KNOXVILLE — For all the x-y-z terminology, for all the late nights the coaches prepare and early mornings the players practice, college football sometimes can become a simple game.
Or as Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said after Saturday night’s 20-12 loss to Georgia, “It was just their guys running by our guys.”
Not that the Bulldogs were exactly bulldozers on the ground. They finished with 139 yards rushing, freshman tailback Isaiah Crowell’s 17-yard, third-quarter touchdown gallop the most deadly of those to the Volunteers’ victory dreams.
But those 139 yards were 159 yards more than Dooley’s vanishing Vols produced, the Big Orange taking 23 rushes to gain minus-20 yards atop Neyland Stadium’s perfect grass field.
Those 139 yards were enough to leave Georgia’s receivers open for 15 catches totaling 227 yards. Those 139 yards allowed the Bulldogs to turn a 18-second deficit in time of possession into an advantage of seven minutes and 26 seconds at game’s end.
That 159-yard deficit was much more than enough to cause Dooley to lament, “If we can’t run the ball, we’re not going to beat good football teams.”
And it’s certainly time to label Georgia a good football team, blessed with a salty defense, a savvy offense and a head coach in Mark Richt who has shown enough grace under fire to wind up on some Presidential watch list, if he ever decides he’s had enough of the coaching circus.
The Bulldogs may have started out 0-2, thanks to some of the worst uniforms in college football history and the not-so-little matter of opening against Boise State and South Carolina.
But in handing Richt his 100th victory, Georgia also served notice that, given time, he might have the Dawgs on the path to another 100 wins over the next 11 seasons, not to mention ending this one in the SEC title game.
“We have a feeling that we’re going in the right direction now,” said UGA quarterback Aaron Murray, who kept the Bulldogs moving in the right direction all night by throwing no interception.
“We’re feeling that we have some momentum going right now and we have to keep working hard and ... staying focused on our ultimate goal.”
The ultimate goal for the Vols is less clear. They’ve now gained a total of (minus-) 29 yards on the ground against SEC East foes Florida and Georgia, both of those performances resulting in defeat.
Moreover, quarterback Tyler Bray injured the thumb on his throwing hand, which forced reserve Matt Simms into the game late in the fourth quarter. Running back Tauren Poole injured a hamstring in the opening half.
Dooley may say, as he did, “We were doing some good things,” but he also added, “We don’t stay calm and execute, which good, veteran football teams do.”
Here’s what the Vols did at the close of their one offensive touchdown, a late sneak by reserve quarterback Matt Simms with 2:45 to go to pull within the final score:
(A) The extra point was blocked.
(B) the ensuing onside kick sailed out of bounds, which automatically returned the ball to Georgia.
Now contrast this to the moves made by Richt in the opening quarter when three times he went for it on fourth down, making all three.
This was Richt channeling LSU riverboat gambler Les Miles without the famous Miles ballcap. And it took him less than a minute to make that call the first time, rolling the dice on his own 40, which surely delighted the Big Orange faithful among the rowdy crowd of 102,455.
At least until the Bulldogs bulldozed their way to a first down.
Pessimists could spin this new Richt recklessness as a sure sign that he didn’t think his defense could hold off the Big Orange offense.
Optimists could argue that Richt’s resolve was born of his supreme confidence that UT’s defense was incapable of halting his offense for four downs. Given the final score — and that the Vols failed to score an offensive touchdown until less than three minutes remained, the optimist argument carries the day.
As Dooley wrapped up his postgame news conference, someone asked him what it says about the state of the Vols that both Florida and Georgia would appear to be a little down yet posted easy wins over UT.
“I can’t speak for them being up or down,” he said. “I know we’re not up.”
And that’s not going to change until the other team’s guys stop running by Dooley’s guys.
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 ...