When Tennessee scored 20 unanswered points to take a 30-27 lead with a few minutes before the half, a strange calm befell me. I can't explain why, but I suppose it had more to do with acceptance than with hope. The team was in total meltdown mode, and the familiarity of this most unsavory turn of events - poor special teams decisions and two calamitous fumbles deep in our own end of the field - suddenly transported me to last season's South Carolina game. In the span of a few minutes we nearly lost the cause, yet prevailed...perhaps saving everything.
Every champion has a moment like this. Sometimes a few. Auburn certainly did in 2010. Back in 1980 in the 3rd game of the season, Scott Woerner practically beat Clemson by himself. Later in the year, we hung on for dear life against Jim Carlin's South Carolina Gamecocks featuring George Rogers. In that game, Carolina was driving for the win late when we got a break. Rogers fumbled a pitch on about the Georgia 18 and we jumped on it preserving a 13-10 victory. By all accounts, Georgia was looking ahead to the next week against Florida and we all know how that one ended up. Was yesterday's victory (one of) our 1980 moment(s)? A season ago, no way we win Saturday's shootout. Perhaps we don't win this game in as far back as 2008, either...although it was completely reminiscent a game we did win that season: The 52-38 outburst we had at LSU. Time for a liberal dose of 15 Thoughts on what was a wild Saturday in Sanford Stadium.
THE UGLY PARTS
1. We've got to shore up special teams play. Now. I understand that Mark Richt has made the decision to have Rhett McGowan return punts going forward. Why did it take 3 or 4 tries with Malcolm Mitchell to convince him of the need to change players for one of the most important aspects of the game? I was convinced that, as great as Mitchell can be, he's not ready to take on this task. And I was convinced 2 games ago, not when he allowed a short punt to roll down to the 1 yard line. Todd Gurley's gaffe on a kickoff was just the combination of a good directional kick, some indecision and freshman being freshman. Live (survive) and learn.
1a. There was enough drama in this
world game to have to consistently worry about PATs. What in the Sam Hill is going on? Is Marshall Morgan aiming the ball? Jeebus H. Schadenfreude, I'm more relaxed when the kid is about to kick one beyond 50 yards than an extra point attempt.
2. I'm not going to complain about Murray's pick-6 too much. That was just a good play by two Tennessee defenders. The lineman who tipped the pass affected the trajectory of the ball, and Tennessee's Byron Moore already had momentum as he was breaking on the intended Georgia receiver. A perfect-storm pick 6. It happens.
3. I haven't seen the replay, but I think Aaron Murray's fumble during that five-minutes-of-hell was just a missed block by a Georgia guard. I could be wrong, but it did not appear that the running back (Gurley?) was tasked with chipping someone on the outside. The Vol defender just blew by his guy and made a play. Still, it was in the same end of the end zone with nearly the same result as last year's back breaker against USCe. Fix this.
4. During our blowout victories over Buffalo, FAU and Vandy we put in 2nd and 3rd team players in the 4th quarter, sometimes for the entire 15:00. Does anyone think that, ultimately, this affects how our offensive starters perform late in the game? I sure as hell do. When we need a drive-sustaining first down, we couldn't get it. It's as if we haven't played any football in the 4th when the chips are down. There's a fine line between keeping an edge and practicing caution. More on this in a bit. Keep reading...
4a. Rantavious Wooten...I love you man and you're a Damn-Good-Dawg. If you catch that slant (a great call and good pass), you probably run right out of Sanford, up Baxter Street and would've been in Winder by 8:00 last night. You'll atone.
5. Defensively, my concern is growing but should I be overly worried? For the first time since September 1st, we had everyone back. Chemistry and game-speed for the players that have been missing are two things that cannot be replicated in practice. It affects everyone. Now, Alec Ogletree had himself a game. I'd have to watch the game again to determine the impact Bacarri Rambo had, which I'm sure was solid. Folks, Tennessee has a very, very good offensive line. These guys have been together for a while through a lot of adversity. I think the Vols are going to give a few highly-ranked teams fits later on this season. We couldn't get to Bray and they ran for 197 yards on 40 attempts (5-yards per crack).
