KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Attitude is everything. It’s true in life and it’s true in football. So if the Georgia Bulldogs arrive here at Neyland Stadium with the right attitude, they’re going to win the game.
The No. 7-ranked Bulldogs are the better team. It’s not even close.
There are the individual matchups on the field, there are the matchups of the offense and the defense and special teams. To varying degrees, those all favor Georgia.
Then there’s the team-as-a-whole factor. Just from the standpoint of the dynamics with which each squad arrives for today’s 3:30 p.m. nationally-televised tilt, that, too, should be a big, bold check in the Bulldogs’ column.
Georgia, in its second-year under a young and infinitely-energized Kirby Smart, arrives undefeated and coming off a scintillating 31-3 win over then No. 17 Mississippi State. The Bulldogs have already been on the road and conquered a formidable Notre Dame in a nationally-televised game. Their defense to this point has appeared other-worldly. Their kicking game has been unmatched so far.
On the other sideline sits the Vols. Their record looks respectable enough, 3-1 with one measly road loss to two-time defending SEC East champion Florida. But a closer looks reveals a lot of cracks in year 5 under Butch Jones.
They didn’t lose but everybody who watched knows they probably should have fallen to Georgia Tech, which Tennessee beat 42-41. And a little ol’ UMass team had them on the ropes just last week. The Vols held on 17-13, but that was only assured after the Minutemen failed to advance on their final possession.
There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with Tennessee at the moment. It just happens to be at that cyclical point where a lot of good players have just left and a lot of important ones are suddenly out or injured. Most notably, quarterback Joshua Dobbs has moved on.
For all those reasons, there is good logic in Georgia being a 7.5-point favorite despite being the road team.
Of course, everybody knows, and UGA fans know especially, it’s not that simple. I’ve written ad nauseum all week about the times that mighty and promising Georgia teams have faced Tennessee on the Saturday following resounding victories only to fall flat. There are examples in 2004, ’06 and ’07. That ’07 tilt — when everybody on Rocky Top was calling for Phillip Fulmer’s head — rings especially similar to this one.
But what I haven’t written about as much is when good Georgia teams took care of business against Tennessee like it was expected to. There are actually far more examples of that in recent history. Like 2003 when the Bulldogs won in Neyland 41-14 and 2010 when they won by the exact same score in Athens.
Lest we forget, for a while Mark Richt had this series completely flipped around for Georgia, which won five straight from 2010-14 and all but five since 2000.
But as any coach will tell you, what happened in the past in these kinds of things matters only to the fans and sportswriters. The coaches and players and certainly those guys running into each other between the sidelines don’t care what happened before today.
But this is where attitude and, by association, motivation comes into the equation. And in my opinion Georgia has incentive and inspiration on its side.
All week everybody has been talking about the Hail Mary that Tennessee pulled off at the end of regulation that gave the Vols a 34-31 victory last year in Athens. The narrative is that the Bulldogs, many of whom are back from last year’s team, will be looking for revenge for that. And maybe they will.
But if there is something for which Georgia will seek atonement, I go back to two years ago when Nick Chubb’s left leg made like a swizzle straw and he ended up out of the game and indeed out for the season after the first play from scrimmage. A lot of the lead-up before that injury has been forgotten now, but I’m always here to provide reminders.
Chubb went into that contest with an incredible streak of 13 consecutive 100-yard games. It seemed almost certain that he was going to log number 14 that afternoon in Knoxville. Alas, he never got that chance.
Mr. Chubb has been mighty quiet heading into this one. We talked to him following his 81-yard, two-touchdown effort against Mississippi State last Saturday and he said somewhat unemotionally that he was “excited” about returning to Neyland Stadium for the first time since then.
But other than a brief remote interview with the SEC Network midweek, Chubb has declined to talk since. I imagine the folks from CBS Sports, who were on hand for the injury two weeks ago and will be carrying Saturday’s game as well, will get into it a good bit pregame or mid-game during the broadcast, but otherwise he’s been quiet.
Meanwhile, up in Knoxville some UT students have been having some fun at Chubb’s expense. On the side of one frat house here hung a homemade sign that read “the only thing more unstable than Butch Jones is Chubb’s knee.”
Pictures of that and other such signs have made their way around social media and, surely, onto the Bulldogs’ bulletin board.
But here’s the thing: Georgia already had the edge in the running game, all due respect to the ultra-talented John Kelly and Vols’ offense. In addition to Chubb, the Bulldogs have Sony Michel and D’Andre Swift and Brian Herrien all set to tote the rock. And Georgia’s linemen and its other offensive players all talked about wanting to reestablish the run game and offensive dominance.
That’s the attitude it takes to win SEC road games like this. Yes, Tennessee’s still good and recent history dictates that it’ll be closely-contested. The last six have been decided by an average of 5.2 points and three of the last four had final margins of 3.
This one will probably be equally as dramatic. But the Bulldogs should have attitude on their side.
Georgia wins, 27-20.