Georgia’s test: Winning (and not caving) at Tennessee

Mark Richt wasn't giving the thumbs up a few weeks ago, but he is now. (Brant Sanderlin/AJC)

Mark Richt wasn't giving anybody a thumbs three weeks ago. He is now. (Brant Sanderlin)

ATHENS – Sometime after Georgia won, South Carolina lost and Florida not only got boat-raced by Alabama but watched quarterback John Brantley get dragged off with a “lower leg” injury – team officials seldom get into specifics, less KAOS find out – Bulldogs coaches got busy texting this past weekend.

“Coaches started sending out mass texts,” tight end Aron White said. “They just told us to keep believing, that we have a lot of momentum, continue to build on it. This thing is still wide open.”

Georgia can’t completely distance itself from a 0-2 start. People keep records. But this team gets credit for not belly flopping into oblivion. The Dogs could have followed the white light and didn’t. Or maybe they just punched through the dirt from the grave site, like that final scene in “Carrie.”

Granted, the three wins have come over Coastal Carolina and the two Mississippi schools (who check in at a combined 0-5 in the SEC and 4-6 overall). But Georgia is not dead. Not dead gives you a chance in the SEC East.

The events of last weekend “puts a little more oomph in things,” defensive end Abry Jones said.

Oomph can add a gear this week. Georgia travels to Tennessee on Saturday. The Volunteers are not the best team in the SEC, or the East, or maybe even the state. But Tennessee represents a test the Dogs haven’t had since the South Carolina game and won’t have again until the Florida game. It’s also the second toughest road game the Dogs will play all year. Their past two trips to Knoxville resulted in losses of 35-14 (2007) and 45-19 (2009).

Georgia's longshot chances for the SEC East remain alive.

Georgia's longshot chances for the SEC East remain alive.

When asked what he remembered about last year’s game, Jones said, “That annoying song.” (”Rocky Top,” for the uninitiated.)

Mark Richt suggested something else Tuesday. His team quit. Twice.

I can’t recall Richt ever suggesting this before, even immediately following those losses in Knoxville. But when asked about the defeats at his weekly news conference, he said, “Both of those games, before it was over, it looked like they beat us to the point where we gave in. We haven’t had many of those since I’ve been at Georgia.”

A victory Saturday doesn’t ensure anything against Florida. It doesn’t change the tiebreaker situation against South Carolina. As Richt said, “We still don’t control our own destiny.” But winning in Knoxville would cause just a little more sunshine to peek through the clouds. Confidence can go a long way, especially in a season when Florida and South Carolina are having quarterback issues — the Gators with Brantley and the Gamecocks with the now-benched Stephen Garcia.

This isn’t the best Georgia team we’ve seen. It’s young and mistake-prone. It’s certainly unproven. But falling dominoes around them and a gift-wrapped conference schedule creates possibilities that didn’t seem plausible after the losses to Boise State and South Carolina. We’ll know more this week.

Richt, alluding to Florida’s loss to Alabama and South Carolina’s to Auburn last week, said, “It’s definitely a motivating factor for everybody. That’s why we have those plaques on the wall.” As he spoke, he glanced at a wall where SEC and East title plaques were hanging.

“We’re shooting for the Eastern Division title. Everybody certainly got excited about how the standings are sitting right now compared to how it was a week ago. But it’s crucial that we take care of our business because if we don’t, it’s not going to be that much fun any more.”

White watched the 2007 Tennessee game on TV. “It was the first time I saw a Georgia team get their throats stepped on,” he said. “They kind of laid down a little bit.”

And about two years ago: “That was one of the worst games I’ve played in. I remember waking up the next day feeling like I had been hit by a train.”

A feeling they also experienced at 0-2. Suddenly, they’re not laid out on the tracks.

By Jeff Schultz

Follow me on Twitter @JeffSchultzAJC; friend me at Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC

399 comments Add your comment

LOL!

October 4th, 2011
5:21 pm

duece coupe

October 4th, 2011
5:24 pm

Instant Dawgma

October 4th, 2011
5:25 pm

Well said Jeff….and in a tight game let’s hope our special teams have worked out its kinks.

John

October 4th, 2011
5:26 pm

Who is Arby Jones?

bjohndawg

October 4th, 2011
5:27 pm

Go it done! Just win out!

