Volunteers Face Early Must-Win At Georgia Bulldogs

By: Willie Bee | Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A lot of football remains for the 5th-ranked Georgia Bulldogs, so Mark Richt isn't smiling on the outside just yet.  But the Dawgs' head coach is undoubtedly grinning from ear to ear on the inside with his team off to a great start despite missing several key players due to suspensions.

All signs point to Georgia being at full strength this Saturday when the Tennessee Volunteers come to Athens for a critical SEC contest.  Kickoff at Sanford Stadium is a little past 3:30 p.m. (ET) with CBS on hand to televise the event.

Initial offerings on the Don Best Pro Odds showed Georgia -15½, but that spread quickly fell to the 13-14 range.  Saturday's scoreboard hurdle began at 60½ before inching up a point.

Richt hasn't made it official yet, but sources indicate the Bulldogs (4-0 straight up, 2-2 against the spread) will have a couple of defensive starters back for their fifth game of the season.  Bacarri Rambo, an All-America safety, plus LB Alex Ogletree sat out the first four games with suspensions, and their return would mean a lot for a defensive unit that has been so-so in Georgia's 4-0 start.  The 'Dogs rank 45th in total defense (343.3 ypg) and 29th in points allowed (16.5).

Getting Rambo and Ogletree back for this week's game would not only provide an immediate impact on the defense, but also give the pair some game action before the Bulldogs head to South Carolina in a week for a huge showdown against the Gamecocks.

Even without the two stars, Georgia's defense was able to snuff Vanderbilt a week ago in the 48-3 victory.  The Commodores' only score came on a short field goal near the end of the first half when the game was all but decided, and the triumph pushed the Bulldogs up from eighth to a tie for sixth in the Don Best Linemakers Poll.

Aaron Murray and the offense have certainly done their part to help make up for absent Bulldogs on the defensive side.  The junior out of Tampa has already racked up over 1,000 yards passing with 10 TD tosses, three each to Tavarres King and Marlon Brown.  True freshman Todd Gurley has barely broken a sweat with only 44 carries in the first four tilts, but those rushes have been good for more than 400 yards (9.2 ypc) and six scores.

Georgia ranks ninth in the country by putting 47.5 points per game on the board, and is 13th in total offense (530 ypg).

That will present a huge challenge for Derek Dooley's defense on the Tennessee side.  The Vols are in the second half of the country allowing close to 400 yards per contest, and a middling 62nd in scoring defense (24.3 ppg).

With the Bulldogs already off to a 2-0 start in SEC play, Saturday's tilt becomes a must-win for the Volunteers who stand 0-1 in the conference standings following a 37-20 setback at home to Florida two weeks ago. Tennessee (3-1 SU, 1-3 ATS) did bounce back with a 47-26 victory against Akron last week, but went into the locker room knotted at 23 and never came close to covering the 32-point spread.

Junior QB Tyler Bray threw for a season-high 401 yards in the win over Akron, and had four TD tosses for the second time this year.  He directs an offense that is 17th in the nation in total yardage (513.8 per game), and Bray has a few home run receivers at his disposal in Justin Hunter, Cordarrelle Patterson and Zach Rogers.  Augmenting the attack with more help from the running game will be essential this week, especially after Georgia stopped the Vols cold a year ago and held Tennessee to -20 yards on the ground.

Tennessee leads the all-time series by a 21-18 margin with one tie.  Georgia has won three of the last four meetings, and four of the last six played in Athens.  Six of the last eight in this series on Georgia's turf have failed to reach the total.

Saturday's weather calls for a mostly clear sky and an afternoon high in the low-80s.

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