Georgia at Tennessee
It's not going to be on the highlight shows, and most fans probably turned away before the very end, but the Georgia players were fired up.
Of course they had to be pumped to get a big SEC road win over a good team like Tennessee, but there was another reason. They appeared to be genuinely jacked up for their head coach.
A time ran out, the players showered Mark Richt with Gatorade, pushed him around playfully, and many came up and congratulated him on his 100th win. And with the heart Georgia is showing, there will be more.
It would've been easy to have given up and lose focus after the rough 0-2 start, but Georgia is playing hard and tough to get on the winning track after the tough start. With Florida's quarterback situation a mess and with South Carolina being South Carolina – there will be more losses – Georgia is still in the mix for the SEC East title. But for the moment, from all indications and from what the players and coaches are saying, they really and truly are taking it one game at a time, and it's working.
If one of the biggest keys to coaching is keeping your team interested and playing with full effort, then Richt continues to succeed. Isaiah Crowell was hurt and was taking a pounding, but he kept on running hard, finishing with a tough 58 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries, while the defense was dialed in all game long holding the Vols out of the end zone until the final minutes and allowing fewer than 300 yards per game.
Fine, so it helps that the schedule eased up in a big way, and it was a big bonus that Mississippi State and Ole Miss are on the last few weeks while Florida had to deal with Alabama and LSU, but the Dawgs are 4-2 with Vanderbilt, a wounded Florida, and New Mexico State up next. On effort and execution, Georgia can win those three games before hosting Auburn and getting the free space of Kentucky at home.
Reality will set in the SEC Championship game if Georgia really does run the rest of the conference table, but one thing appears clear; this team won't quit on its way to try to get there.
Here comes Georgia.
Piece by piece, the Bulldogs are salvaging a season that appeared destined for the junk heap after an 0-2 start. Georgia has now won four straight, including the last three over SEC opponents. Okay, so beating Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Tennessee isn't exactly akin to running the gauntlet, but the Dawgs have finally located the confidence that comes with a winning formula. A finished product? Hardly. Good enough to take down the West Division heavyweights. Nope. However, there's a sense of gradual healing around Athens that has the locals cautiously optimistic. The emergence of rookie RB Isaiah Crowell, coupled with the play of Todd Grantham's underrated defense, has put Georgia in a far more favorable position than it was a month ago. Can you imagine where the Bulldogs might be today had they held on to a late lead in the 45-42 Week 2 loss to South Carolina?
So where does Mark Richt fit into the program's recent run of success? He's obviously still on probation, though the collar around his neck is noticeably looser. Still, the coach knows that he, like his team, has a ton of things to accomplish before being able to exhale. For starters, the Dawgs are going to need to win an SEC East division that's up for grabs. Regardless of the recent winning streak, capped by a rare triumph in Knoxville, anything less than a spot in the league title game will leave the coach vulnerable to being replaced.
By Matt Zemek
For the first 30 minutes of Saturday night's season-shaping showdown in Knoxville, Tennessee, the Georgia Bulldogs steadily moved the ball, displayed an appreciable degree of physical prowess in the trenches… and scored zero touchdowns en route to a 6-6 tie. A team that moved the ball more consistently than South Carolina did on Sept. 10 was still able to gack away that game because of untimely lapses and an inability to finish the drives it started. Ever since its 2007 season – a Sugar Bowl-winning conquest which affirmed the Dawgs as an SEC power – Georgia has developed a curious propensity for failing to consolidate momentum, for losing focus precisely when it begins to establish a clear upper hand. This was the pattern at work in the first half of this Tennessee tilt, and anxious Georgia fans had to wonder if their boys could close the sale.
After a strong (albeit still penalty-rich) second half in which the Dawgs knocked the homestanding Vols off their block, there's reason to believe in Athens.
No, this doesn't mean a corner has been turned for Georgia. Mark Richt – steadily regaining hold of his job (yes, I can acknowledge that I was premature in reporting his demise) – must still navigate tricky tests against Florida and Auburn. However, with South Carolina in search of an identity and Florida being harmed by the nasty one-two punch of a brutal schedule and quarterbacking injuries, Georgia has a very strong chance of brining home the SEC East championship.