John

October 4th, 2011
5:29 pm

Is that what Arby’s changed their name to?

Instant Dawgma

October 4th, 2011
5:29 pm

When does the hot seat talk start for Derek D.? We need to get Barbara back in red and burn all that orange…..

Instant Dawgma

October 4th, 2011
5:31 pm

Arby’s has a last name? hehe

Abnerish

October 4th, 2011
5:33 pm

I felt like we lost those games in 2007 and 2009 before we stepped on the field. I don’t think this bunch has it in them to win a game like this. I expect Bray to throw it all over the field on our D and lose by 3 TDs. Had we not lost that game in ‘07 we would’ve played for the SEC Championship and possibly the NC. I’m sure the coaches are reminding the players of that as well.

Russ, the Temporary Mascot

October 4th, 2011
5:35 pm

I got a text, too. I have been invited to a Doughnut Days Celebration at Coach Grantham’s house. Krispy Kremes are featured along with some Dunkin Donuts favorites. I really feel like they are accepting me now in spite of my brown a$$.

Instant Dawgma

October 4th, 2011
5:39 pm

Sorry Russ, you’ll always be second string and still have to go as soon as uga is ready.

Innocent Bystander

October 4th, 2011
5:45 pm

In spite of the fact that you got A Jones’ first name wrong this column is a good example of balance. Not too optimistic. Not pessimistic. Just a reminder of the possible sobered by recent Neyland history. I think ‘Abnerish’ is predicting a UGA loss but his phrasing leaves the possibility that he’s actually saying Georgia will win.Those imprecise pronouns get me every time.Our record against tall UT quarterbacks is not a happy one.But I’m hopeful.

Burma Shave

October 4th, 2011
5:48 pm

Washington’s a drunk
A reckless driver too
But Richt doesn’t care
Two games on the bench will do

BURMA SHAVE

reckingball

October 4th, 2011
5:52 pm

If Washington played for the UF and had been caught in FLA., they would have simply driven him back to the dorm. And that goes for Ala. or any other SEC team as well.

Spellbound

October 4th, 2011
5:53 pm

But winning in Knoxville would cause just a little more sunshine to peak through the clouds.

The word, Mr. Schultz, is PEEK.

Rabun Dawg

October 4th, 2011
5:57 pm

Abnerish, you are correct in that Bray will throw it all over the place as UT has no running game, or at least they did not have one against UF, and that was the only time I have seen the Vols play. But who is going to lose by three td’s, you kinda lost me there. If our D backs have a pulse, they should be able to get some picks( if they can hang on to them), and hopefully our running game can eat up the clock and control the tempo of the game. This is a scary place to play for UGA, as we all know what happened the past few visits up there. Now, the big question is, will Bobo try to get into a passing frenzy with them, for if he does, Murray has been known to give up pick sixes. If Bobo does stick to a running game and we can move the ball on them, UGA should come out on top.JMHO

piermontdawgny

October 4th, 2011
5:58 pm

I believe this game will swing to the team that catches fire early…my prediction…dawgs win LARGE…our D sets the tempo for our O…and, CroWell…well, he is special!
40-16 Dawgs!

How bout them dawgs?

October 4th, 2011
6:02 pm

52-24 Rocky Top!!!!! UGA’s D really sucks!!!

Russ, the Temporary Mascot

October 4th, 2011
6:02 pm

When they play Rocky Top I am going to howl. I figure that’’s the least I can do for Coach Richt after all we’ve been through together. I don’t know if you know this but none of the Ugas could howl. It takes a gene none of them have/had.

How bout them dawgs?

October 4th, 2011
6:05 pm

This will be Richt’s swan song.

Whaw!

October 4th, 2011
6:08 pm

I think Georgia wins thins one. No big, but they’ll win. Tennessee just hasn’t played anybody so we really can’t judge how they are as a football team yet. Their running game is almost non-existent and it’s all up to Bray for them to be able to move the ball and that’s a lot of pressure on a young QB. Not to mention the pressure he’ll have on him from our BIG D-line and linebackers chasing him down. Then he’ll have to worry about the secondary that we have with Boykin, Commings, Rambo, and Williams. Those guys ain’t playin around. They’re ready.

