Week 6 – Tennessee Volunteers

In late November, 1943, as the Second Marine Division sat in their invasion fleet off the coast of Tarawa Atoll, part of the Gilbert Islands in the Central Pacific, Rear Admiral Kaigun Shōshō Keiji Shibazaki, so confident in the fighting ability of his men as well as the defensive fortifications they had built, exclaimed that “it would take a million men a hundred years” to conquer this tiny atoll. The Marines captured Tarawa in 76 hours.

We’re on the eve of the Georgia-Tennessee game so why the little history lesson? While I’m in no way trying to equate the Dawgs struggles this year with one of the bloodiest battles in the Second World War, I think the situation that we face tomorrow is an interesting one. See, that Japanese commander, while he may have been prone to hyperbole, didn’t think anyone was capable of taking his island. Ever. Yet, roughly 35,000 Marines, Sailors and Army men did so and in considerably less time than Adm. Shibazaki predicted. So, basically, something had to give. And it wasn’t us doing the giving because the Marines were too busy taking.

Elaborate and bordering on “what the hell are you going on about?” introduction aside, this is what we’re looking at tomorrow. We’ll see a team that has struggled to protect its quarterback, convert third downs and defend against the pass. Dawgs, on the other hand, have had problems developing a consistent pass rush, stopping anyone on third downs and stretching the field with our passing game. Something has got to give.

I really wish that picture above truly represented how big this game is. But when both teams are still fighting for its first conference win at this point in the season, I think it’s safe to say this game might hold only “regional interest”. In fact, tomorrow’s game will mark the first time since 1906 that both teams will meet while having a losing record. But you know what? It’s like a friend of mine remarked yesterday, “…it may be two dung beetles fighting over the same turd, but I never have trouble getting pumped for UT”.

Me neither. Because I live amongst the enemy. I have plenty of friends and co-workers who made a conscious decision to clothe themselves in that horrible, despicable orange and support a team that does the same. And I have no doubt, should the Dawgs falter tomorrow, that my life could become quite unbearable for a time. But not nearly as unbearably bad as how our boys might feel if we were to lose again. So let’s not dwell on that right now. Instead, let’s think of something fun!

Like friendly get togethers. Because when your opponent’s quarterback actually says these things out loud for other people to hear and record in some fashion, well, isn’t that akin to a public invitation to a party in the backfield? I certainly take it as one. Houston and Washington need to meet in Athens somewhere six to eight yards behind the line of scrimmage many times tomorrow. Kind of like this:

And as far as entertainment for our little shindig tomorrow, the inimitable A.J. Green will of course endeavor to keep smiles on our faces. By the way, check out the work of art created by the Leather Helmet Blog. Surely, this will make the rounds of all the major museums before settling into a nice spot in the Louvre, one would assume:

One final note about the festivities. With the announcement that a new Uga will be unleashed against Vanderbilt next week, tomorrow will mark the last game for Russ, our stalwart interim mascot during these tumultuous times. He finishes his stint on our sidelines with an unfortunate record of 3-4. But I have to say that this includes a big win over Tech last season, when we needed it badly. Surely this accomplishment is deserving of a farewell party for Russ.

I gotta bring the ice and the Dixie cups?

All attempts at history lessons and humor aside, our lack of success stopping our opponents from converting third downs has been a big factor in our losses this year. Our defense is forced to stay on the field for extended periods of time which just leads to more success for our opponents as the game wears on. And this is my biggest concern for tomorrow’s game. While the Vols’ offensive line has shown a propensity for giving up sacks, they managed to run-block well enough that they’ve got a running back who averages 5.3 yards a carry. We cannot allow Tauren Poole to run all over us tomorrow. While our offense is in much better shape now than it was back in week two, against South Carolina, if our defense continues to give up third down conversions, our offense might not see the ball enough to make a difference.

Regardless of how the rest of the college football world sees this match up tomorrow between the Dawgs and the Volunteers, we all know how important this game is. We’re struggling right now and a big win will help our boys feel a whole lot better about themselves. And that can only help as we progress into the meat of the SEC grind. It’s interesting to note that last year, when we went up to Knoxville to play these guys, we were coming off a crushing, last-minute loss to LSU. This year, when the Volunteers come down to Athens, they are also coming off a crushing, last-minute loss to LSU. Other than the fact that LSU are a bunch of poopyheads, this leads me to believe that the Vols might still be feeling a little down on themselves. It’s unfortunate that we’re once again coming off a poor loss ourselves. And so it’s a matter of seeing which team can respond.

While this is hardly a match up between an immovable object and an unstoppable force, the fact remains that we approach a resolution of some sort tomorrow. And while the prize might be next to last place in the SEC East, I hope that our boys feel that’s a turd worth fighting for. But that’s the thing about us. American history has shown that we’re willing to fight tenaciously for the most remote, out of the way, seemingly worthless piece of real estate. Because, like Tarawa, one step forward always leads to another. And the lessons learned along the way may prove immeasurable for this Dawgs team.

Go Dawgs!

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