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Will the Georgia Bulldogs be on cruise control between the hedges, or will the Tennessee Volunteers deal Mark Richt's Dawgs another heartbreaker? The answer lies in history and statistics.
It has been a wild week here at Dawg Sports, and not just because the SB Nation site upgrades we told you were coming were rolled out just a few days ago. Prior to the network reboot, I was out of pocket temporarily, and, while I am grateful to NCT for his fine work parsing the historical and statistical minutiae in last weekend’s pregame breakdown, I am ready to climb back into the saddle to deliver not an increment of insight, nor a dollop of data, but, rather, Too Much Information regarding tomorrow’s showdown between the Georgia Bulldogs and the visiting Tennessee Volunteers:
This weekend’s showdown will feature the Southeastern Conference’s two most potent offenses: Georgia leads the league in total offense with 530 yards per game, and Tennessee ranks second with just a hair below 514 yards per outing. The Bulldogs, though, are much the more balanced of the two, as the Red and Black have amassed 1,150 yards through the air and 970 on the ground, good for third in the conference (and the top 30 nationally) in both categories. The Vols, by contrast, boast a league-leading 1,365 passing yards but just a seventh-place 690 rushing yards. This is not your father’s Tennessee team; gone is the era of fearing bruising Big Orange tailbacks named Travis, replaced by the SEC in which quarterbacks named Tyler fling the ball all over the yard.
In six seasons prior to the present one, Georgia has squared off with Tennessee in an autumn in which the Bulldogs scored more than 40 points against the Vanderbilt Commodores. (This year, it ought to be remembered, is the seventh such season.) The Classic City Canines were 5-1 against the Big Orange in those half-dozen contests, and that mark included a 4-0 ledger versus the Vols between the hedges.
The Volunteers are still a year or two behind the Bulldogs in running the 3-4 defense effectively, right? Maybe not: Tennessee has allowed 20 third-down conversions in 65 attempts, just slightly behind the 21 Georgia has surrendered on 69 tries. However, in the last five quarters of play, the Big Orange have surrendered the requisite yardage on seven of 20 third-down snaps, whereas the Red and Black have permitted the chains to be moved on just two of 18 third-down plays in that same span.
In the grand scheme of things, how important to Georgia is a win over Tennessee? In the last six seasons in which they beat the Volunteers, the Bulldogs have gone to the SEC Championship Game four times, which is a better rate of return than the Red and Black have realized in their last six wins over the Florida Gators (one SEC Championship Game appearance for the Bulldogs in the seasons featuring Georgia’s last six series wins), the LSU Tigers (one SEC Championship Game appearance for the Bulldogs in the seasons featuring Georgia’s last six series wins), the Auburn Tigers (two SEC Championship Game appearances for the Bulldogs in the seasons featuring Georgia’s last six series wins), the South Carolina Gamecocks (two SEC Championship Game appearances for the Bulldogs in the seasons featuring Georgia’s last six series wins), or the Alabama Crimson Tide (two SEC Championship Game appearances and the 1976 Southeastern Conference title for the Bulldogs in the seasons featuring Georgia’s last six series wins). Six of the last eleven Georgia victories over the Big Orange have come in campaigns that produced a division championship, a conference championship, a national championship, or two of those three, for the Athenians.
2012 is about to become the 14th season in Georgia history in which an undefeated and untied Red and Black team crosses paths with Tennessee other than in a season opener. On the previous 13 such occasions, the Bulldogs were a woeful 3-10 against the Big Orange. That embarrassing ledger includes records of 2-2 under Mark Richt, 2-6 in the Classic City, and 1-4 when the Athenians enter the game at 4-0. 2004 was not an isolated incident; the Vols bump off the ‘Dawgs in scenarios like this Saturday’s all the time, from as far back as 1907 to as recently as 2006.
As if that weren’t bad enough, consider this: Georgia has never beaten Tennessee in Athens in a season in which the Bulldogs were the defending SEC East champions. There’s a reason why games against these guys inspire us to write sad country songs.
The maligned Volunteer D has hauled in eight interceptions this year, tying the Big Orange with Louisiana State for second-best in the SEC. However, despite having seen the opposition put the pigskin on the carpet a league-high twelve times in four games, Tennessee has recovered only one fumble this autumn, tying the Vols for second-worst in the conference.
While there are good reasons for believing the Big Orange might spring another nasty surprise on us between the hedges, there likewise are reasons why Kit and Chuck feel so good about this team. Georgia seems to be on the upswing, these Bulldogs appear to be focused on the task at hand and functioning effectively as a well-led team working together as a unit, and the anticipated return of Alec Ogletree and Bacarri Rambo at last will bring Todd Grantham’s defense to full strength, allowing it to fulfill its truly nasty potential.
As I said on this week’s Rocky Top Talk Podcast, I think this will play out much like the Vols’ game against the Gators, in that it will be tight for three quarters before the Classic City Canines put the game away in the final 15 minutes. I disagree slightly with Bill Connelly’s prediction of a 13.8-point Georgia victory, because I believe the Bulldogs will win by a whole number, but I think, once you round up, Bill will be right on the money. Come Saturday night, Derek Dooley will share something in common with his famous father: Vince also was 0-2 in his first two Georgia-Tennessee games in Sanford Stadium.
My Prediction: Georgia Bulldogs 38, Tennessee Volunteers 24.