If physicist Hugh Everett's "relative state formulation" of quantum physics, also known as the "many-worlds interpretation," is correct, then somewhere there's an alternate universe where the Bulldogs didn't commit three first-half turnovers that each led directly to Tennessee touchdowns. In that universe, the Dawgs took a commanding 30-10 lead into halftime and pushed it to 43-10 halfway through the third quarter, the Vols' 297 yards after halftime were nothing more than the results of a desperate catch-up strategy, and Georgia's dominating 50-24 win firmly establishes the Dawgs as the team to beat in a very competitive SEC East.
Unfortunately, if you're reading this, that's not the reality you ended up in. Instead, you watched Georgia get caught up in a 51-44 shootout with the Volunteers, and the 478 total yards Georgia's defense gave up is not garbage-time desperation but rather a very real sign that the 2012 Dawgs' defense is not everything we were led to believe it would be.
Now, even in that reality, there are two ways you could look at the defense's performance Saturday evening. One way is to point out that Tennessee's offense probably has more talent at the skill positions than any team the Dawgs have faced so far this season, and yet in spite of Tyler Bray's 281-yard day, he still threw three picks and ended up with a meh QB rating of 107. A secondary that's only now gotten back up to full strength held Bray's lethal receiving weapons, Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson, to just six receptions despite 15 targets (and that's if you count Patterson's third-quarter touchdown, which was officially scored as a rush but shouldn't have been counted at all due to a Tennessee hold). Leave out the Vols' two short-field TDs in the second quarter and you could even make a case that the Dawgs actually did a pretty good job of bending but not breaking, much as they did against Vanderbilt.
But. Even then, how did Rajion Neal, up until now an afterthought in the Tennessee offense, rumble for more than 100 yards? What was up with our tackling, particularly on Tennessee's last touchdown drive, which at times reminded me of the absolutely fecal arm-tackling display in the second half against Georgia Tech in '08?
And for crying out loud, where is our pass rush? I'll give Tennessee this: Not quite three years after Derek Dooley inherited a completely rebuilt offensive line with five new starters, that formerly inexperienced line has gelled into one of the more solid units in the SEC. And "Tiny" Richardson has done a superb job of protecting Bray's blind side this season. Still, when your front seven has Jarvis Jones, John Jenkins, Cornelius Washington and now Alex Ogletree in it, you'd like to think you're going to get a hand on the QB every once in a while.
The pass rush did ratchet up toward the end of the game, but a lot of that was probably due to the fact that time was running short for the Vols and we knew that the game was more likely to be placed on his shoulders than on Rajion Neal's. Basically, what we saw overall was a defense that had some of the same problems waking up as it did during the Buffalo and FSU games, it's just that the sleepiness manifested itself a little later against Tennessee than it had previously. In last week's Manic-Depressive Preview, I expressed doubts that the Dawgs could carry the day if they had another snooze-button performance against the Vols; turns out they could do that, actually, just as long as the offense was prepared to throw 51 points on the board.
Can we count on them to keep doing that over the course of the season? Fifty-one points actually isn't that far off from the Dawgs' 2012 season average of 48.2, so maybe. And it's certainly an incredible luxury to have two running backs like Marshall and Gurley, who, even when you dial your offense back into ball-control mode, seem just as likely to break a 70-yard TD run as they are to move the chains.
Scoring points wasn't the problem last year against South Carolina, though. Special-teams miscues and getting the Gamecock offense off the field were, and neither of those look like they'll be any less of an issue when the Dawgs get off the bus in Columbia this weekend. Granted, we won't have to worry about Melvin Ingram running another 68-yard fake punt on us — he's getting his hotel stays paid for by the San Diego Chargers these days — and Marcus Lattimore has yet to put up the eye-popping stats of his pre-knee-injury days.
But Lattimore has already knifed Georgia's defense in the gut twice, and we all know Steve Spurrier reserves his "A" game for Georgia on an annual basis. (For all we know, the Gamecocks going into halftime down 10 to Kentucky last week was all part of his plan from the get-go.) Deny either of these things if you like, but the alternate universe(s) where they aren't true are a long, long way away. Perhaps instead of trying to figure out how to bend the space-time continuum and find a path to this alternate dimension, the Dawgs could just try something much easier and more fundamental and just remember to tackle somebody.