I’ve been down with the flu for the past few days, and I feel like this game fit that mood perfectly: stuffy, sleepy, body aches, all that. Credit the defending champs for playing like it: Georgia’s defense may or may not have the first round picks of the 2021 squad, but they were a force today. Where Alabama largely tried to create pressure from its front and failed, Georgia got Tennessee out of rhythm – and the Vols did that to themselves plenty too – then blitzed repeatedly. It worked: Hooker was sacked seven times, and finished with 17 yards rushing on 18 attempts. In last year’s matchup: six sacks, 17 carries for 7 yards.
No disrespect to the 12:00 PM Baton Rouge crowd, but this was the first championship-level test for this group of players on the road, and like many things, we’re not great at it on the first try. The Vols did do some good things, especially defensively. I’m not sure how we properly rate the second half, or how much Georgia wanted to push the issue in the rain, wary of what Tennessee’s own offense had done coming in. But though the Vol offense struggled on this day, the defense held the Dawgs to 3.5 yards per carry, their lowest total in two years. Georgia, again, made several big third down conversions early, finishing 7-of-12. And they hit the big plays the Vols were never able to find.
So, a tip of the cap to the champs for a well-deserved win. The Vols will be big favorites over Missouri, South Carolina, and Vanderbilt; win those, and the New Year’s Six is the worst thing that’s going to happen to you. The program goal is getting ready to be, “Can you make a 12-team playoff?” These Vols would be on their way.
Can this team make a four-team playoff? Sure. Here’s what we need now:
- Losses from Clemson and TCU. The Tigers are at Notre Dame tonight, then finish by hosting Louisville, Miami, and South Carolina. TCU is at Texas, at Baylor, then hosts Iowa State, plus a potential Big 12 Championship Game. Keep an eye on the playoff poll on Tuesday; the Vols starting at #1 is an obvious advantage, let’s see where UT lands in proximity to these other teams. (Notre Dame blocked punt right on cue let’s gooooooooooooooooo)
- Does Alabama really matter now? If the Tide win out, they’re in. If they lose anywhere along the way, that’s two losses. So I’m not sure how concerned we should be with Alabama’s placement as it relates to Tennessee (though sure, it would be crazy to have the Vols behind them, even if Bama blows LSU out…which we’ve already done).
- Is 11-1 Tennessee more attractive than the loser of Ohio State/Michigan? This part may not matter by Thanksgiving Weekend anyway, but if the field is still crowded, you’d like a blowout in that game if both teams arrive undefeated.
If you pencil in Georgia and the OSU/Michigan winner, two spots are left. An 11-1 Tennessee wouldn’t get in over an undefeated Clemson or TCU. But they’ll have a good case otherwise.
Lots of story left to be written here, and a good ending is still out there.