On offense, we need to control the game by running the ball with Crowell. I expect him to have about 25 carries in this one. Maybe more. Let Murray manage the game and pick up key 3rd down conversions when he has to. Let Crowell grind the Tennessee defense. DO NOT get pass happy Bobo. Run the ball, play solid on defense and we’ll win.

atlvol55

October 4th, 2011
6:18 pm

I don’t know who wins this game, but anybody picking UGA to win big is crazy. TN is much better this year. While I would agree our schedule hasn’t been tough so far (although we get UGA, LSU, Alabama, and USC) the next four games, Bray is the real deal (13 tds, 2 ints) and it could be more. TN really let off the gas in a couple of the games. Even without Justin Hunter (probably the best WR in the SEC), the Vols can still move the ball. Losing him on the first series against FL pretty much killed our chances in the swamp, but now that they have a couple of weeks to prepare with some younger guys, I think they will be fine.

I expect a shoot out. No offense to UGA’s D, but Bray is a heck of a lot better than Garcia and the Ole Miss and Ms St quarterbacks

Paddy

October 4th, 2011
6:19 pm

Spellbound….my guess is you don’t really have many friends. That was sorta nerdy now little fella. Stay away from football. Mama says you could get hurt. lol WOW. have not met any one like you in years. Takes all kinds I guess?

atlvol55

October 4th, 2011
6:21 pm

BTW…I would say the Cincinnati isn’t as bad as some people think. They crused NC State in Raleigh the week after we played them. The Vols blew the doors of Cincinnati…again, not saying they are good, but they are almost certaintly better than KY and Ole Miss this year

Paul H

October 4th, 2011
6:25 pm

This game will determine if UGA is the team that lost to SC or if it has turned the corner since then. Their biggest opponent is themselves.

bamaguy

October 4th, 2011
6:25 pm

Georgia can thank the last two National Champions for giving them a shot.

Perspective

October 4th, 2011
6:30 pm

Under really tough game conditions, I wonder whether this team of guys has any toughness or fight to them. They folded up in Koxville in 09 and 07 and why would this time be any different? They know that they must win them all and the only way for CMR to survive this season sort of went out the window in the first two games.

If UGA plays hard on D and they do not get beat over and over on the UT deep ball in the middle of the field, like with Boise, they have a chance. Lose and Richt could be fired Sunday morning.

Murray and Walsh must step up their games and the backs need to run hard on every carry ………………..or the CMR era is over.

Go Dogs
UGA class of 71 & 73

Paul H

October 4th, 2011
6:33 pm

And I’m starting to benefit in the Sack Schultz contest from the dominoes falling around me. :)

bamaguy

October 4th, 2011
6:34 pm

UGA/UT is going to be the most interesting game of the week to watch. We know that LSU and Alabama are really good and we know that Kentucky and Ole Miss are really bad. Georgia, Auburn and Tennessee seem to be improving every week. The others seem to have a different team show up every week.

LakeDawg

October 4th, 2011
6:34 pm

I don’t know if CMR realizes it or not, but this game and the one in Jax wiil determine his fate. If the Dawgs come out and continue to improve from the previous week, they will win. If UGA makes their typical big game mistakes or just don’t show up like they tend to do from time to time under CMR, they will lose. CMR has to win both games to survive. There is no reason he shouldn’t.

Kenny Rogers

October 4th, 2011
6:35 pm

@Perspective

I’m no gambler, but if I was, I’d bet the house on CMR not being fired Sunday morning — no matter what the outcome of the game.

Destin Dawg

October 4th, 2011
6:38 pm

Keep your foot on the Gas Bo Bo / Richt !!! coach the offense…… Let Grantham coach the Defense…. he’s responsible for the success…. first time Murray completes a pass to Tenn… put in Hutson Mason… Go Dawgs !!!

GT Dude

October 4th, 2011
6:39 pm

Don’t really like to say this but, I don’t see how the Vols beat UGA this week.
Vols are just not that good, but if they do somehow come out victorious, UGA’s season will start to spiral downward and things will get ugly in Athens quickly

GT Dude

October 4th, 2011
6:41 pm

Add one thing more, this is a must win for the Richt staff; lose it close and seat just gets a little hotter, lose it ugly and Adams forms the unofficial search committee

Delbert D.

October 4th, 2011
6:42 pm

I don’t think best team in Tennessee would be Memphis. They are 1-4, having beaten only Austin Peay. maybe it would be MTSU in Jeff’s eyes. Their losses were to Purdue, Georgia Tech and Troy, and they beat Memphis.

The Natue Boy @ reckingball

October 4th, 2011
6:44 pm

Best post on the board…You know what I know….well done sir

Delbert D.

October 4th, 2011
6:44 pm

Maybe he’s thinking Vanderbilt, who everybody seems to overlook, including me, from force of habit.

Kenny Rogers

October 4th, 2011
6:44 pm

The best football team in Tennessee is Vandy.

BDK

October 4th, 2011
6:45 pm

Dogs win a close one. They will dominate defensively and put up better stats on offense as well. They just have a tendency to give away a lot of points on costly turnovers and careless special teams plays. It seems that whenever they make a mistake, the other team takes it to the house.

Destin Dawg

October 4th, 2011
6:46 pm

Give Ken Malcome a chance… Crowell looked tired in the 2nd half… and you need to go for it on 4th and short… Blair is not dependable any way.. beat tenn… go Dawgs !!

Beast from the East

October 4th, 2011
6:47 pm

Don’t take the Vols lightly. They still have a QB that can throw the ball as well as anyone in the league and an improved defense. The Dawgs will need to play a complete game to beat them. If they play like they did against SC or in the second half of the last 2 games then they’ll be coming home with another “L”. If they play to their potential, then they should come home with a “W”.

Kenny Rogers

October 4th, 2011
6:48 pm

If Vandy was playing Tech this weekend, then we’d learn much more than we will from this game.

These are strange times in the SEC East.

volgrad1985

October 4th, 2011
6:50 pm

Exactly what has happened THIS year that has caused several on this board so far to say, “the Vols just aren’t that good”? If you’re basing it on last year, then yeah maybe at times we were….the year before, yes except, notably, for the UGA game in Kville.

But this year? We’ve played 3 ‘lesser’ teams and haven’t struggled with any of them….blown them out, in fact (and that includes a Cincinnati team that is actually pretty good, putting up 72 points on one team and destroying NC St after playing us). We played a full strength Florida team that was clicking on all cylinders, while we had lost our best offensive threat on the first series…..and lost by just 10 points. Let’s see if the Dawgs can hang within 10 points of the Gators this year…still to be seen.

I’m not gonna predict anything here, I’m just saying that those who think the Vols are the same team from the past two years, you will be disappointingly surprised Saturday night.

The Natue Boy @ BDK

October 4th, 2011
6:56 pm

to address your last sentence…the dawgs are “snake bit”…ie: Ray Golf era….I hope I’m wrong….GO DAWGS!!

Vain Jangling

October 4th, 2011
7:01 pm

Where does one get those marijuana peanut butter cups? If one was curious in that regard, that is.

PB

October 4th, 2011
7:03 pm

Bottom line neither team has prooved a thing. Other than they both lost their toughest test by 10 or less. That’s it. This will be a tough fight ’til the end. If UGA gets behind they better pray Bray makes mistakes. Because if UT goes up two scores. I just don’t see UGA having the ability to outscore UT as long as Bray is in the game nor the ability to stop a good QB. The UGA secondary hasn’t even come close to stopping an above avg. QB since Grantham started running the show. In a near toss up. The home team wins. UT 31-24.

Kenny Rogers

October 4th, 2011
7:06 pm

volgrad1985
October 4th, 2011
6:50 pm

Exactly what has happened THIS year that has caused several on this board so far to say, “the Vols just aren’t that good”?

They lost to a Florida team that also just isn’t “that good”.

Bo in North Carolina

October 4th, 2011
7:08 pm

Schultze another good column! Last week you had the PC crowd after you concerning your comments about Grace the “dancer”. This week the spelling geek is out.
I agree with Destin they should have gone won 4 and l as they were deep in States territory.They seem to lack a killer instinct.

Bo in North Carolina

October 4th, 2011
7:10 pm

Speaking of the spelling geek I should have said “with” rather that won

Beast from the East

October 4th, 2011
7:11 pm

“They lost to a Florida team that also just isn’t “that good”.”

Kenny Rogers,
You base that on UF getting their butts whipped by a far superior Bama team? You honestly think UGA would have faired any better with Murray not playing the second half? That’s your rationale for thinking UT is no good? Better stick to roasting chickens.