I enjoy an emotional game as much as the next fellow, but games that are about who is more fired up than whom wind up at one extreme or the other, as evidenced by the last two occasions on which the Bulldogs wore black jerseys when facing Yellowhammer State-based squads between the hedges. Because it is impossible to be emotionally inflamed for every challenging game---and the ‘Dawgs are at the point in the season at which every game is a challenging game---a team has to win some of them in strictly a businesslike manner.
So it was against Arizona State on September 20, and so it was against Tennessee yesterday afternoon. (Let us leave aside for now the fact that both the Sun Devils and the Volunteers now stand at 2-4; the Bulldogs have twice as many victories over Division I-A teams with winning records as our division rivals from Gainesville can claim.) Everywhere except on the scoreboard, Saturday’s Sanford Stadium showdown was a thumping.
How else do you describe a game in which Georgia holds the ball for over 42 minutes and gains 29 first downs to the Big Orange’s ten? How else could you characterize a contest in which the Red and Black converted more than half of their third downs (9 of 17) while holding the visitors to a one-third conversion percentage (4 of 12)?
Matthew Stafford connected on 25 of his 36 attempts for his first 300-yard passing day in a Bulldog uniform. Knowshon Rockwell Moreno became the first running back to rush for over 100 yards against the Volunteer defense this season. Meanwhile, Tennessee tallied a lone rushing yard---one; count it: one---and, even discounting Nick Stephens’s 15 lost yards on sacks, the tailback tandem of Lennon Creer, Arian Foster, and Montario Hardesty combined for 25 yards on 11 carries.
Tennessee twice threatened to climb back into the game, both times due to Georgia miscues (about which more forthwith), but the Bulldogs built up leads of 13-0 early in the second quarter and 20-7 at halftime in the course of amassing 458 yards against a fairly stout Volunteer D while holding the Big Orange to a measly 209 yards of total offense.
The day was far from perfect, of course, as evidenced by the Bulldogs’ 12-point margin of victory. After the indignities of the past two seasons, in which U.T. drubbed the ‘Dawgs once in Athens and again in Knoxville, this game could and should have been, at a minimum, 35-0.
A.J. Green just flat dropped a touchdown pass at the goal line for no good reason whatsoever. The defense missed a couple of shots at contest-clinching interceptions and failed to force a turnover all game. The penalties, which appeared throughout much of the first half finally to be under control, once again got out of hand in the second half, to the tune of 76 yards surrendered on eleven flags.
Stafford threw more interceptions (2) than touchdown passes (1), and both of the Georgia quarterback’s picks ended what would have been Bulldog scoring drives and led to what became the only Volunteer scoring drives; absent those two bad passes, the final score would have been, at worst, 32-0.
While I appreciate, respect, and even agree with the argument that it is better to be beaten deep than dinked and dunked to death, it isn’t any fun watching it happen to your team. My hope for Prince Miller is that he will turn out to be a latter-day Bruce Thornton---picked on unmercifully while experiencing growing pains before turning into a first-class defensive back---but, for now, it is painful watching him struggle in pass coverage.
Not all of the adversity the ‘Dawgs encountered was their own doing, of course. The unfortunate loss of Vince Vance was no one’s fault, naturally, nor was the fact that the S.E.C. officiating crew that sets new standards for incompetence set up the Bulldogs with third and goal on the three after a penalty that is supposed to produce an automatic first down.
In the end, though, there was much more to like than to dislike in Saturday’s performance. Mohamed Massaquoi had a great day and Demiko Goodman had a good one. The forward wall of the Georgia offense kept Stafford upright and able to throw, which was very impressive, considering the attrition in the Georgia ranks and the quality of the Tennessee defense.
In a not unrelated item, Brannan Southerland’s overdue return proved well worth the wait, and, not to be outdone, Shaun Chapas stepped up his game. Asher Allen remains Asher Allen and C.J. Byrd made some nice plays, as well.
While it’s unfortunate that Blair Walsh had to attempt four field goals, he split the uprights on all four of them, even though one of them was a bit harrowing and I’m not altogether convinced that the wind rendered it wise to let the third quarter expire before letting the true freshman try a 41-yarder at the other end of the field. Brian Mimbs returned to the form he displayed against South Carolina and we appear finally to be getting away from this nonsense of placing kickoffs anywhere other than the end zone.
I could have done with a few more touchdowns and I carry some sense of dread that another such effort of dominance on the stat sheet but not on the scoreboard will not suffice against L.S.U. or Florida or, heck, Vanderbilt. Nevertheless, the ‘Dawgs did what they had to do, converting critical third downs and closing the deal when the chips were down.
Clinging to a 13-7 lead and facing third and eight at their own five yard line, the Classic City Canines moved the chains to spark a drive that went 97 yards in nine plays, culminating in a touchdown with nine seconds remaining until halftime. After the Georgia defense later forced the Vols to go three and out, the Red and Black ran the ball 14 times in their next 16 plays, covering 76 yards and tacking on the game-icing field goal after taking eleven minutes off of the clock.
The Bulldogs played good football and moved the ball well on what is still a stout S.E.C. defense. I will admit that I am not unbiased upon this point, since my wife teaches with this particular walk-on’s father, but, for me, the emblematic play of the game is one you probably didn’t notice. On what I believe was Georgia’s last kickoff, Chad Gloer nearly made---arguably, should have made---the tackle that would have left the Volunteers with particularly poor field position, but, having missed his chance the first time, he got back up, gave chase, and made the tackle the second time. It wasn’t perfect, but it showed a refusal to let up and it got the job done.
The final score, while disappointing, was not surprising, particularly if you happened to read this weblog before the game. (Heck, I even picked the honorary game day captain correctly!) If you want to win a football game, you have to out-think, out-tough, and out-play your opponent. Georgia did that, and, anytime you can walk away from an S.E.C. football game with a win in your hip pocket, you’ve had a good day. I, for one, am not going to fret (for now) that the good was merely good and not great. When good is good enough, I’ll take it.