Sometimes an odd notion can manifest itself into a sincere talking point. That’s exactly what happened last week before the Tennessee-Georgia game. As it turns out, that odd notion might have cost the Vols even the slightest chance of beating the Bulldogs.
“The crowd noise was effective,” Tennessee receiver Jalin Hyatt said. “Sometimes we could not hear the snap or the play call from (quarterback Hendon) Hooker. I give credit to the fans. That would probably be the biggest thing
that got us today.”
That certainly wasn’t the talking point leading into what was hailed as “The Game of the Century”. Sanford Stadium was supposed to be a mausoleum and easily manageable according to one former Tennessee player and the Vols’ head coach Josh Heupel. That wasn’t the case as the Vols were called for various crowd-related penalties and fell behind 24-6 in the first half before eventually losing 27-13 to the Bulldogs.
That wasn’t supposed to happen. Samford Stadium wasn’t supposed to be that type of environment, according to former Tennessee quarterback Erik Ainge, who is now a sports-talk show host in Knoxville.
Now, I’ll be the first to say that I agreed with Ainge. I’ve never considered Georgia’s crowd to be all that loud. In fact, I’d rank Neyland Stadium, Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Florida, Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge and Jordan-Hare Stadium as tougher places to play in the SEC. I might want to rethink that.
Tennessee might also want to rethink how they handle crowd noise. Supposedly, the Vols would be ahead of the chains and their up-tempo offense would negate a crowd’s ability to get rowdy, according to what Heupel said last week. Like the Ainge comment, I agreed. However, I did not believe a couple of random opinions – tweeted or not – would start an Athens uproar.
Some context is probably in order. Ainge played Georgia when Mark Richt was the Bulldogs’ head coach. This isn’t Richt’s kind of team. This Georgia team is tough, physical and mean (especially when they want to be) while Richt’s teams were quite content with a manageable day at the office that hopefully resulted in a victory. If not, well, there was always next week.
Georgia had just about every psychological advantage one can imagine against Tennessee. The Bulldogs surely felt slighted by the College Football Playoff Committee, which seeded the Vols No. 1 and Georgia No. 3 on Tuesday despite the AP touting the Bulldogs as the No. 1 team in the nation. Oh, and Georgia was also the defending national champs. Moreover, Georgia has beaten Tennessee every season they’ve played since 2016, which is every year.
Then, the media stoked the fire. Why not? The Vols were 8-0 and unbeatable. Well, the crowd and Samford Stadium didn’t quite see it like that.