I know, you've got a big day ahead. There are offices to be cleaned out, quarterbacks to be taken through media relations training, and rock operas to be composed. And you have to get mentally prepared for the Bulldogs' big matchup with SEC East coleader Vanderbilt (if this makes you dizzy, put your head between your legs and breathe deeply. It will pass . . .) But before we start on all that, let's take a quick look back at the game that was (or wasn't) in Sanford Stadium on Saturday. Beforehand, I said you'd see . . .
1) Lennon Creer and Montario Hardesty: Well, we did see more of them than Arian Foster. Sometimes I wonder what goes on in Tennessee Volunteer offensive staff meetings. I imagine it goes something like this:
Fulmer: We've got three stud tailbacks and a veteran offensive line that averages 310 pounds plus. You don't have to be a genius to know what our offensive philosophy oughta be.
Clawson: Slants, deep two receiver combo routes and Gerald Jones running out of the Wildcat formation?
Fulmer: You nailed it, zippy.
I've never seen a Tennessee squad give up on the running game so early and so thoroughly. During no quarter did Tennessee run the ball more than they threw it. The Vols ran the ball 13 times for 1 yard. This is not the way to win games when you have an inexperienced quarteback playing on the road in the SEC. Coming in I expected the Volunteer coaching staff to act in a rational manner. About that I was solidly wrong.
2) Pressure on Nick Stephens: I said beforehand:"Tennessee's young quarterback was a workmanlike 10 of 17 for 156 yards against the Northern Illinois Huskies. But there's a world of difference between that and putting in a game winning performance against even a passable SEC defense. Hey, we have a passable SEC defense! Serendipity!"
That inexperienced young quarterback acquitted himself as well as could be expected. Stephens finished 13 of 30 for 208 yards and two touchdowns. Of course, those numbers were skewed by the 13 passes for 52 yards he threw in a mad 4th quarter comeback attempt during which everyone knew exactly what was coming. But Tennessee never really even tried to take the pressure off the kid. Georgia however put pressure squarely on Stephens, getting as good a front four pass rush as we've seen all year against a conference opponent. Though they didn't get there on every play, the defensive line collapsed the pocket repeatedly, never really allowing the Tennessee signal caller to get in rhythm. A solid performance on their part.
3) A third quarter to remember: I said: "Fulmer will be trying to protect Stephens as much as possible early, letting him build confidence and get his feet under him in a hostile environment. As the second half begins however, he's either going to be coming from behind or getting a little more leash after having done the things necessary to get the lead. Georgia, conversely, has scored 8 points or more in the 3rd quarter in four of five games this season (and double digits 3 times). One way or the other, this game may well turn in the third."
I was wrong. "Fannie and Freddy are too big to fail . . ." wrong." Next.
4) Fewer penalties: "Perhaps this one is just wishful thinking. but I understand that there's been a lot more emphasis on penalties this week. In my experience, penalties, like missed tackles, tend to be corrected simply by making them a primary focus of the practice regimen. Coach Richt has done that."
Contrary to what some may believe, the penalties were down, if not within an acceptable range. Coach Richt noted on the Bulldog Hotline that while we had 11 overall, three of them were intentional delays of the game which the coaches called for. And none of them were the type of drive-ending, soul robbing, momentum killing gaffs we saw against Alabama. Leaving out the three intentional penalties, Georgia had 8 for 65 yards, versus 10 for 81 yards two weeks ago against Alabama. It's not a great number, but it is improvement, especially coming off a bye week (after which penalties usually go up).
5) UGA 24, UT 20: I thought Tennessee would have at least one to two drives on which they literally ran it down our throats. I'm encouraged by the fact that instead it was the 'Dawgs who embarked on an 11 minute drive to effectively take Tennessee out of it in the fourth quarter. It was the first time this season we've shown that kind of dominance up front, and I'm really surprised that it came with Vince Vance out and Clint Boling at tackle. That drive was definintely something for Coach Searels to build on.
If you had told me going in that I could take a guaranteed 12 point victory over the Vols or risk the actual outcome, I'd have taken the win. That doesn't mean that I didn't curse every dropped pass, bad read and bobbled interception. This one was about three plays away from being totally out of hand. We'll need those three plays in every game from here on out. But I think we're starting to get a more consistent picture of what this team really is, and it's promising. Plus, some of the teams we were terrified of coming in (LSU, Auburn . . .) look more beatable than at the outset of the 2008 season, even if still formidable. This squad will put it all together this season. I just hope they do it sooner rather than later.
Back tomorrow to help you get to know . . .Bobby Johnson. FYI, there's a 75% chance of Steve Martin jokes with occasional Clemson humor. Bring your umbrella. Until then . . .