Mark Wiedmer: Dogs glad, but Vols can be proud, too

Mark Wiedmer: Dogs glad, but Vols can be proud, too

September 30th, 2012 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Tennessee tailback Marlin Lane runs the ball.

Photo by Patrick Smith /Times Free Press.

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ATHENS. Ga. - You're obviously happier if you're a Georgia Bulldog this morning. Your No. 5-ranked team is not only 5-0 on the year after Saturday's 51-44 victory over Tennessee and 3-0 in the Southeastern Conference, but you've scored at least 41 points in all five games.

Maybe South Carolina will have an answer for you this coming weekend in Columbia, or maybe no one will stop you until the SEC title game, if then.

Regardless, it remains a good thing to be a Dawg these days.

Or as winning coach Mark Richt noted, "We're right where we want to be."

But if there isn't exactly joy in Volsville this morning, there is surely Tennessee Pride. Spotting the big, bad Bulldogs double-digit leads after both the first and third quarters, UT fought to a 30-all halftime tie and had the ball twice inside the final three minutes of the game with a chance to tie or win.

There is just reason for hope in that effort, especially with an off week arriving before an Oct. 13 visit to Mississippi State.

"We're leaving here with a better team than when we got here," third-year coach UT Derek Dooley said after his team's second loss in five games, though both are SEC setbacks.

"I've always believed this team had some fight in them, and tonight we proved it."

This isn't to say the Vols are ready to win their final seven games and play on New Year's Day. As Dooley also said after noticing his defense allowed 282 rushing yards, "We've got to shore up our run defense or we're not going to beat anybody."

But they had a chance to beat the No. 5 team in the country on its home field. A chance to beat a team that was surrendering 16.5 points a game but gave up 44 to the Vols. A chance to beat the No. 5 team in the country after trailing by 17 in the second quarter and 14 in the fourth.

"We're all disappointed," Vols tight end Mychal Rivera said after catching three balls for 82 yards. "But we all grew up a lot tonight, too. We learned that if we'll stick together and play hard the whole time, good things can happen. Good things are going to happen to this team."

Great things can happen for Georgia. The Bulldogs had 500 or more yards for three straight games.

Said Dooley -- whose father coached Georgia to a national championship in 1980 -- of these current Dawgs: "We went toe-to-toe with a great team that's going to compete for a national championship."

Of course, that's also assuming the Bulldogs bunch that showed up for much of the second quarter and most of the fourth disappears for good somewhere between the UGA campus and Columbia, S.C., this Saturday.

After all, the Bulldogs had to kick a 50-yard field goal on the final snap of the second quarter to earn a 30-all tie at the break.

"We knew we could have a good second half if we protected the ball," said winning quarterback Aaron Murray. "We just got a little sloppy."

Sure enough, just as the Vols were outclassed and outmanned throughout the second half of lopsided losses to LSU and Alabama last season, just as they fell apart against Florida this season, they likewise were steamrolled in Saturday's third period against the Bulldogs.

Georgia outscored UT 21-7 in the third period, then hung on for dear life as the Vols outgained the Dawgs 140-22 in yards in the fourth quarter, outscored them 7-0 and had three possessions inside the final seven minutes.

Still, Georgia won and Richt quickly distanced himself from any concerns the Bulldogs might have going forward when he said, "I'm going to focus on the positives."

But it was something he said about Tennessee that should make the Big Orange Nation feel better going forward, something no top-tier SEC coach has said about the Vols for years.

"Tennessee is very good," Richt said. "I think Derek has got them going in the right direction. They're going to be a pain in the rear for some time to come."

At least they look as if such a thing is more possible at today's dawn than Saturday's.