Yes, the Georgia Bulldogs’ secondary remains susceptible on the perimeter. Yes, the Red and Black’s running game still needs work. Yes, Caleb King’s extended absences from the lineup often appear odd. Saturday’s effort was far from perfect, and one win does not cure all the Athenians’ ills.
You know what, though? There are a lot of positives to take away from this game. From symbolic gestures like Mark Richt leading the team onto the field to substantive changes like personnel shakeups, this coaching staff made some adjustments, and these players responded.
The team as a whole, and the offensive line most especially, played its most complete game of the first half of the season. The offensive play calling was much improved, and the Tennessee Volunteers’ best weapon, Tauren Poole, was limited to 51 yards. As a team, the Big Orange averaged 0.3 yards---yeah, one foot---per rush, and the Classic City Canines took the ball away thrice without turning it over even once.
Georgia held the ball for more than 34 and a half minutes, almost doubled up the Vols in first downs (20-12), and successfully staged a goal line stand. Both coaches displayed class in a scoreless fourth quarter---Mark Richt, by running the ball ten straight plays on the Bulldogs’ final possession, and Derek Dooley, by holding onto his three time outs rather than prolonging the agony---yet the Red and Black still managed to card their biggest victory over Tennessee since 2003.
Note, by the way, that the ‘Dawgs have not beaten a major rival by a convincing margin since the 2007 blackout game against Auburn, so this game may have been more than merely a confidence booster for the squad. For years, Mark Richt-coached teams annually carded a one-sided victory over what was expected to be a competitive opponent: Georgia Tech in 2002, Tennessee in 2003, LSU in 2004 and 2005, and Auburn in 2006 and 2007 . . . but they haven’t done it since, until this Saturday. We won’t look back at this win over the Big Orange the way we look back at the 2001 "hobnailed boot" game, but we may look back at this game as a critical turning point. For four weeks, this team has been just a little bit off, but the ‘Dawgs were "on" on Saturday afternoon.
Beyond that, and beyond co-signing what tankertoad and RedCrake already have written, I would add little about the game itself, except to say this: I don’t want to hear anyone diminishing the value of this win by minimizing the Vols’ virtues as a team. After four straight opponents celebrated wins over a reeling Georgia squad, we get to feel good about this one. Tennessee is a talented and well-coached club; the Big Orange’s deficiencies are attributable to youth and inexperience. Tennessee is the sort of team that can be worn down over the course of 60 minutes of play due to a lack of depth.
We saw that against Oregon, when the Ducks and the Volunteers were tied at the half before the Pac-10 frontrunners went on a 35-0 run in the second half. We saw that against Florida, when the Gators led by four at the break before outscoring the Big Orange by ten after intermission. We even saw that against UAB, when the Blazers erased a 23-7 halftime deficit by scoring 16 unanswered points in the final couple of quarters in regulation.
That isn’t what happened in Athens on Saturday, though. The Bulldogs led 17-0 after 15 minutes and 27-7 after 30 minutes. Georgia took advantage of its opportunities and played a solid game against a team that came one snap away from winning on the road against a Louisiana State team that went on the road and claimed a last-second triumph over Florida. Yes, there’s only one safe W left on the Red and Black’s slate, but there’s no guaranteed L. (By the way, the Gators have a two-game losing streak and are only one game ahead of the ‘Dawgs in the SEC East standings. I’m just saying.)
One final point bears making: I went to the game with ProfDawg, and, before heading into Sanford Stadium, we stopped by Tent City to visit with Holly Anderson, Doug Gillett, Spencer Hall, and the rest of the crew, including such regular Dawg Sports commenters as vineyarddawg. When we were discussing the anticipated low turnout, I said that missing a Georgia game because the team had a poor record never occurred to me.
As an example, I cited the fact that, between 1993 and 1996, when Georgia was going 22-22-1, I attended 23 of 24 home games, and I pointed out that the only game I missed (against Arkansas in 1993) conflicted with the celebration of my grandmother’s 75th birthday. One of the Georgia fans on hand---and here I have to point out that this is one of the most gracious, classy Georgia fans I know---said he didn’t think that was a good enough excuse, and he good-naturedly uttered three words that soon became the abbreviation "FYG," with "YG" standing for "your grandmother." Given the unlikely source of the quotation and the humorous intent of the speaker, I found that to be the funniest thing any human being had said to me in a month.
After the best high school mock trial student I ever coached called me right after kickoff of the 2008 Sugar Bowl, I thought seriously about asking her to call me right after kickoff of every Georgia game thereafter. Ultimately, I decided it probably would look a little odd for a guy in his early 40s to ask a teenage girl to whom he was not related to call him every weekend, so I opted against asking that of her, and look at where we’ve gone as a program since.
The laugh I got out of "FYG" sent me into Sanford Stadium with the most positive attitude I’ve had about Georgia football in a month. I came out of Sanford Stadium with that same attitude. I may ask that guy to call me half an hour before every Georgia game for the rest of the season so he can tell me, "FYG." You don’t mess with a streak, and, right now, my friends, we’ve won one in a row . . . and counting.