In one sense, Georgia fans can probably be encouraged by what their team accomplished Saturday. On the road, with several key players lost to injury and a hostile crowd fired up by the changing events, Georgia weathered a furious comeback attempt by Tennessee and pulled out the win. Essentially everything that could go wrong in the second half for the Dawgs did -- and they won anyway.
The flip side, of course, is what Mark Richt and Co. will have to focus on when the giddiness of the win subsides. Georgia did lose several players to injuries of various and in some cases unknown stripes. A fluke mistake by a Tennessee player gave the Dawgs their chance to win with a field goal in overtime. And, not to put too fine a point on it, but Georgia needed overtime to defeat a Tennessee team that beat South Alabama by seven points the week before.
The game started with Todd Gurley out. Then Keith Marshall went down. Wideout Michael Bennett was next. From there, it was Justin Scott-Wesley. Even punter Collin Barber ended up sidelined with a concussion. That's one injury to a major player to start the game and four more injuries -- including two to offensive stars -- as the game went on. When Georgia's captains went out for the pre-overtime coin flip, one of them was wearing sweatpants.
And while those injuries didn't hurt the Georgia defense, they almost certainly contributed to the near-silence from the Dawgs' offense for nearly 40 minutes, a period that allowed Tennessee go on a 28-7 run that briefly gave the Vols the lead before a game-tying drive that ended up salvaging the game -- and perhaps the season -- for Georgia.
For Tennessee, the game is almost all upside. A bowl game is still no better than a 50-50 proposition, but it looks a little more likely after the near-miss against Georgia, and at any rate it's a sign that the Vols are making some progress under Butch Jones. There are two more games (South Carolina, at Alabama) in the most brutal part of Tennessee's schedule, and then they'll find out about postseason dreams.
But there are those nagging injury questions for Georgia. The best-case scenario is that some of those players won't miss much time at all, and the Georgia offense can continue to hum along. The worst-case scenario is that those players will be out for an extended period of time, making it harder for the offense to shore up a defense that is still suspect at times. The Dawgs should be favored in all of their next five games, but four of them (Missouri, at Vanderbilt, Florida, at Auburn) could be tricky. Without all of their stars, the margin for error in those games is very small.
For now, though, Georgia avoided an upset that would have loosened their hold on the SEC East and stays in the driver's seat for the all-important berth in Atlanta. Deal with the problems tomorrow.