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Random thoughts from UGA-Tennessee

9/30/2012

ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia survived on Saturday, but its 51-44 win against Tennessee was hardly a textbook victory.

Let’s recap some of the history we witnessed at Sanford Stadium and go over some other key points from the Bulldogs’ (5-0, 3-0 SEC) win that keeps them undefeated going into an enormous SEC East showdown against South Carolina (also 5-0, 3-0 after a 38-17 win against Kentucky on Saturday) next Saturday.

And by the way, if you didn't know already, ESPN College GameDay will be in Columbia for the occasion.

* We should start with the crazy offense we saw at Sanford Stadium. Georgia and Tennessee combined for 95 points, 1,038 yards, 46 first downs and 13 touchdowns.

Their combined yardage total doesn’t put this game in the top five in the SEC’s record books (Tennessee and Kentucky combined for 1,329 yards in 1997. No. 5 on the list is Georgia vs. Georgia Tech from 1999, when they combined for 1,102), BUT it does rank among the league’s highest-scoring games that didn’t go to overtime.

Here’s the list of the top eight highest-scoring non-OT games in SEC history:

1. 108 points -- Auburn (65) vs. Arkansas (43) -- 2010

2. 104 points -- South Carolina (65) vs. Mississippi State (39) -- 1995

3. 102 points -- Kentucky (68) vs. Louisville (34) -- 1998

4. 99 points -- Florida (62) vs. Tennessee (37) -- 1995

5. 98 points -- East Carolina (56) vs. South Carolina (42) -- 1994

T6. 97 points -- Georgia (62) vs. Vanderbilt (35) -- 1984

T6. 97 points -- Texas (66) vs. Ole Miss (31) -- 2012

8. 95 points -- Georgia (51) vs. Tennessee (44) -- 2012

Now what do we take away from that? I think it looks worse for Georgia than it does for Tennessee, to be frank. Tennessee is in the first season of its new 3-4 defense and doesn’t have anywhere near the talent that Georgia does on defense.

Give Todd Grantham’s group this much credit, though. The offense wasn’t getting the job done at the very end and the Bulldogs got turnovers on each of Tennessee’s last three possessions. And the offense gift-wrapped a number of Tennessee’s touchdowns by providing the Vols with turnovers (more on that in a sec) and good field position. But Tennessee ran 85 plays for 478 yards. That’s some serious production.

* Georgia coach Mark Richt offered some free career advice to three of Tennessee’s leading offensive performers: quarterback Tyler Bray (24-for-45 for 281 yards, two touchdowns three interceptions) and receivers Justin Hunter (three catches for 46 yards) and Cordarrelle Patterson(two catches for 31 yards plus a 46-yard touchdown run).

“They have fantastic, first-round-looking receivers. Matter of fact, I think both of them ought to go pro when the year’s over,” Richt said to raucous laughter in the media room. “Bray really ought to go, too. I think he’s been there long enough. They’re pretty good.”

The very next question concerned Georgia’s true freshman tailbacks, Keith Marshall (10 carries for 164 yards, two TDs against Tennessee) and Todd Gurley (24-130, 3 TDs), and Richt was ready with another wisecrack.

“They’re pretty good, too. They can’t go anywhere for a while,” Richt said to more laughs. “That’s nice.”

* Marshall’s outing against Tennessee -- 164 yards with touchdown runs of 75 and 72 yards -- was one for the record books. Literally.

According to the SEC football media guide, Marshall’s 16.4-yards-per-carry average is the fourth-best single-game average in SEC history for a runner with at least 10 attempts. No. 1 was LSU’s Harvey Williams (10 for 196) against Rice in 1987.

I’ve re-watched Marshall’s touchdown run late in the third quarter several times on the DVR. I think he discarded the ball a millisecond before he crossed the goal line. If he did, that would be the second time this season that he or Gurley (who did it against Buffalo) dropped the ball before reaching the end zone on a breakaway touchdown run.

