We’re going to shake things up a bit this week. Given the importance of the Georgia Bulldogs’ upcoming outing against the Tennessee Volunteers, I’ve decided to move Too Much Information to the start of the week. Why? Because I want to avoid predictability and catch the opposition off guard by adding a wrinkle that makes sense in context and is likely to be productive. Are you paying attention, Mike Bobo?
For the 20th straight season, the Red and Black will be squaring off with the Orange and . . . um, I don’t know, More Orange? (Yes, I know it’s white. It was an attempt at humor.) For what feels like the 50th straight season, the two teams will come into the game with similar records and similar prospects, which almost never produces the sort of close contest it should. It is with the innate weirdness of this series borne in mind that I bring you . . . Too Much Information:
Since Cornelius Washington is sidelined with an injury described by director of sports medicine Ron Courson as a "stupidest gluteus," I should begin by noting that Tennessee wide receiver Justin Hunter has been lost for the season, costing the Vols Hunter’s eight catches and 150+ yards per game. Ere you draw increased confidence from Hunter’s absence, please pause to consider the fact that one way the Vols may compensate for his loss is by sending Tauren Poole on a wheel route. Yeah, a Peach State native playing tailback for Tennessee going out on a wheel route against our defense. How could that possibly end badly for the ‘Dawgs?
Though not a young rivalry, this has not historically been a perennial one. Georgia and Tennessee first met in 1899, but, through 1967, the two teams had met just 13 times. Of the 40 series showdowns, nearly half have been played since the 1992 divisional split. Though the heritage of this game is limited, three of Larry Munson’s defining moments came in Knoxville in 1973, 1980, and 2001. Following nine straight losses to the Volunteers between 1989 and 1999, the Bulldogs have taken seven of eleven from the Big Orange since. Six of the Classic City Canines’ 17 series victories, including three of Georgia’s six wins in Neyland Stadium, have come on Mark Richt’s watch. Coach Richt will be going for his 100th career win on Saturday night.
Last week, I was pleased by the prospect of a noon kickoff against an opponent from the central time zone, as I hoped starting at 11:00 a.m. body standard time would make the Mississippi St. Bulldogs lethargic and allow the Red and Black to leap out to an early lead. I don’t know if that’s what did it, but that’s certainly what happened. This week, though, the Athenians face the daunting prospect of playing a night game on the road against a conference opponent. If there is any silver lining for the men in silver britches, it is that home field advantage has never mattered much in this series: Georgia is 8-11-1 against Tennessee in Knoxville, including a 6-9-1 mark in Neyland Stadium, while the Red and Black are 9-10-1 against the Big Orange in Athens, including a 6-9 ledger in Sanford Stadium.
Tennessee fans write haiku. Haiku is a Japanese form of poetry defined by a strict arrangement of three lines with a set number of syllables, in a 5-7-5 arrangement. The Volunteer faithful are partial to this arrangement because they deployed a 5-7-5 scheme for their goal-line defense against the LSU Tigers in 2010.
The Tennessee offense leads the league (and is tied with Wisconsin for first in the nation) in third-down conversion percentage. Despite having had the SEC’s second-fewest third-down attempts (58), the Big Orange have moved the chains on third down more times than any other team in the conference (36), for a stunning 62.1 per cent conversion rate. The SEC’s second-best team is earning a fresh series of downs 46.5 per cent of the time.
The Volunteers’ conversion rate is a bit of a chimera, as Tennessee picks up the requisite yardage just 33.3 per cent of the time in conference contests (4 of 12). Meanwhile, the Georgia defense stands atop the SEC in third-down conversions allowed (25.4%), which is good enough to place the Bulldogs second nationally in that category.
During my recent appearance on the Rocky Top Talk podcast, memphispete asked: "Does T Kyle King feel any special affinity to Dooley because of his father’s name and because of Dooley’s former profession? Would that persuade him to dial down his hatred of all things Orange?" The short answer to memphispete’s first question is, "Of course." Regarding his second question, I don’t think I’ve ever directed any particular vitriol towards Knoxville; I’ve been critical of Lane Kiffin, but that is not the same thing, and the Volunteer faithful now agree with me upon that point. The only harshly critical posting I ever wrote regarding the Big Orange (a) was accurate in every particular but one (Tennessee, in fact, went to a bowl game, which the Vols lost badly), and (b) was almost entirely about how bad Georgia was.
Accordingly, I don’t think the blood between Georgia and Tennessee has ever been particularly bad, or that I have been a purveyor of venom with respect to the Volunteers; heck, I still consider Clemson a bigger rival than Tennessee, even after two decades of divisional play. That said, yes, of course, Derek Dooley’s arrival on the scene very much made this a family affair; Coach Dooley fils comes from good Georgia stock (both the state and the university), and, unlike Will Muschamp, he has never found it necessary to denigrate the institution in Athens. We like Derek Dooley, and, except when his interests conflict directly with ours, we hope he is successful.
Whatever familial ties may bind these rivals, though, this is a weird series. Since the divisional split two decades ago, the general (though by no means universal) trend has been toward close games only when one team was thought to be demonstrably superior to the other heading into the game . . . and then the winner tends to be what was thought to be the inferior squad: Tennessee upended Georgia by three points in 1992 and by five points in 2004, while the Bulldogs upset the Volunteers by two points in 2001. It is when the two teams appear relatively evenly matched that unexpected blowouts occur. In 1997 (No. 9 v. No. 13), 1998 (No. 4 v. No. 7), 1999 (No. 6 v. No. 10), 2000 (No. 19 v. No. 21), 2003 (No. 8 v. No. 13), 2005 (No. 5 v. No. 7), 2006 (No. 10 v. No. 13), 2009 (unranked v. unranked), and 2010 (unranked v. unranked), what were expected to be nailbiters turned into thumpings. I don’t know what accounts for that trend, but it clearly exists, so I anticipate it will continue on Saturday night up on Rocky Top.
My Prediction: 42-17. I just don’t know which team will have the 42 and which team will have the 17.