Lesson #1: Winning Is Fun, And Also Awesome. Here are some more specific takeaways from Georgia's first SEC win of 2010.
1. Tennessee isn't very good. At all. Tennessee has followed a weird up-and-down pattern this season: great game against UT-Martin, completely uncompetitive in the second half against Oregon; hung in there for four quarters against Florida, barely escaped a bad UAB team with their lives; fought like hell against an LSU team they should've taken down in the end. So following that pattern, it stands to reason that a listless, unfocused team would show up in Athens, and the Dawgs certainly got one. Not to take anything away from perhaps Georgia's best performance of the season, but they're unlikely to face any other teams this season that start two freshmen and a sophomore on the O-line, nor any teams that muff fair catches or accidentally snap the ball when the QB isn't even looking for a 23-yard loss. Celebrate the win for sure, but don't think for one minute that beating perhaps the worst Tennessee team in more than a generation means Georgia has turned things around completely.
2. For one thing, the offensive line still needs lots of work, particularly in run blocking. The lineup tinkering Stacy Searels did this past week paid off to some extent, with Aaron Murray only getting sacked twice and usually getting plenty of time to read through his progressions and make a good throw. Murray was also the team's second-leading rusher, however, and that's probably not a statistic the coaches would've preferred. Caleb King had an OK day, averaging 4.5 yards over 13 carries, but Washaun Ealey was mostly ineffective, and the longest run by any non-RB all day was eight yards. The line still isn't opening up big holes that are conducive to the kind of game-breaking runs we saw from Knowshon Moreno -- or even from King and Ealey last season -- and there's a ceiling on how much this offense can achieve, even with A.J. Green in the lineup, until they do.
3. Still, when the major contributors are healthy and the coaches put them in position to make big plays, they can look really, really good. Aaron Murray, once upon a time the only major question mark on an otherwise experienced offense, continues to thrive at the QB spot; he was an efficient 17-of-25 for 266 yards, two TDs and no picks, and threw nary an ill-advised pass all afternoon. The tight ends and fullbacks got more involved -- slightly -- and showed why they deserved it. Even the defense, which had gotten trampled by several rushing games over the past few weeks ranging from good to barely mediocre, played well, holding Tauren Poole -- maybe the single most dangerous player on the field after A.J. Green -- to 51 yards on 13 carries. This isn't an SEC-East winning squad, to be sure, but neither is it a team deserving of a 1-4 record. It's time to build on this win and continue grinding toward bowl eligibility down the home stretch of the season.
Overall impressions: Most of the good things about this game have to be qualified with the " . . . of course, this year's Tennessee team is really bad," but be that as it may, simply being reassured that they can win when they have their heads screwed on straight has to be a big psychological boost for this team, particularly after a dispiriting last-minute loss at (and long trip home from) Colorado. The defensive front seven showed some dramatic improvement, much of it due to Todd Grantham doing a very nice job of compensating for injuries to the linebacking corps with some shrewdly timed witches to a 4-3 front. And Aaron Murray continues to show flashes of being the kind of leader this team has desperately needed for a while now; having him and A.J. Green on the field at the same time automatically puts an opposing defense, any opposing defense, in a tough spot.
There are still kinks to be worked out -- the offensive line, obviously, is still not giving the running game a lot of help (though coach Searels is taking some important steps to try and remedy this). And the defensive backfield, particularly the safeties, continues to struggle to make pays on a regular basis. No one will accuse Matt Simms of being a great QB, even in this game, but all that means is he shouldn't have been allowed to go 9-for-13 and make some of the throws that he did will scrambling in the backfield.
But the overall most important takeaway from this game remains the same: Instead of finding a way to lose this game, the Dawgs instead found a way -- multiple ways -- to win. And that's something that will serve them well as they face two beatable opponents over the next couple weeks, followed by a tricky home stretch that will decide the difference between bowl eligibility and a 5-7 or 4-8 finish. At the depths of the Dawgs' four-game losing streak, it looked like Georgia might not even have the werewithal to win games like Vandy or Kentucky that were once considered layups; now it looks like they've got more than a fighting chance. The season is still going to be a major struggle, but it's not lost just yet.
Player of the game: The Murray-to-A.J. connection was a thing of beauty once again, but the real surprise of the afternoon, and one of the major reasons Tennessee never mounted any real threat to even make a game of it, was the way the defense -- led by 12 tackles and a half-sack from linebacker Akeem Dent -- rendered the Vol running game utterly ineffectual. The run defense had been the Dawgs' most glaring deficiency over the past few weeks, and it's starting to look like progress, at least, is being made.
Stat of the game: 0.3 -- Tennessee's average yards per rush on Saturday. Even if you take away Matt Simms' four sacks and the bizarre snap-it-past-the-QB play in the second quarter, the Vols would've only averaged 2.9. Again, that's a statistic that requires the "Tennessee barely has an O-line" asterisk, but it's something to build on for a defensive unit that has been hunting desperately for a bright spot in recent weeks.