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Post Tennessee to-do list

Friday October 4, 2013

1) Look good on the road. If we go back to last season, Georgia has had five true road games: Missouri, South Carolina, Kentucky, Auburn, and Clemson. They’re 3-2 in those games, and only the win at Auburn could be considered a clean performance. The Dawgs didn’t lead Missouri until the final minute of the third quarter, and they had to sweat out a win over a bad Kentucky team. The Auburn win was an impressive job of taking care of business, but that was against a team and program that had packed it in. It might be time to start thinking about style points, and a conference road win isn’t a bad place to make an impression.

Neyland Stadium won’t resemble what greeted Georgia at South Carolina or Clemson, but it’s still Neyland Stadium. Maybe it’s the ghosts of 2009 spooking me, but that place can become hostile in a hurry even if the natives walk through the gates expecting the worst. Georgia’s defense has been banging away all week about communications issues. Whether they use hand signals, smoke signals, or semaphore, it would be a good time for the coaches and players to get on the same page about lining up in proper position to play defense.

The offense, too, will have to deal with the crowd. There are the obvious things like false start penalties. They can help themselves out by avoiding the classic third-and-long situations when the crowd is most likely to be a factor. When Georgia’s offense has been at its best this season, it rarely gets to third down as it moves down the field.

2) Value possession. The Vols have caused multiple turnovers in all but one game (Oregon). There’s no surer way to put wind in the sails of an underdog than to give up a play to its defense or special teams. It’s not just about giving up points – it’s also the cost of not scoring points. Even when the offense is operating well, you’re only going to have so many possessions. If the defense hasn’t figured things out, you need those possessions to build your cushion (or, worse, just to keep pace.)

The defense has a role too. Not only are turnovers possible if Tennessee’s passes are inaccurate, but the defense could squeeze out two or three more possessions for the offense. Tennessee under Butch Jones is yet another team looking to use tempo to its advantage, but a few quick three-and-outs could backfire for the Vols and give Georgia a few more opportunities to score. That’s the top question for the Georgia defense: can they get off the field on third downs?

3) Don’t let a Tennessee weakness become a strength. For one afternoon in 2009, Jonathan Crompton looked like Tom Brady. The Vols successfully exploited Georgia’s defense with a steady stream of play action and bootlegs. Georgia will have enough to worry about against a good group of tailbacks and a stout offensive line without the Tennessee passing game suddenly coming to life. While the Georgia defense will focus on a third-straight impressive outing against the run, they can’t fall asleep against big plays from the air. Georgia’s pass pressure will be tough to come by against an experienced line whose strength is pass protection, so it will be up to the embattled secondary to cover until the pressure can break through. That job is made even tougher by the possible absence of injured starting safety Tray Matthews.

4) Let September frame the challenge for October. While I’d love to see a result like the Auburn game last season, I know that Tennessee will put up much more of a fight. A more realistic benchmark might be the Ole Miss game where a close game is turned by a big play before Georgia begins to pull away. The danger on the road though is a crowd that becomes increasingly confident and vocal the longer the home team hangs around.

I was impressed at how Georgia handled the draining and physical win against Florida last year and rolled into November to play their best football of the season against a string of underdogs. They’re facing a similar strech after a very difficult but rewarding September. Surviving that month isn’t the end – it just kept the team’s goals alive. It would be a shame for the work that went into those results to be thrown away against lesser opponents. I hope that’s the mindset the team takes into this game and the ones that follow: play with the focus and purpose of a team that realizes that these opponents would like nothing more than to take away everything you earned last month.

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