THE GOOD PARTS
1. When the defense had to make a play, we did. In fact, we did twice. Sanders Commings interception should have sealed the deal. That interception was made possibly by a corner blitz which was one of the few times we really made Tyler Bray throw poorly...
1a. ...I don't know how much Jordan Jenkins played, but he was the right man at the right time when he stripped Tyler Bray of the football that John Jenkins recovered. The two biggest defensive plays at the most critical juncture of the game. This is what Champions do.
2. Gurshall. What can you possible say that hasn't already been said? The challenge now is to pick and choose when to insert these guys, and this is something that will naturally evolve as the coaches get a better feel or these guys. It's only been 5 games and it's a nice problem to have. For my money, if we're backed up deep like we often were, I think Todd Gurley is a safer bet amplified by Keith Marshall's critical fumble. Gurley is simply more physical and more likely to get an extra yard or three.
2a. Our offensive line is blocking better and better. We're not perfect, but it's coming together.
3. Are we scoring too soon? Perhaps, but when your defense is trying to gel I ain't complaining. One thing is for certain: Both of our scripted drives to open the game and the second-half were perfect. And along the way, if our running backs break long runs for 75, 51, and 72 yards, so be it. Back to my previous thought from above (The Ugly Parts, #4), 4th quarter offensive consistency is the only thing missing right now.
4. Murray was more than solid. A few passes were a bit high, but Jay Rome got up for one as did Wooten. 19/25 for 278 yards, 2 touchdowns and a pick (6).
4a. Michael Bennett. We need to get that boy a nickname. Or not. What a weapon.
5. RedCrake's observation about the scoring is correct:
The defense actually gave up 23 points, not 44
Despite the voluminous amount of yardage we gave up in this game, 7 points came directly off a pick-six and between 4:53 and :42 left in the 2nd quarter, 16 points came as a result of turnovers deep in our end zone and Gurley's kickoff gaffe which set the Vols up for a short field drive. Why is this good? Because we could've folded but didn't. I can't reiterate this enough.
5a. Did I mention Gurshall? Good.
OTHER RUMINATIONS AND SUCH
1. Why did we stop running the pistol in the second-half? Inquiring minds want to know...
2. Credit Derek Dooley and his staff for bringing an excellent game plan to the table. They neutralized Jarvis Jones (as much as possible) by devoting extra blockers, primarily the Tight End and keeping him out of the backfield.
3. That's probably the best offensive line we'll see until Alabama (hopes).
4. Tyler Bray is a damn good quarterback. He played a fine game. I thought they would try to go deep more than they did. Their running game was on, but the play-action deep ball seemed to be missing. No complaints here.
5. When you survive a game like this, you always look for flaws. We honestly could've blown Tennessee out and were perhaps on the verge of doing so before we had that 2nd quarter meltdown. Do we need a Special Teams Coach? Not unless you enjoy watching the momentum of a game swing like it did. C'mon, Coach Richt. Pony up the money for a top-notch guy.
We got to clean up some things. We got some guys back that were new.
- Todd Grantham
1. I think Tennessee should give SOD another year. I realize there's a good chance that Bray, Hunter and Patterson might jump to the NFL, but he did inherit a colossal pile of Kiffindung and has done the best he can.
2. Paul Johnson is a genius. You read it here first.
3. South Carolina played a very poor half of football against the worst team in the Conference not named Arkansas. They got re-focused and pulled away. I watched as much of that game as I could before realizing life is too damn short to watch bad football (or drink bad bourbon).
4. It's been batted around since the game ended yesterday, but where are the holding calls? Is it PWG (Playing While Georgia) or is it a bigger conspiracy.
5. When our backs get into space, there is a really good chance they're taking it to the house. We could use another one in this next class with good hands. Alvin Kamara, come on down!
As podunkdawg says, a win is a win and this one, although terrifying at times, was sweet nevertheless. I don't care how "down" Tennessee is, it's always great to beat the Vols. I couldn't possibly address every nuance this game revealed, but hit upon the more obvious things we all witnessed. Feel free to add your thoughts.
Next week is South Carolina and a team that will be a challenge, especially defensively. Our team has now proven it can overcome adversity in two big games. There will be some moments next week I'm sure. Been there, done that!
Have a good Sunday, y'all. Go Dawgs!