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The Dawgs are flying high. The Vols have traveled a bumpy road the past couple weeks. Is there any way the Dawgs manage to screw this up? One member of the Manic-Depressive Preview duo is pretty sure he's found a way.
Last week marked a rare moment of agreement between our Manic-Depressive Previewers: Both of them thought Georgia would beat Vanderbilt (to varying degrees, of course), and sure enough, the Dawgs took the wood to the Commodores for their biggest blowout of the year thus far. Does that mean they'll find accord again this week? Oh-ho-ho, how little you know these two, or at least one of them: When things are going swimmingly for the Dawgs, that's simply Depressive Doug's cue to get miserable again, as you'll see below.
Manic Doug: And you thought that was gonna be a close game. Oh, man.
Depressive Doug: Yeah, color me impressed. I never dreamed we'd play that focused and disciplined a game against any team, much less Vanderbilt, against whom we most often screw around and play sloppy. The offense was on fire, the defense bent a little but hardly ever broke . . .
MD: See what happens when you have a little confidence in our team? So what do you think are the chances you're gonna be predicting another nail-bitingly close win for the Dawgs this weekend?
DD: No chance of that, I can assure you.
MD: GOOD! Man, maybe the light bulb's finally gone on for you and you've realized that it's better to —
DD: Because I'm predicting a close win for the Vols.
(long pause; the silence is that of deep space)
MD: I can't . . . it's just . . . what in the hell are you even talking about with this stuff?
DD: Close win for the Vols. People are doubting them, they've already got their backs up against the wall in the SEC East . . .
MD: Yeah, for good reason: They got shredded by Florida's running game, and instead of using a get-well opportunity to fine-tune some things and blow the doors off a weak team the week after that, instead they ended up in a four-quarter dogfight with Akron. Akron! Who's coached by Terry Bowden, who currently looks like one of those old ladies you see riding around Wal-Mart on a Rascal scooter because they're too fat to get around by themselves!
DD: I don't really see what Terry Bowden's appearance has to do with any of this . . .
MD: Oh, you want something relevant to the game? Try this: Tennessee is in its first year switching to a 3-4 defensive front. Remember when we did that two years ago? Sure, it's working fine now, but that transition year is a bitch. And that's what Tennessee is finding out. They got ripped for more than 300 rushing yards by Florida — this was the team that struggled to make first downs against Bowling Green in the opener, you'll recall — and they're 11th in the SEC in rushing defense. Meanwhile, here come Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, both of whom are traveling near the speed of sound by the time they hit the line of scrimmage and can shed tackles all the way to the goal line.
DD: That gigantic nose tackle the Vols pulled out of junior college seems to be working out pretty well for them, though.
MD: Oh, good, one player in the front seven who knows what he's doing. Six more and they'll be all set.
DD: I think you're underestimating the rest of them a little bit . . .
MD: If that's the case, why have they only tallied five sacks all year long? And three of them were against Georgia State! If that's the best they can offer in terms of quarterback pressure, Aaron Murray is going to be sitting back and launching cruise missiles over their heads all day long.
DD: Well, you know, they've got a quarterback too. One who's actually thrown for more yards and touchdowns this year than Aaron Murray has, in spite of the great year Murray's been having.
MD: Well, terrific for Tyler Bray. I hope he got an extra juice box after those stirring performances against Georgia State and Akron. But we both know that for all his arm strength, the kid makes D-U-M dumb decisions when he's under pressure. Look at it this way: You've got Aaron Murray being pressured by the Tennessee defensive front — and I should probably put "pressured" in quotation marks there — or you've got Tyler Bray being chased around the backfield by Jarvis Jones. Who do you trust to make the better throw?
DD: Well, I trust Murray more, obviously —
MD: Thank you.
DD: — but here's a question: Which Georgia defense do you suppose shows up on Saturday, the one that strangled the life out of the Commodores last week or the one that didn't seem to know what city it was in in the first half against Florida Atlantic the week before that?
MD: I should've known you'd try to bring that up again. You really don't think there's going to be a difference in motivation between FAU and Tennessee? You don't have any confidence that the Dawgs can raise their game?
DD: I think they can. I just don't know they will. Let me take you back to eight years ago, Tennessee playing at Georgia. The undefeated Dawgs had just taken LSU, the defending national champions, behind the woodshed in a 45-16 beatdown. Tennessee, meanwhile, was coming off a 34-10 home loss to Auburn in which they were barely competitive in any phase of the game. So what happened when the Vols arrived in Athens? Georgia's hung-over offense played sluggish, only put 14 points on the board, and lost to the Vols — a loss that meant Tennessee, not Georgia, ended up representing the SEC East in the conference title game.
