KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Greetings from Neyland Stadium. I don’t know if it was because of today’s soggy conditions or Tennessee’s damp win-loss record (2-3), but we had by far the easiest drive I’ve ever had to the big parking deck by the river.
But I’m sure the Tennessee fans will show up en masse for the 3:30 p.m. kickoff. And I’m certain it will be plenty loud by the time CBS throws it to Verne Lundquist and Gary Danielson. One of Georgia’s keys to success in this game will be to start fast and keep the Vols at bay early and not let their big crowd and record noise decibels become a factor.
As ever, I don’t know what will happen in today’s game. The offensive and defensive matchups heavily favor Georgia, while special teams are decidedly in Tennessee’s column.
Coaching? I’ve got to go with Mark Richt, despite all the grumbling I’ve been hearing lately.
Here’s the thing about Richt: I definitely get all the grousing about the once-a-year blowouts and the lack of championships. But it is in series like this one with Tennessee that he has distinguished himself over the years.
When Richt arrived on the scene in 2001, Georgia had lost nine of 11 games to Tennessee over the previous 14 years. Since then, the Bulldogs are 10-4 against the Vols, including the last five in a row.
There have been similar improvements made with other major rivals. Georgia was 4-9-1 against Auburn before Richt’s arrival, 9-5 since including wins in seven of the last nine meetings. He’s 12-2 versus Tech, while Ray Goff and Jim Donnan were 9-5. He’s been only slightly better against Florida (5-9 vs. 4-10) and South Carolina (9-6 vs. 8-6).
And certainly the Bulldogs need to win a championship soon. Georgia has two under Richt (2002, ’05) and none for 10 seasons. But it’d been 20 years since the last one when Richt won his first. And they’ve played for it five times, after having not played for it ever before Richt arrived.
But probably the most pertinent context to place Richt’s record in is with Georgia’s own history. He’s winning at a higher clip (.739) than Vince Dooley (.715) and Wally Butts (.595) and is out-classing the school’s all-time winning rate of .644.
Here’s some other interesting numbers when the comparison is broadened to include other successful coaches:
- Against Top 25 teams: Nick Saban .588, Les Miles, .560, Steve Spurrier .544, Richt .522.
- In bowl games: Richt .643, Miles .538, Bear Bryant .517, Saban .500, Dooley .400.
- Games to reach 100 victories: Miles 138, Richt 141, Dooley 144, Saban 149, Spurrier 154, Bryant 154.
- And when put in that context, Richt’s shortcomings as far as national championships don’t look quite as bad: Bryant 6, Saban 4, Dooley 1, Miles 1, Spurrier 1, Richt 0.
Of course, we all know all that goes out the window if Richt loses here today and also goes down against Florida, Auburn and Georgia Tech. Bulldogs’ fans don’t take kindly to losing to rivals, much less all of them. That’s what got everybody riled up last year when Georgia lost to South Carolina, Florida and Georgia Tech.
But by and large, Richt has handled UGA’s rivals well.
McKenzie doesn’t make trip
As expected, Georgia will be without its top kick returner. Isaiah McKenzie, dealing with a hamstring injury, did not make the trip.
McKenzie is also one of the team’s top wide receivers. His absence means more snaps for Reggie Davis and Terry Godwin, and on punt and kick returns more chances for Davis and Sony Michel.
The good news for Georgia is starting center Brandon Kublanow (ankle) did make the trip, which was expected, as he practiced all week. Whether Kublanow or Hunter Long starts is an open question.
One surprising tidbit on the travel roster is at cornerback: Shattle Fenteng is on it, while Devin Bowman is not. Fenteng hasn’t played much this season and seemed to be in Jeremy Pruitt‘s doghouse, while Bowman had played a lot.
Some other notable players who are not on 70-man travel roster, all of which appear to be coaches decisions:
- Defensive lineman Keyon Brown.
- Receiver Shaquery Wilson.
- Tailback A.J. Turman.
- Outside linebackers Johnny O’Neal and Shaun McGee.
- Freshmen offensive linemen Patrick Allen, Sage Hardin and Sam Madden (all probably headed for redshirt).
- Redshirt freshman offensive lineman Jake Edwards.
- Freshmen defensive linemen Chauncey Rivers, DaQuan Hawkins and Michael Barnett.