Folks, please welcome Kyle from Dawg Sports, who's been so kind as to answer some questions for us on tomorrow's game against Georgia. He'll be posting a Q&A with me over on his site later this morning.
1. Okay, Kyle, what's the deal? Has the Georgia Sports Information Department issued an edict that all headlines this week be a variation on the "gloom, despair, and agony on me" theme? Did you not get the memo the other Georgia bloggers apparently received instructing them to rank one-loss Tennessee at No. 11 and unbeaten Georgia at No. 20? Is the situation in the Classic City really that dire?
Dawg Sports: Things are never as good as they seem and they're never as bad as they seem, but I won't lie to you . . . it's looking pretty grim for the home team. If the Georgia team we've seen the last two weeks shows up on Saturday night to face the Tennessee team we've seen the last two weeks, it's going to get ugly and y'all are going to party like it's 1999 . . . or any other year in the 1990s.
The old adage about defense winning championships is going to be sorely tested this weekend unless the Bulldog offense can begin turning potential into production. When Joe T. went down in the first series against South Carolina and the Red and Black went on to escape Columbia with a win, the sense in Bulldog Nation was, "At least we have three games for Stafford to come into his own before Tennessee comes calling." Well, a funny thing happened on the way to immortality. . . .
I ranked Tennessee 10th because the Volunteers played Florida evenly and a single trick play was all that separated the two teams, while U.T. has been more dominant in the rest of its games than U.F. has. If I had to put money on it, I'd take the Vols to represent the East in the Georgia Dome. If the Georgia offense couldn't get it figured out against Colorado and Ole Miss, it's hard to believe it'll all come together against a team that, even in a down year last season, played pretty solidly defensively.
2. Utilizing the Rules Governing the Employment of 2QB Systems, how is Georgia handling the situation with QBs Tereshinski, Cox, and Stafford? Which QB do you hope to see against the Vols? Which should we hope to see?
Dawg Sports: The situation with the Bulldogs' quarterbacks is being handled as well as circumstances will allow, but, when a freak injury takes out your senior starter one drive into the season's second game and you're left with a true freshman and a redshirt freshman, there are going to be growing pains.
Matthew Stafford and Joe Cox offer a tremendous upside, but they're youngsters and they need experience. For that reason, Joe T. is the best choice to lead the `Dawgs on Saturday, because he is less likely to be fooled by creative defensive alignments and feints than his understudies.
Having said that, I'm not sure I accept the premise of the question. If the receivers don't start catching passes that hit them on the hands, I don't expect it much matters who is lining up under center.
3. Georgia is currently 32nd nationally in rushing defense, 6th nationally in total defense, 5th nationally in pass defense, and first in scoring defense. Is it really that good? Is there a weakness somewhere on that side of the ball?
Dawg Sports: If the `Dawgs do have a defensive weakness, I'm certainly not going to tell you about it! Actually, the Red and Black are vulnerable to being gashed by mobile quarterbacks who roll out and take advantage of aggressive overpursuit. That's why I'm glad that, despite his obvious talent and improved confidence, Erik Ainge is a pocket passer.
Willie Martinez is willing to concede the soft underbelly to the opposition. The secondary is solid and there aren't many offenses to which the Bulldogs will give up big plays . . . although Erik-Ainge-to-Robert-Meachem very well could be a combination that will give Georgia trouble. Because the Classic City Canines know they can bow up in the red zone if need be, they'll often leave the middle of the field open between the 20s, which can be exploited. While Georgia's rushing defense is improved, it's not where it ought to be yet.
4. The Dawgs appear to lead the league in key players named after religious icons. We're well aware of defensive end Quentin Moses, receiver Mohammad Massaquoi, and running backs Danny Ware and Thomas Brown, but what other players, spiritually-named or otherwise, should we be concerned about?
The Bulldogs' entire defensive line is pretty solid and Tony Taylor is playing with gusto, but there are four guys whose names you may not know as well as you should.
Paul Oliver is the most underrated defensive back in the S.E.C. While he will be tested this weekend, he is as close to a lockdown cover corner as you'll find in college football right now. Asher Allen is going to make some serious noise in this league before he's done.