MD: OK, I kind of stopped listening after you said "eight years ago."
DD: All right, try five years ago, this time the Dawgs heading up to Knoxville. This time Georgia was coming off a thrilling overtime victory in Tuscaloosa — Nick Saban's first loss as Alabama's coach, in case you were curious — and a four-touchdown thrashing of Ole Miss. Tennessee, meanwhile, was 2-2, with their defense having gotten shredded in nearly every game up to that point. So what happens? Georgia's offense again can't get out of its own way, Tennessee rolls up a 28-0 lead by halftime, and the Dawgs lose by three touchdowns. And again an excellent Georgia team, one that finished with 11 wins and the No. 2 national ranking, is sitting at home watching someone else play in the SEC title game. All because they couldn't get it up for Tennessee.
MD: Again, that was five years ago. What's the point of this history lesson, exactly?
DD: The point is that when Tennessee is at its most vulnerable, that's when we've played our worst games against them. No, their defense hasn't played well. No, Tyler Bray hasn't typically looked good against aggressive defenses. But if we let last week's win go to our heads and give less than 100 percent effort, if we go into this with the attitude that Tennessee is just another speed bump, we're going to lose.
MD: How, though? There's no way their defense can stop all the offensive weapons we've got — they'll be hard-pressed just to handle Gurley and Marshall. If they want to score points, Bray's gonna have to do it all by himself since they don't have any kind of running game, and that's when he's most prone to getting flustered and making mistakes.
DD: See, you're thinking logically, though. There was no reason to think Tennessee's defense would be able to stop us in 2004 or '07, either. Nobody thought Jonathan Crompton would even remotely present a threat in '09. But we played crappy, we weren't focused, and everything just went to hell. Now that we're No. 5 in the nation and are just coming off our most dominating performance of the season, I can see it happening all over again.
MD: OK. I know I'm going to regret this, but tell me: How do we lose this game?
DD: Well, it starts with Tyler Bray, of course. Our defense doesn't bring the pressure they usually do, and that gives him time to fire off some gorgeous passes to Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson, whom our secondary can't quite handle. Yes, I know we'll probably get Baccari Rambo and Alec Ogletree back in the back seven for this game, but they've been sitting on the bench for a month now, so you can't just expect them to go out there and be fresh as a daisy. Meanwhile, our offensive line regresses a step or two, which means Gurley and Marshall aren't finding the holes they usually do. That puts more of the game on Aaron Murray's back, and he ends up making an extremely ill-advised throw that the Vols pick off and end up capitalizing on with a touchdown on the ensuing drive. It's a close game all afternoon long, but Bray connects on a touchdown pass with less than 90 seconds to go and the Vols leave Sanford Stadium with a 30-26 win.
MD: Man, it really is all about the worst-case scenarios with you, isn't it?
DD: Have we met? Isn't that what I'm here for?
MD: Well, you certainly provided a comprehensive list of everything that could possibly go wrong for the Dawgs, and if we played that poorly, then yes, we might lose. But there's no way all that stuff goes wrong at once. Rather than regressing, I'm going to say the offensive line continues to get better, which keys another 500-yard day by the offense — Gurley goes over 100 yards for the fourth time in five games, and Marshall comes awfully close. Meanwhile, on the defensive side, OK, I'll concede Bray throws a few nice balls and scores a couple touchdowns — but they're all when Tennessee is in serious catch-up mode. The number-one offense in the SEC goes over 40 points for the fifth week in a row, and the Dawgs win handily, 41-17.
DD: So your response to my "everything will go wrong" prediction is "everything will go perfectly."
MD: Hey, mine's just as plausible as yours, Captain Miserable.
DD: Except my seemingly implausible prediction is backed up by actual historical precedent.
MD: Actual old, no-longer-relevant historical precedent. Tally up our predictions so I can get out of here already — I need to start gathering up my red outfits for the trip to Athens.
DD: Oh, yeah, the "red-out." Because everyone wearing the same color has always been such a sure-fire way to —
MD: NUMBERS. ARITHMETIC. DO STUFF. Before I have to slap you.
DD: All right, all right . . . well, our predictions average out to a 34-24 win for Georgia. Congrats, it appears your ridiculous cockeyed optimism has overpowered my utterly realistic, backed-up-by-evidence pessimism.
MD: Not enough to cover the spread, though. You oughta be ashamed of yourself.
DD: I'm nothing but ashamed of myself on a regular basis. Shame is something you ought to look into every once in a while, by the way.
MD: Who, me? No, thanks. I'll save that for my deathbed.