From the Press Box: Which Way Bulldogs?

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From the Press Box: Which Way Bulldogs?

The calm before the red and black storm! Sanford Stadium, Oct. 1st, 2016, Georgia vs Tennessee (photo by Greg Poole)
The calm before the red and black storm!
Sanford Stadium, Oct. 1st, 2016, Georgia vs Tennessee
(photo by Greg Poole)

Which way, Bulldogs?
That’s what is on the mind of Bulldawg Nation as the Georgia fan base gets set to see Kirby Smart’s football team encounter the unbeaten and 11th-ranked Tennessee Volunteers in just a short time from now here between the hedges of Sanford Stadium.
Truth be told, many Georgia fans aren’t very confident that the now 25th-ranked Bulldogs can recover from that 45-14 pounding they took at the hands of the Ole Miss Rebels, last Saturday at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford, Miss. They reason – and with good reason – that Georgia simply showed too many deficiencies on both sides of the ball against the Rebels in a game the Bulldogs fell behind 45-0 in the second half before putting up two meaningless touchdowns in the late going.
Indeed, against a Tennessee team that is a consensus pick to capture the SEC East Division crown this fall and one that rallied from a 21-0 hole to declaw the Florida Gators 38-28 in Knoxville this past Saturday, how can Georgia turn all those negatives into positives in just the course of one week?
But, conversely, there are also the red kool-aid drinking Bulldog fans who think the debacle in northern Mississippi was just a perfect storm that blew the Bulldogs away on that one afternoon. They just see the Ole Miss game as a contest in which everything that could go wrong for Georgia, did go wrong and made for the Bulldogs being knocked out for the count before the first half had concluded. And, going further, they see the Bulldogs being a different football team back in the friendly confines of Sanford today.
There well could be some logic to that latter sentiment. I too believe we will see a much more spirited UGA bunch against the Volunteers, a team that can’t possibly look as poorly as the Dogs did a week ago. And also, shouldn’t Georgia be catching Tennessee at just the right moment, with the Big Orange still riding high after the stirring second-half comeback over the Gators and maybe not being able to put together two such emotional performances back-to-back?
But, question is, even if Butch Jones’ Vols aren’t on top of their game this afternoon, will they still have enough to topple a Georgia team that really hasn’t been sharp since the season-opening win over North Carolina in the Georgia Dome? I don’t think anyone really knows the answer to that as we count down the minutes until today’s 3:39 p.m. kickoff.
To upset Tennessee – and it’s really surprising the Bulldogs have been made just a four-point underdog in this one – the Georgia keys are the very same ones that I listed last weekend prior to the Ole Miss kickoff, namely: (1) Run the football well to set up Jacob Eason’s play-action passes, and (2) Slow down the Vols’ running game and get pressure on UT quarterback Joshua Dobbs.
Of course, the Bulldogs couldn’t accomplish either one of those “musts” against the Rebels. The Georgia O-line couldn’t get any movement and provide space for Nick Chubb (who will miss today’s game with an ankle injury) and the other running backs, at least in the first half when it counted, and also, Ole Miss’ stellar quarterback, Chad Kelly, had a field day throwing the ball while being unhindered by the Bulldogs’ nearly non-existent pass rush.
If the same scenario unfolds today against the team from Knoxville, you can look for Georgia to be handed its second consecutive shellacking and thereby open the floodgates for even more bickering and finger-pointing among the Bulldawg faithful this coming week.
But as I said earlier in this offering, I see Georgia coming out pumped, ready to play this week and therefore making the Volunteers earn every little thing they get in a game that should swing into the fourth quarter before the final outcome is decided. Until I see the Bulldogs getting back to the way they performed in beating the Tar Heels, I have no basis at the moment to pick Georgia to win the game. So it’s Tennessee, by 35-28, but as you can see by that projected score, the Bulldogs will be in it all the way and have a VERY real chance to chalk up the upset today.

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Murray Poole is a 1965 graduate of the University of Georgia Journalism School. He served as sports editor of The Brunswick News for 40 years and has written for Bulldawg Illustrated the past 16 years. He has covered the Georgia Bulldogs for 53 years.