Two desperate college football programs meet up Between the Hedges this week, the first meeting between the teams when both have losing records since 1906, and while the Vegas oddsmakers have the Georgia Bulldogs as a nearly two-touchdown favorite, most fans on both sides are expecting something a lot closer.
For the Volunteer view of this matchup, I turned to my friend Joey Ledford, who lives here, sent his daughter to UGA and admits he roots for Georgia “ALMOST every week” but proudly proclaims, “my blood has always run Orange.” (I think an iron supplement might take care of that, Joe.)
Anyway, here’s what Joey has to say:
“I’ve been very encouraged by the play of the Vols this season despite our 2-3 record. We knew this would be a rebuilding year and we would be playing all the kids we normally redshirt due to the attrition and lack of depth created by two coaching changes in two years. We’ve played 17 true freshmen, and we often have as many as three on the offensive line. Only one O-lineman had started a game coming into this year.
“We’ve played three top 15 teams so far and we’ve been competitive against each of them. What is most encouraging is that we’ve improved every week. We led Oregon by 10 late in the second quarter. Yes, we collapsed in the second half, but we haven’t done that since. We had a chance to beat Florida until Meyer’s gutty fake punt call midway in the third quarter when the game was still tied. And as you know, we had LSU beat had we been able to adequately respond to the Tigers’ last-second substitutions. Young players make mistakes. A couple of guys who were supposed to come off for the last play stayed on the field. Too excited to leave, I guess.
“We have given up a lot of sacks with our young line, and I suppose that is what worries me the most. But again, after five games, they aren’t exactly freshmen anymore. We sustained two long drives in our last two possessions against LSU — 120 yards worth. And as you know, they have a pretty decent defense, led by our old coordinator, John Chavis.
“I think we will be able to run the ball against Georgia and I think our defense — coached by former Boise State D-coordinator Justin Wilcox — will be a tough nut for the Dawgs to crack. Our quarterback, Matt Simms, gets better every week and if we give him time to throw, he will worry you. A couple of Georgians will be carrying the ball for us. Tauren Poole, who played for Stephens County, is clearly one of the best backs in the SEC. He sat on the bench under our previous coach. I expect you guys will also see some of Rajion Neal, a freshman from Henry County, who is simply going to be great. We have a freshman wideout named Justin Hunter who is so good that so far Da’Rick Rogers is known as our second best freshman receiver.”
Joey’s prediction: Tennessee 24, Georgia 17.
While we were at it, I asked him how it felt to have a Dooley on the sideline at Tennesee. Derek Dooley, he said, “has been a great hire. He has said all the right things and he’s made all the right moves. He shows passion on the sidelines, something we haven’t seen since Johnny Majors. He’s going to be the next great SEC coach, and I’m sorry to predict that he gets his first SEC victory Saturday in his dad’s old house. Vols fans are more than a little insulted by the Vegas line. Ask Barbara. I bet she agrees with me.”
Thanks, Joey. OK, now it’s my turn.
On paper, Georgia clearly looks like the more talented team, but that’s been the case the past two weeks, so we know all too well what that’s worth. Everyone in red and black is sick to death of the Dogs losing to teams they ought to beat, and I’m sure no one feels that way more than the players and coaches.
Can they finally put all the pieces together this week? Even a blind hog eventually finds the acorn, as the saying goes.
The main reason for optimism among Georgia fans is the way the offense looked last week when Mike Bobo belatedly made A.J. Green the focus. The guy is a freak when it comes to catching the ball and he says he’s going to hydrate a little more this week, so hopefully he won’t have any more cramping. If he’s healthy, Tennessee’s secondary, which is giving up 220 yards per game through the air, is no match for him.
Plus, A.J. on the field means no safeties in the box. A lot of folks got so bent out of shape over Caleb King’s fumble that they overlooked the fact he had a terrific game against Colorado, running for 100 yards, with a lot of them after initial contact. The Vols defense has given up a lot of yards this year, an average of 375 per game. Again, the matchup looks good on paper, but the Dogs have had trouble meeting expectations.
As for the outlook for Georgia’s defense, Tennessee no doubt will come out trying to establish the run with Tauren Poole. The key there is whether their young, hobbled offensive line can dominate Georgia’s undersized defensive line. The Vols have some fine receivers but haven’t been able to do a lot with them because they’ve given up a bunch of sacks this season — about five per game. Matt Simms isn’t immobile, but he’s not really a running quarterback either, thank goodness. (We don’t handle those so well.) So maybe this will be the week Justin Houston and company finally get to feast on some QB meat.
And while Georgia’s defense has had a hard time getting off the field, the Vols’ offense has been converting only 25 percent of its third- and fourth-down conversions, though they improved to nearly 50 percent against LSU. Could this be the week Todd Grantham’s troops finally get some three-and-outs? That could be the key to the game.
If the defense can get some stops, I think Georgia’s offense will be too much for the Vols. So I’m predicting the Dogs win by something like 24-17.
But don’t press me on how confident I am about that.
Find me on Facebook.
Follow me on Twitter.