defined by them.
So yes, for those of us who watched this fantastic game, those were the big picture takeaways from Saturday’s 51-44 Bulldogs win.
Of course, the fun part was how we got to those conclusions.
From the opening kickoff, it looked- as it often has during the Dooley era- that the Vols were simply overmatched by a better team. Georgia got the ball to start, and needed just six minutes to go up 7-0, on one of the most efficient, 13-play 84 yard drives you’ll see ever see. And from there, it didn’t get better. Before Tennessee fans could even blink, the Vols were down 27-10 early in the second quarter.
Just another day in the Derek Dooley era in Knoxville, huh? Well to quote Lee Corso, “Not so fast my friends.” Just as quickly as Tennessee fell down by 17, they forced two Georgia turnovers, got a few defensive stops, and all of a sudden were up 30-27.
Wait, what? Yup that happened, and it was only thanks to a late Georgia field goal that they were able to head into halftime tied up, instead of trailing the Vols.
From there, it simply turned into an old-school, backyard, “we never see this in the SEC” shoot-out. Georgia would score then Tennessee would respond. The Dawgs would do it again and the Vols would find an answer. Back and forth it went until the middle of the fourth quarter, when Tennessee- on the strength of a new-found running game- cut the lead to 51-44 with just under nine minutes to go. At that moment, it really did seem like the team to have ball would win. And in a strange way, it was kind of true.
Unfortunately it wasn’t the way that Tennessee fans wanted. The Vols defense got the ball back three times in the final few minutes, and all three Tennessee possessions ended with Tyler Bray interceptions. The final one- by Sanders Cummings with just eight seconds left- was the final nail in the Vols coffin. In the end, all those interceptions weren’t Bray’s fault (who had no choice but to throw tight passes into small windows late in the game), but it still counts as a loss for the Vols, who are now incredibly just 1-9 in SEC play since the start of the 2011 season.
Of course at the same time, if you’re a Tennessee fan, there are signs of hope and real reasons to be optimistic going forward.
For one, the Vols were able to move the ball on the ground against Georgia’s fantastic run defense, to the tune of 197 yards and just under five yards per rush. Also, although the numbers say otherwise, the defense wasn’t a total abomination and did seem to make stops when they needed to (of the 560 yards the Vols allowed, 198 came on three plays). Most importantly, even though Tennessee had every chance to quit on themselves throughout the game, the Vols held tough and continued to battle until the final whistle. That’s something previous Tennessee teams likely wouldn’t have done.
At the same time, we’d be remiss if we didn’t talk about Georgia, who is now 3-0 in the SEC heading into next weekend’s mega-showdown with South Carolina at Williams-Brice Stadium.
For the Dawgs, there are two obvious stories from Saturday.
The first was the surprising number of moderate to big plays they gave up against Tennessee. The Vols finished the afternoon with just under 500 yards of total offense and converted more than half (eight of 15) third down attempts.
And while that’s obviously not good, it isn’t quite as bad as it looked on paper either. Remember, Georgia brought back two All-SEC type performers from suspension Saturday (Bacarri Rambo and Alec Ogletree), who’ll only likely be better going forward. As they get better and more comfortable, so too will this defense (Then again, at least Ogletree didn’t seem to have much rust Saturday, accounting for 15 total tackles. Yo!).
However the real story seemed to be the dynamic freshman duo of Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley at running back. On the micro level, the two were fantastic, with 294 combined yards and five touchdowns, making them arguably the best pair of backs in the country regardless of age. Of course on the macro level, they also make Georgia’s offense much more balanced than in years past, and one of the most explosive in the country.
It also leads to the following question: Are the ‘Dawgs a legitimate BCS title contender?
Fans in Tuscaloosa may scoff at that, but outside of Alabama right now, Georgia looks to be on par not only with everyone in the SEC, but the country as a whole. Not to mention that with so many young players still learning, and so many other stars just now getting their feet wet from suspension, this team seems to have as much upside as any as well.
Georgia proved Saturday to be one of the scariest teams in college football.
And the even scarier thing is they’re only going to get better going forward.
For all his opinion, analysis and articles on college football, be sure to follow Aaron on Twitter @Aaron_Torres.