The Georgia-Tennessee series may no longer generate quite the excitement of a few years back — UGA says it returned unsold about a thousand of its 8,500 ticket allotment for Saturday’s game against the Vols — but noisy Neyland Stadium is still an intimidating place to play.
And with UGA fans concerned about a possible letdown after the Bulldogs’ big, emotional win over LSU — and history having shown us that even extremely talented Georgia teams can come a cropper when visiting Knoxville— this is not a week for complacency in the Bulldog Nation.
How do they feel about it up on Rocky Top? For that, as usual, I decided to go to my old Volunteer pal Joey Ledford, who always provides us a reasonable, good-humored Big Orange viewpoint. Take it away, Joe …
Hi Dawg fans.
Bill has kindly asked me to do this for several seasons now, and this is the toughest year so far to write about our game. To be totally honest, this is the first time I’ve ever felt we have little or no chance to beat you so I’m not going to come on your board and talk trash I don’t believe.
I felt pretty good going into last year’s game, and had we showed up with even a shred of defense (thanks, Sal Sunseri!), we would have gotten you guys. As you may recall, we hung 44 on you, but gave up — ouch! — 51. So instead of writing fiction, I’m going to give y’all a little history lesson about where we are as a program and how it relates to you guys.
When Vince Dooley retired, Georgia football went into a bit of a dark age. Few Dawg fans were happy with Ray Goff or Jim Donnan, although both posted winning records. Georgia did not really become a perennial power again until Coach Richt got the job.
We are in a similar dark age, which began with the firing of our Hall of Fame, National Championship-winning coach, Phillip Fulmer in 2008. Our hires since his firing were far worse than yours. Lane Kiffin coached just one year before leaving us in the middle of the night for his dream job at USC. You saw this week how that dream turned out. Then we got Derek Dooley, now hated by most Tennessee fans, but who I honestly feel will be a great coach someday. Sadly, he wasn’t up to the task of rebuilding Tennessee.
I believe Butch Jones will be our Mark Richt, a worthy successor to Coach Fulmer. The only difference is that our roster isn’t as strong now as Richt’s was in 2001. But our recruiting is looking great and we will be back among the living in a year or two. We currently rank No. 4 nationally in the 247 rankings for both 2014 and 2015. This year, however, it is a matter of surviving in the SEC until the reinforcements come in.
We lost our entire passing game, the guys who scored those 44 points against you, to the NFL. Our strengths are on both lines, with at least four pending NFL draftees on the offensive front. Our overall defense is much better than last year, with a knack for takeaways, but I can’t see our offense scoring enough to keep us in the game with you guys unless you turn it over early and often.
That said, my best hope as a Tennessee fan is that you guys come in flat and sloppy after your emotional LSU win. As oldtime fans know, Neyland is a tough place to play when 102,000 get into it, and I’m hoping the early events keep our crowd loud. We are debuting some snazzy alternative uniforms — Tennessee will be wearing a color we call Smokey Gray. It should really fire up the team and the crowd, and my hope is that emotion will carry us a long way.
By the way, I went to Sanford the last two times we played there, and I can’t say enough nice things about the way I was treated and the Sanford experience (except for one old guy who kept glaring at me last year … LOL!). I hope your experience in Knoxville is similarly enjoyable — win or lose.
I will loudly dispute those who say, “Tennessee isn’t a rival anymore.” We still lead the overall series 21-19-2, and I don’t expect you guys to go ahead on that particular scoreboard.
Prediction: Georgia 38, Tennessee 24.
Thanks, Joey. I think that sounds like a pretty fair assessment of the game and the relative status of the two programs as of now.
As Richt acknowledged earlier this week, “going to Knoxville is never easy. Coaching in this league for 13 years now, I’ve been there a few times and have probably run every gamut of emotion from elation to getting your tail kicked. We know it’s going to be a great atmosphere and there will be over 100,000 people screaming for the Vols. We know we have our work cut out not only to handle the noise and handle the communication aspect of it and the emotional aspect of it, but also we are playing a good football team.”
Good, but not great. Based on just the talent level of the two teams, Georgia should be able to handle Tennessee Saturday, even with Todd Gurley on the sideline.
I’m more concerned about the possibility that free safety Tray Matthews will be out, but even that isn’t likely to make up for the Vols’ deficiencies on offense. Despite a big OL and a decent running back in senior Rajion Neal, Tennessee doesn’t have near the firepower of last year and just barely made it out of last week’s game with a win over South Alabama.
Tennessee will try to control the ball as much as possible by pounding away with its running game, but that’s an area where Georgia’s defense has shown its greatest improvement so far this season. Also, UT quarterback Justin Worley, who was benched briefly earlier this season, ranks last in the conference in pass efficiency and has thrown a lot of interceptions lately, and the Volunteer passing game ranks 112th in the country, so it should be safe for Georgia to load the box, even with its shaky secondary.
On the other side of the ball, Tennessee ranks 11th in the SEC in run defense, allowing 163.2 yards per game, and ninth in pass defense at 249.8. Plus, there’s the Willie Martinez factor (the unlamented former Georgia defensive coordinator now is the Vols’ secondary coach). So Aaron Murray and the Dogs’ high-powered offense should be able to do their thing and win comfortably, barring any mental meltdowns and turnovers.
That’s how Joey and I see this week’s game. Feel free to share your own thoughts on the Dogs and Vols.
Got something you want to discuss concerning the Dawgs? Or a question you want the Junkyard Blawg to tackle? Email me at email@example.com.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg