If it's Wednesday and I'm not on my way to a continuing education seminar, then it must be time for us to discuss the 5 things you'll see this weekend against the Phil Fulmer School of Pastry Engineering. In no particular order, they are:
1) A defining performance for the UGA defense. The sixth game of the year is too late in the season to label any unit "young" or "inexperienced". At this late juncture, to borrow a coaching cliche, "you are who you are". This unit reminds me of a lot of groups put out by Coach Martinez, and Coach Van Gorder before him. When they are on the field, I often have the subjective, visceral impression that they are in the midst of getting their teeth kicked in on every third play. But by the end, the results are hard to quibble with. They rank 20th in the nation and 4th in the SEC in scoring defense, the only defensive stat that truly matters. I'm sure that the guys who were in on the field for last year's tilt with the Vols are motivated. Lest we forget, Phil Fulmer confidently proclaimed at halftime in 2006 that they couldn't stop his offense (or more correctly, David Cutcliffe's offense), then came out and proved that he was right. Our offense did put them in position to give up two scoring drives of 40 yards or less and our punt team had one blocked for a touchdown. But that still means that Tennessee scored 30 legitimate, hard-earned points. That's too many at home.
Tennessee has looked great throwing the ball behind Erik Ainge, even without a "go to" receiver. If we play up to potential, this could be the toughest defense Ainge and company have faced so far. I don't think they're as good up front as Ole Miss (or at least not as physical), and I'm not sold on Erik Ainge against tough competition. But Tennessee is plenty good enough to embarass this unit if we don't bring pressure, tackle well and play smart.
2) Kenny O'Neal. There have been rumblings that the former Benedictine of Savannah receiver will get more looks this week. How he (and Lucas Taylor, Austin Rogers and Josh Briscoe) perform against our secondary will go a long way to deciding this one. We absolutely cannot allow Ainge time to find their big receivers deep. I'm extremely worried about our secondary in deep man-to-man coverage, especially against a deep group of receivers.
3) Sean Bailey. Interestingly, Tennessee fans are as worried about their secondary as we are about ours. DeSean Jackson and Percy Harvin will do that to you. While Coach Bobo likes to use the run to set up the pass, I think it's equally important for us to take some shots downfield on this young secondary in 2nd and short situations just to keep them honest.
4) One big special teams play. The blocked punt in 2006. Thomas Flowers' punt return in 2005. This game has a tendency to turn on big plays in the kicking game. With our spotty kick coverage this season, that may not be a good thing.
5) UGA 34, Tennessee 30. I have to be honest: something about this game really worries me. Part of it was our subpar first three quarters against Ole Miss. Part of it is our general inability to stop teams when they are clearly committed to lining up and running it down our throats. Part of it is Matt Stafford's surprisingly average statistical performance this season. I just don't see a lot of places where we have a clear, decisive advantage.
But one might be in coaching. Don't get me wrong, Phil Fulmer has a National Championship ring stowed under the Ring Dings in his cupboard, and that counts for a lot. But there's not another coach besides Mark Richt who I'd rather coach our team in Knoxville. Did I mention Mark Richt has never lost in Knoxville? Perhaps I should mention that. I think this is partially offset by the survival instinct permeating the Vols' preparations. Make no mistake, while Fulmer may not be coaching for his life necessarily, some of his assistants are. If Tennessee starts 0-2 in SEC play and finds themselves looking up at everybody but Vanderbilt, somebody's in danger of getting cut adrift.
What are your thoughts? Anybody else have a vague, uneasy feeling about this one? If not, why are we going to walk away with this one?