ATHENS, Ga. — Derek Dooley didn’t need to wait on a stat sheet to sum up his Tennessee football team’s 41-14 loss to Georgia on Saturday afternoon.
“We’re just not very good right now,” he said following the Volunteers’ fourth loss in six games. “We’re not stopping anybody. That’s been pretty consistent every game.”
Inside the winners’ interview room beneath Sanford Stadium sat Georgia coach Mark Richt, his Bulldogs having won for the second time in six games.
Said Richt, the temperature on his seat momentarily falling to merely warm: “It feels real good. You can’t play the way we did today unless guys are sticking together. If we continue to do that, we’ve got a chance to win next week.”
There is a difference between being bad and playing badly. Add Saturday’s effort from each team to the five games that came before before it, and Tennessee is bad while Georgia has been playing badly.
You just don’t win in the Southeastern Conference unless you can run the ball at little a little bit. UT hasn’t finished with as much as 100 yards on the ground since the Oregon loss. In three of their last four games, the Vols have finished with less than 50 yards on the ground.
Losing seasons often are guaranteed from numbers such as those.
As for the Dawgs, maybe their upturn really is as simple as the return of wideout A.J. Green. Back from the NCAA hoosegow, Green should be 2-0 instead of 1-1. And it’s not just his talent that makes Georgia dangerous. Redshirt freshman quarterback Aaron Murray makes overplaying Green extremely risky, as witness the QB’s two touchdown runs Saturday.
So to rate the Dawgs and Vols on this single game is to project a long autumn for the Big Orange and an uncertain one for Georgia.
But that doesn’t mean either side should feel necessarily good or bad after this one. The Vols need look no further than Georgia’s 2009 season to understand the danger in losing a heartbreaker to LSU one week before the Vols-Dawgs matchup.
The Bulldogs lost to the Bayou Bengals last season largely as the result of a controversial “celebration” penalty. Emotionally flattened by the experience, they fell 45-19 at UT the following week. Yet the Bulldogs rallied to finish 8-5, defeating Auburn and Georgia Tech down the stretch before winning their bowl game.
Coming off the nightmare that was LSU, Tennessee looked like a tired team both mentally and physically against Georgia. This week’s off week couldn’t come at a better time.
Even Dooley said of the break, “I’m not normally a person who believes a bye week ever comes at a good time. But it will be good for us to develop some younger players.”
As long as coaches can remain bowl-eligible, most want to give themselves the best shot to win every game on their current schedules. But this may be the time for the Vols to look far into the future if they can’t jumpstart their season by shocking Alabama.
Start giving freshman quarterback Tyler Bray and stunning freshman wideout Justin Hunter — four catches for 110 yards and a touchdown — first-team snaps and minutes. Promise future recruits immediate playing time. If you’re going to be bad, at least give fans reason to hope for a better day.
Which brings us back to Georgia, which gave its fans much reason to hope after Saturday.
“We knew we were capable of coming out and playing like this,” said Murray, perhaps not realizing that such logic is always followed by the obvious question, “Then why haven’t you?”
Added Green, who finished with six catches for 96 yards and a touchdown despite continual double-teaming: “We never fell apart throughout all of this. We are just going to come in each week and be physical, work hard and come out with a win.”
And maybe they will. But there is also a difference between playing well against a bad team and playing well against a good one.
Until Georgia defeats someone stronger than Tennessee or this week’s opponent Vanderbilt, we may have learned a whole lot more about the Vols than the Bulldogs during their Saturday afternoon battle between the hedges.
Contact Mark Wiedmer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6273.
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...