It Was a Win Over Tennessee

It was a win over Tennessee.

Wins over Tennessee are always satisfying, especially to this Georgia fan who suffered through the 90’s when wins over Tennessee were nonexistent.  Tennessee beat Georgia nine times in a row during that period, by an aggregate score of 286 to 154, which works out to an average score of 31.8 to 17.1 and an average margin of just over two touchdowns per game.  (Just think how much time I had to have on my hands to work all of that out.)

Not all of the games were that lopsided.  Some were heartbreakingly close, such as 1992 when Eric Zeier, Garrison Hearst, Andre Hastings and friends had Tennessee beat, only to let them convert on 4th-and-forever and go down for the winning score.  Or 1995, when Robert Edwards, the last hope of the Ray Goof era, was lost for the entire season.  Georgia fought on valiantly that night, but perished in the end 30-27.

And some were distressingly ugly.  Like the 1993 game, which I had the opportunity to travel with the Redcoats to Knoxville to see with my own eyes.  It was 7-6 in the second quarter when we left to go down to the field for halftime.  By halftime it was 21-6.  By the time we got back to our seats after the halftime show it was 35-6.  Tennessee went on to win by a final score of 38-6.  1994 was not much better, as Eric Zeier and Georgia broke down in graphic fashion en route to a 41-23 loss.  And then there were the late 90’s, where quarterback Quincy Carter, the most overrated athlete ever to don a Georgia jersey, led his team to the slaughter 22-3 in 1998 and 37-20 in 1999.

Even in recent times there has been plenty of ugliness to go around, as Tennessee had won 3 of the last 4 prior to 2008.  The last two of those were especially ugly, as Tennessee won by a combined score of 86-47, including a stretch from the final minute of the second quarter in 2006 to midway through the first quarter in 2007 where Tennessee outscored Georgia by a whopping 72-9.

As one who has lived through all of that, it is always satisfying to me anytime that some of the pain which Tennessee has administered over the years gets returned.  Even if it is returned to a Tennessee team which is undoubtedly inferior to the teams of past years.

So yes, the win over Tennessee last weekend was a satisfying experience.  A very satisfying experience.

Unfortunately, those of you who were looking for some reassurance in the wake of the Alabama fiasco that Georgia is still capable of contending for a national championship will have to wait until some other week.

On a week when three top 5 teams lost, Georgia stood pat at No. 10.  And for once you will not find me arguing.

The offense moved the ball at will against Tennessee, but on seven trips inside the red zone came away with only two touchdowns.  Two touchdowns on seven red-zone opportunities may be enough to beat the last-place team in the SEC East–and to beat them by two touchdowns–but against LSU and Florida and Vanderbilt, two touchdowns in seven red-zone opportunities will get you beat.

Matthew Stafford had a 300-plus yard game this week–his first ever.  That is a significant accomplishment for him.  But then, there is the matter of those interceptions.  You see, Stafford threw two interceptions deep in Tennessee territory, and both resulted in Tennessee touchdowns.  That kind of performance, against LSU or Florida or Vanderbilt, will get you beat.

Killer instinct?  That sense of knowing when and how to step on and crush the life out of a decidedly inferior opponent which all championship teams possess in abundant measure–which Alabama showed against Georgia two weeks ago, which Florida showed against LSU this week and Arkansas the week before?  Sorry folks, not here.  Not today.

The game was decided in the fourth quarter when the Georgia offensive line–the same unit which had been completely and totally shredded by Terrance Cody and the Alabama defense two weeks ago–actually manned up and took over the game as Georgia drove 76 yards in 17 plays for a field goal and a 26-14 lead.  But here’s the thing–that drive burned a whopping 10 minutes and 59 seconds off the clock.  Georgia took over with 13:48 left in the game and Tennessee did not touch it again until there was only 2:49 left.  For Tennessee, trying to overcome a two-score deficit, that was a back-breaker.

But it should never have come down to that.  Georgia had ample opportunities to put this one away earlier.  Recall those two Stafford interceptions?  Both took place way down in Tennessee territory; one at the 13 and the other at the 22.  Had Georgia been able to take care of the ball, they would have come away with at least a field goal, and possibly a touchdown, on each of those drives.  What’s more, both interceptions resulted in Tennessee touchdowns.  Put all that together, and it works out to a swing of anywhere from 20 to 28 points.  Which works out to potentially a 27-0 lead for Georgia at the half and a 34-0 lead at the end of the third quarter.

Now let’s look at those drives where Georgia settled for field goals.  Had Georgia been able to score touchdowns instead of field goals on even two of those drives, that’s an additional 8 points on the board.  Which means that it could have been as much as 35-0 at the half.  You go up 35-0 at the half, and not a lot of teams are coming back from that.

Now don’t get me wrong here.  I am NOT saying that Georgia should have run up the score on Tennessee.  That would have been very bad.  What I am saying is that Georgia left a lot of points on the table during the course of this game–points that championship caliber teams such as LSU, Florida, and Alabama, would never in a million years have left on the table.

That sort of lack of killer instinct, against LSU or Florida or Vanderbilt, will get you beat.

Yes, it was a win.  And a very satisfying one at that.  It is always satisfying whenever some of the pain which Tennessee has given out over the years gets returned.  But Georgia had the opportunity to make a statement here.  Just like Florida did against LSU.  Just like Alabama did here a couple of weeks back.  And they whiffed.  They won by a fairly decisive margin, but it wasn’t nearly decisive enough to make any sort of statement.  Good teams win in the way that Georgia won this week.  But not great teams.  Not championship caliber teams.

So if you’re looking for any sort of assurance that Georgia still belongs in the national championship picture, you’ll have to wait until some other week.  Or perhaps just dream on.