It's Monday, which means we've had our 24 hours to mourn, and now it's time to move on.
...except, I'm not in the mood to move on. I'm still not over it. And I don't plan on being over it anytime this week.
You know what I am in the mood for, though? Beating Georgia. Again.
In eighteen meetings since we became divisional rivals in 1992, the Vols are 12-6 against Georgia, and eight of those wins are by three or more possessions. This includes three of the last four years, each of which were supposed to be Georgia victories because:
- They were up 24-7 with less than five minutes to play in the first half in Athens in 2006
- The Vols had given up more than 100 points and 1,000 yards to Cal and Florida coming into the game in 2007, Phillip Fulmer's back was against the wall, and Georgia was the eventual #2 team in the nation
- Jonathan Crompton was playing quarterback in 2009
Instead, the Vols unleashed the best fourth quarter I've ever seen in 2006, followed up with one of the best first half performances I've ever seen in 2007, and then watched Jonathan Crompton turn into Peyton Manning in 2009. Surrounding the Clawfense's 26-14 loss in Athens are 51-33, 35-14, and 45-19. In the 90s, when Tennessee's season wasn't going the way we wanted because we'd lost to Florida, Georgia made it better. In Fulmer's final years, when the seat was getting a little warm, the Dawgs were there to cool it off. And when Lane Kiffin needed his first big win after several near misses, UGA was more than willing to oblige. When things get dark and dreary in Knoxville, we beat Georgia like a drum to make it all better. It's what we do.
And on Saturday, we need to do it again.
I'm tired of thinking about LSU, but the only way to make it go away is to beat Georgia.
If the Vols lose in Athens on Saturday, we'll fall to 2-4. It's the record we thought we'd have at the midway point. But Georgia is not the team we thought they'd be.
If the Vols lose, it will be to a 1-4 Bulldog team that, despite all the drama in Baton Rouge, still found a way to be the more fragile team on the field this Saturday by fumbling/flea-flickering away a game at Colorado. The Buffaloes join South Carolina, Arkansas, and Mississippi State as teams who've beaten the Dawgs; Tennessee may not necessarily be better than any of those teams right now, but we're in the conversation...and from Georgia's perspective none of them are games they should've lost anyway.
It's not that the Dawgs are untalented, it's what that talent has done - on offense, UGA is 76th in rushing, 57th in passing, and 73rd in total yards. What Georgia's also done is break down at the end of the game:'
- Washaun Ealey's fumble was recovered at the one yard line with three minutes left in the third quarter at South Carolina. Down 14-6, Georgia's next two drives started and ended inside their own 20, then Marcus Lattimore ran down the clock and set up a Carolina field goal to seal it.
- With 3rd and 4 at the 50 with 1:04 left in a tie game against Arkansas, Aaron Murray was sacked and Georgia punted. Ryan Mallet completed three passes in three plays for 18, 15, and 40 yards for a touchdown with fifteen seconds left for the win.
- Down only 7-6 at the start of the fourth quarter at Mississippi State, the Dawgs gave up 17 points in 11 minutes in a 24-12 MSU win.
- After blowing a 24-14 third quarter lead in Boulder, Georgia had 1st and goal at the 4 but got only three points, then had 1st and 10 at the Colorado 27 when Caleb King fumbled to seal it.
With a few plays here and there, Georgia could easily be 4-1...but their offensive and defensive numbers suggest they've been more than just unlucky.
In a sense, you could argue that this game will come down to the team that's more ready to play...but I think that has to be us. We were expecting to starve, but have come much closer to getting something real than we imagined. Georgia had some questions with a new quarterback and a new defensive coordinator, but they were in no way expecting this result against that schedule.
LSU was heartbreaking...but are we still hungry? And more than hungry...you want to make it better, make it right? Let's be angry. Take it out on Georgia.
I don't want to sit through an off week thinking about how close we were to the win Derek Dooley needs against LSU. I want to sit through the off week enjoying a win over Georgia. To us, it does not matter that they're 1-4. This year, it's still a huge game...and because things have gone the way they have for both of us, I think this is a game where we can seriously entertain victory, not upset. The fact that we've opened as an 11 point dog against a 1-4 team should make this team feel disrespected. Take it out on Georgia.
And because it's Georgia, it remains the single most important game for recruiting. Anything bad that happens to Georgia is good for Tennessee...and we need to make something terrible happen in Athens on Saturday.
If we lose, it'll be what we thought it would be, only more painful than we thought we would feel it. We'll spend a week thinking about LSU and how we couldn't beat a 1-4 team that Colorado put almost 400 yards on. We'll look ahead and see only Alabama and Columbia, and find little immediate hope.
But if we win, Dooley will get the W he needs to hang his hat on. And we'll spend a week getting healthy and finding hope not just for the future, but for the moment.
Heartbroken over LSU? Take it out on Georgia. I hope we show up in Athens on Saturday afternoon hungry...but I also hope we show up very, very angry. This is not the week to feel sorry for ourselves. And this is not the week to take solace in coming close.
This is the week to get the job done.