The Dawgs survive and advance in a 51-44 win over Tennessee on Saturday afternoon. I said in my early look that this had all of the look of a potential trap game with the looming showdown in Columbia East. Due to big mistakes on special teams and with turnovers leading directly to Tennessee points, this game ended up being much closer than it should have been. Explosive plays from the Georgia running game with Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall ended up being the difference. Let’s get to the breakdown.
What Went Well
GurShall - The freshman NC Dynamic Duo absolutely lit up the Vols’ defense for 294 yards on 34 carries with 5 TDs between them. Marshall’s 2 long runs were incredible demonstrations of his top end speed when he was never touched once he broke through the first wave. Gurley’s 51-yard TD run was a jaw-dropping combination of power and speed where he just ran over and through the Tennessee defense. With the exception of Marshall’s fumble, these two looked like they were running against North Carolina high schoolers rather than SEC-caliber talent.
Alec Ogletree/Bacarri Rambo - While the defense had some challenges especially in the 2nd quarter due to field position and tackling issues in the 2nd half, the 2 returning players combined for 23 tackles as the two leading tacklers for the defense. Ogletree, in particular, had 14 tackles, 3 passes defensed, and caused Damian Swann’s interception with a deflection. While there were some warts on the play of the defense overall today, these two made their presence felt and will only improve over the next few weeks.
Aaron Murray/Michael Bennett - In the passing game, Aaron Murray was pretty much spot on with the exception of the tipped pass interception and the fumble. The 2 TD passes to “White Lightning” Bennett were beautifully thrown balls that Bennett took to the house. Bennett also made a big play on a wide receiver screen late in the game to get field position.
Georgia miscues kept this game much closer than it should have been. I give a tip of the hat to Tennessee for taking advantage and fighting hard for the full 60 minutes. These same mistakes will get us beat in Chicken country next Saturday night.
Turnovers - The turnovers in the 1st half kept the Vols in the game with a deflected pick 6 and 2 fumbles deep in Georgia territory. The Tennessee defensive end made a great play to deflect the ball leading to a TD. The two fumbles looked to me to the result of missed assignments, and Tennessee took advantage.
2nd Half Tackling - The defense looked tired in the 2nd half and appeared to miss a lot of tackles especially against the Tennessee running game. Gary Danielson appeared to pick up on some tendencies in the Vols’ running game, but we could never control Rajion Neal. This doesn’t bode well for dealing with Marcus Lattimore on Saturday night.
Special Teams - With the exception of the long field goal and the blocked punt, our special teams looked like last year’s house of horrors with mistakes in the punt return game, the mishandled kick-off, and the extra point adventures. I love Malcolm Mitchell, but he doesn’t need to be back to return another punt this season. He should have called a fair catch on one punt and should have fielded another punt that led to the 2nd quarter run by the Vols. I don’t know what is happening on extra points, but that performance was awful.
Offense - B. Some people will probably think giving a grade this low for a team that scored 51 points on an SEC defense, but the 2nd quarter performance was lousy. The offense also directly gave Tennessee the 20 points that made this game much closer than it should have been. Finally, we couldn’t move the ball and get a couple of first downs in the 4th quarter when we needed to kill the clock.
Defense – C-. The defense gave up 37 points and over 450 yards of total offense. The only thing that keeps this grade from being lower were the 4 turnovers. While we were able to get pressure on Bray, we never were able to get the big sack to put the Vols behind the chains. As mentioned earlier, our tackling in the 2nd half was generally terrible and looked like the days of Willie Martinez.
Coaching – B. Give Mike Bobo some props today. He rode the running game as much as he could and never went into 1st and bomb mode. With the exception of when the offense was put in poor field position, he continued to keep the hammer down. I would have liked to have seen a little more of the passing game in the 2nd half after Marshall’s 2nd long run.
Overall – B-. Take out the mistakes, and this game is an absolute laugher. While the offense continues to put up monster points and yards, the defense has seemed to languish so far this year with inconsistent play. We will need to put it all together before Saturday night in Columbia.
Look Ahead to South Carolina
Saturday night in Columbia will be the biggest game in the history of the rivalry with the Gamecocks. Marcus Lattimore is an absolute stud at running back, and I’m ready for him to go on to the NFL to make his millions on Sunday. Connor Shaw is a hard-nosed quarterback who is a different player than Darth Visor has ever had at the position. Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor scare the daylights out of me because one of them will always line up across from John Theus, our freshman tackle, all night. We need to put it together in all 3 phases of the game to have a chance to win on Saturday night.
Those are my thoughts. I would like to read yours in the comments.