UGA’s present, future on display
By David Hale
ATHENS, Ga. — After a devastating loss to Florida that essentially extinguished even the most faint flickers of Georgia’s preseason goals, the outcry from disgruntled fans demanded head coach Mark Richt look to the future.
With four games remaining and bowl eligibility still at stake, however, Richt’s focus remained on the present.
Saturday, both goals were accomplished, and while Georgia’s 38-0 victory over Tennessee Tech was a near certainty from the outset, the win still inspired.
“Coming off that loss to Florida, we needed a win,” receiver Rantavious Wooten said. “We needed to get ourselves back on track and know how winning feels again. We need to keep winning. We don’t want to feel how we felt after Florida anymore, so we’re going to keep winning.”
Georgia’s veterans gave the Bulldogs reason for optimism for the season’s final three games on several fronts.
Quarterback Joe Cox completed 10-of-13 passes for 140 yards and two touchdowns and avoided an interception for the first time this season. It was nine minutes into the third quarter before Cox’s first incompletion.
Georgia’s veteran defensive line dominated. Senior defensive tackles Jeff Owens and Geno Atkins finished with six tackles, including 4.5 for loss, and anchored a run defense that held Tennessee Tech to minus-13 yards.
Senior Michael Moore caught his second touchdown in as many games, but that was the lone score to go to a veteran Saturday, and that might have been the biggest news to come in a win with little drama.
Georgia’s future was on display throughout the game, with freshmen accounting for four touchdowns, including two by leading rusher Washaun Ealey, and eight of the team’s 14 receptions, while two of the team’s three leading tacklers in the game are freshmen.
“It was good to see our freshmen make plays,” Richt said. “It’s a good sign for the future; there’s no doubt. Those guys are going to be around here for a while.”
More than the rebound performance by the veterans or the breakthrough moments by the rookies, the win was a needed boost in confidence for a beleaguered team.
Georgia expected to run against Tennessee Tech, but the ground game exceeded even Richt’s highest hopes, checking in with 304 yards and three runners with at least 70 yards rushing.
The front seven figured to overpower Tennessee Tech’s undersized line, but the Bulldogs steamrolled any protection schemes the Golden Eagles ran, totaling 15 tackles for loss.
Few expected much of a fight from the FCS opponent, but Tennessee Tech never had a glimmer of hope as Georgia’s offense scored on its first five possessions, while the Golden Eagles generated only 55 yards of total offense and never crossed into Bulldogs territory.
“We could have came out flat, but we came out with a great edge and took it to them on both sides of the ball,” Richt said. “We improved in a lot of areas. We looked very sharp on both sides of the ball.”
The win doesn’t do anything for Georgia in the SEC standings, but it does bring the Bulldogs one game closer to bowl eligibility, and it helps erase some of the bitter taste left by last week’s blowout loss to Florida.
It’s not a cure for what has plagued the Bulldogs, offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said, but it is a sign that Georgia won’t let one game’s ills infect the remainder of its work.
“These guys were obviously disappointed by what happened last week and where we were at 4-4, but we’ve got a good group of guys that like playing together and wanted to come out and play well,” Bobo said. “I think we did, and hopefully we can take a lot of things from this game and build on it.”
In most seasons, the easy wins are stacked at the beginning of the season. For Georgia, Saturday’s game was its first — and only — game against an opponent not from a BCS conference this season.
Saturday’s win may have helped turn the tide. With three games left, the Bulldogs have new goals, Owens said, and beating Tennessee Tech was another one accomplished.
“It means a lot,” Owens said. “We’re 5-4. Compare it with a loss. That would have been ugly. I’m glad we’re 5-4. It’s a stepping stone for us to get better. Now, we have to keep going from this win, just minus the penalties.”