On the offensive side of the ball, Brannan Southerland is a force at fullback, doing everything that is asked of him and doing it well. Finally, although his name usually was mentioned last among the trio of talented Bulldog backs, Kregg Lumpkin has emerged as the best of the lot this season. If it were up to me, Lumpkin would get 30 carries this weekend; if he keeps up the good work, he'll get a street in Athens named after him.
5. What is the one thing UT fans making the trip this weekend absolutely must do while in Athens this Saturday? Besides attend the game, of course.
Eat at the Varsity. Take a stroll across North Campus, making certain to see the Arch, the Chapel, Phi Kappa Hall, and the quadrangle bounded by Old College, the law school, Peabody Hall, and the main library.
Marvel at all the pretty girls. Go downtown afterwards and enjoy the club scene. I don't know if he still works there, but there used to be this bartender at the City Bar . . . he was an artist whose medium was alcohol; he worked at it the way a lesser man would have worked in oil or clay. . . .
6. A mere seven years removed from a national championship, a multitude of Volunteer fans clamored for Phillip Fulmer's head on a platter after The Season of Which We Do Not Speak. Do you think this could happen to Mark Richt, or does he enjoy a deeper loyalty from Georgia fans?
Phillip Fulmer is an interesting case study in coaching. He is a successful head coach at his alma mater with a fan base whose expectations, while high, are not off the charts. Coach Fulmer has recruited well, made good hires, and won football games. Why isn't he more beloved?
There are, I think, two reasons for this. First of all, his tenure has not been without its share of scandal. His hiring carried with it at least some taint that Johnny Majors had been done dirty when he was ousted following the 1992 season and an ongoing string of off-the-field incidents have stained Coach Fulmer's on-the-field accomplishments.
Secondly, while Coach Fulmer has been successful, he has never dominated the conference the way Bear Bryant or Robert Neyland did. In fact, he has never consistently ruled the roost in his own division. He famously struggled with Steve Spurrier, losing most of his gridiron chess matches and all of his exchanges of verbal barbs with the Evil Genius. Once Darth Visor moved on to the N.F.L., Mark Richt was on the scene at Georgia, claiming victory in four of his first five clashes with the Volunteers.
Due to the perception that Coach Fulmer is an old offensive lineman regularly being outfoxed by ex-quarterbacks on the opposing sideline, he gets too little credit for his achievements, including a national championship that many attribute to lucky breaks against Arkansas and Florida.
I believe Coach Richt enjoys a deeper loyalty from the Bulldog faithful. For one thing, his program has been relatively scandal-free; he has been swift to deal with player indiscretions and most of the offseason antics with which he has had to contend have been instances of youthful stupidity rather than serious wrongdoing.
Furthermore, Coach Richt has an advantage Coach Fulmer does not have: Mark Richt took over a program that had faltered. Many in Bulldog Nation wondered whether the `Dawgs would ever again be an S.E.C. contender. Phillip Fulmer inherited a Tennessee team on much sounder ground, so it is easier to portray him as a caretaker coach rather than a man who earned the success he has enjoyed.
7. How would you rank Georgia's various units by confidence level, from strongest to weakest? How do you think they match up with Tennessee's units? The Rocky Top Talk community has ranked Tennessee's as follows:
Quarterback (some disagreement here)
Um, maybe confident. Perhaps.
Crossing our fingers
Closing our eyes and holding our noses
Dawg Sports: Here's how the various elements of the Georgia squad appear from the vantage point of Dawg Sports:
Crossing Our Fingers
Praying for Divine Intervention
8. If the Dawgs beat the Vols this weekend, how should we animate the victory for the Animated BCS Race?
Dawg Sports: If, by some miracle, the `Dawgs find a way to eke out a win, the animated representation of Georgia should depict me exhaling and wiping the sweat from my brow. What, you can't do that?
9. What's your prediction for the game? Score and scenario.
Good stuff as always, Kyle. Thanks for joining us. And good luck . . . next week.