What's particularly encouraging for the Bulldogs is that while they committed enough penalties to generate a 3rd-and-57 situation in the fourth quarter, they didn't commit the game-changing turnovers that sabotaged their efforts against South Carolina. Quarterback Aaron Murray didn't throw deep balls well, but he displayed the ball security Richt and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo have been clamoring for. In a decidedly mediocre SEC East, merely eliminating turnovers will win a lot of games. Reducing mistakes, even without a proliferation of game-breaking plays, might be the boring NFL way, but if that's what it takes for Georgia to return to Atlanta on the first Saturday of December, so be it.
Saturday night's win over Tennessee wasn't pretty. However, it wasn't the pit of ugliness as well, and it sure looks attractive in the SEC East standings for the resurgent Georgia Bulldogs. They're not necessarily on their way to the promised land, but they're not enmeshed in the September misery which feels so blessedly distant at this point in time.
By: Barrett Sallee
Follow me on Twitter: @BarrettSallee
Say it with me, and say it with feeling...Georgia is in this race.
A road win in the SEC is a good win; it doesn't matter how you get it. Georgia went on the road in a tough environment and got an important win which will keep the Bulldogs squarely in the mix for the Georgia Dome.
This is not something I thought I'd say before the season, but the biggest thing to take out of Georgia's performance is the play of quarterback Aaron Murray. Murray had been decent, but not playing up to the hype that comes along with a first-team all SEC selection. His performance on Rocky Top was David Greene-esque, completing 15-of-25 passes for 227 yards, zero touchdowns and, most importantly, zero interceptions. With Isaiah Crowell emerging as the every-down running back that Dawg Nation thought he could be, and wide receiver Malcom Mitchell exceeding the recruiting hype, all Murray needs to be is a game manager for UGA to be a contender.
Tennessee needs to find a way to run the ball. Nine yards rushing? For a game? That's completely unacceptable. Being one-dimensional will kill you in the SEC, and that's exactly why the Vols left Neyland Stadium with a loss. Granted Tauren Poole only played one half, but he didn't make an impact in that half, and it didn't get better after he left with a leg injury.
By Russ Mitchell
Follow me on Twitter @russmitchellcfb
Negative 20 yards rushing.
That's all you need to know.
The Vols are 0-2 in conference play, in which they have a breathtaking negative 29 yards of rushing offense, on 44 carries.
It doesn't matter how good quarterback Tyler Bray is. It doesn't matter how great your passing scheme is. If you're rushing for negative yards, you're losing to the Directional University for the Football Challenged, let alone Florida and Georgia.
It doesn't matter that your offense is very, very young – this is the Southeastern football Conference, there is no mercy. You don't get a trophy for participation. There are no orange slices at halftime.
On the other side, while Georgia's performance was enough to win, it was unlikely to have satisfied all but the most diehard of Dawg fans. The good news is that the Bulldogs had no turnovers. After having an interception-happy afternoon last Saturday against Mississippi State, Murray was mistake free. Ok, perhaps not mistake free…let's go with turnover free.
Murray was far from crisp, star freshman running back Isaiah Crowell was limited by a right wrist injury to just 58 yards on 19 carries – well below his average – and while the defense did limit Tennessee's ability to run, the Vols had nearly 300 yards of passing offense.
Georgia was favored to win this game before the season and in the days leading into the contest, and the Bulldogs had a relatively comfortable second half after running back Isaiah Crowell scored two unanswered touchdowns.
Now we wait to see the condition of Crowell's wrist and Bray's hand. Crowell and the Bulldogs travel to Nashville to play a Vandy team likely licking its wounds after the beating it took at the hands of the Crimson Tide. Bray's Vols get to stay home. One problem: here come the #1 ranked LSU Tigers, who play a little bit of defense.
How many negative yards rushing do you think the Vols will have next Saturday?