* Byron Moore’s 35-yard interception return for Tennessee’s first touchdown marked the fifth time Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray has thrown a pick six since the start of the 2011 season -- although it was Murray’s first this year (Georgia’s Christian LeMay also threw one earlier this season against Florida Atlantic).

Interestingly enough, Murray did not throw a pick six as a freshman, but his five career pick sixes tie him with David Greene. Greene had five pick sixes in 51 games and Murray has five through 32.

DUBIOUS COMPANY

Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray joined David Greene on Saturday as the quarterbacks with the most interceptions returned for a touchdown since Richt became the Bulldogs’ coach in 2001. Both players have thrown five pick sixes, contributing 10 of the 18 UGA pick sixes of the Richt era:

5 -- Aaron Murray (2010-12)

5 -- David Greene (2001-04)

2 -- Matthew Stafford (2006-08)

2 -- Joe Cox (2006-09)

2 -- D.J. Shockley (2002-05)

1 -- Logan Gray (2009)

1-- Christian LeMay (2012)

* Interesting Tennessee note: The Vols were previously 177-0 when scoring 40 or more points, dating back to the start of the program in 1891.

* Georgia’s coaches vowed to get the ball into Malcolm Mitchell’s hands more often now that he’s not playing defense almost exclusively because of depth issues. They followed through right away.

Mitchell returned the opening kickoff, caught a reverse shovel pass for a 7-yard gain on Georgia’s first play from scrimmage and touched the ball a total of four times on the Bulldogs’ opening drive. He finished the night with one rush for minus-10 yards and four catches for 31 yards.

However, it sounds like he might have lost the punt-return gig to Rhett McGowan after making a couple of mistakes in previous games and then not stepping up to fair catch a punt that Tennessee eventually downed at the Georgia 1 in the second quarter.

“That’s tough. That’s a bad field-position situation, so we put Rhett McGowan in there,” Richt said. “And as far as I’m concerned, Rhett’s the guy and I need him to make good decisions and come up and make the fair catch. I don’t even care if he gets a lot of yards to return. Let’s make good decisions on when to catch it and secure it.”

Mitchell did not play at all on defense against Tennessee. Richt said he was Damian Swann’s backup as Georgia’s nickelback and would have gone in if Swann got hurt or needed a breather.

* Georgia has been the nation’s best defense at forcing three-and-outs since the start of the 2011 season, but it forced only one against Tennessee -- on the Vols’ very first drive, when UT had three plays for minus-2 yards.

That continued a strange string from Georgia’s three SEC games where its opponent was terrible on its first possession. Tennessee had a false-start penalty and a couple of incomplete passes before punting after losing 2 yards. Last week, Vanderbilt officially had three plays for 1 yard before punting on its opening possession -- a drive that featured three 5-yard penalties against the Commodores. And in Georgia’s SEC opener, Missouri was ridiculously bad. The Tigers lost 24 yards on three plays -- the bulk of the yardage loss came on a snap that sailed over quarterback James Franklin’s head, plus a false start penalty before a punt attempt.

So that’s nine plays for minus-25 yards for Georgia’s three SEC opponents on their opening drives.

* A quote from Tennessee coach Derek Dooley from the postgame quote sheet: “We got hit by a freight train early in the game, but we were able to fight back and get back into it. We went toe-to-toe with a top-10 team that will be competing for a national championship. Georgia was ready to play and we were on our heels early. We showed that we could fight back and make some plays when we needed to, but we still have room to improve.”

* Give Georgia's Marc Deas credit for identifying a tendency in Tennessee's punt protection scheme and lobbying assistant coach Bryan McClendon to go after the punt. He blocked a punt in the third quarter in Tennessee territory that helped Georgia take control of the game again.

"It was definitely something I’d seen before on their first punt," Deas said. "Their wingback was definitely overstepping and he was leaving the gap. I tried to tell Coach McClendon that we could get it. The next one in the third, I was just like, ‘I’m just going to go for it.’

"I tried to go directly to him and when he started stepping back again, I saw that crease and I dipped my shoulder and tried to get into it. He got me on the left shoulder which caused me to have one arm open, and I just reached out and got it."