Tennessee-Georgia Preview: An Orange Banana Skin?
Our fanbase is probably the only supporters of a 3-1 team that has a significant percentage howling for the head of their coach.
That symptom of fanaticism notwithstanding, the fans of the Georgia Bulldogs seem to be thinking that Saturday’s visit to Athens by Tennessee is just something to sandwich in between a grudge match with Vanderbilt and a monumental SEC East Division clash with South Carolina.
Vanderbilt and South Carolina. That’s what it’s come to I guess.
But, that’s OK. Whatever it takes to cause a foe to overlook you, to take you for a needed breather between two Saturdays of spent emotional energy.
Mark Richt’s Bulldogs and their Number 5 national ranking will likely be at full strength, something thought in doubt at the beginning of the season.
There were the suspensions of All-America safety Bacarri Rambo and linebacker Alec Ogletree. The latter was suspended for an undisclosed violation of team rules. The high school coach of the former indicated during the summer that the suspension followed a second positive drug test for marijuana.
Coach Richt has been coy about the whole subject, even saying that the issue would likely be resolved during Saturday’s pregame warmup.
This means anything Richt says is suspect. Bet on Rambo and Ogletree to feature.
It may not matter, considering how well Georgia has played in their first four games, predominantly on the back of the Bulldog offense which has exceeded 40 points in each of their first four games for the first time in school history. The Georgia attack features two freshman running backs, Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall.
And then there is Bulldog quarterback Aaron Murray, who, like his Vols equal, has not led his team to a win over a team ranked in the Top 20.
A matchup of unfulfilled potential.
This is also an unfortunate matchup of big play performance.
Georgia leads the nation in big plays (a play gaining at least 20 yards from scrimmage). Tennessee has given up 30 big plays in four games.
The Bulldogs have 5 TDs of at least 29 yards in their last two games, with Keith Marshall scoring on a 52-yard run and Todd Gurley adding a 29-yarder against Vanderbilt. Gurley also scored on a 38-yard scamper against Florida Atlantic. Aaron Murray’s two recent TD passes included throws of 67 and 36 yards.
On the other side, Tennessee allowed four gains of more than 30 yards in the final 20 minutes against Florida, including Trey Burton’s 80-yard TD run, Jeff Driskel’s 75-yard TD pass to Frankie Hammond, and runs of 45 and 33 yards by Mike Gillislee. And last week there was the embarrassing 70-yard TD run by Akron’s Quentin Hines.
With this background, Georgia’s team rushing average of 6.0 yards per carry, a frightful number, leads the conference. The Vols’ defense allowing an average of 4.6 yards per rush is next to last in the SEC, behind only Auburn.
Upon further evaluation, this disparity in big plays might not be so lopsided from the Vol perspective.
Tennessee seems to give up big run plays on the edges, whereas the Bulldogs like to run the ball straight downhill.
Vol DE Maurice Couch addressed this point by saying “[w]e haven’t played a team up to now that really wants to run the ball between the tackles. With Georgia, that’s pretty much their offense. They want to run the ball north and south.”
Which is why Tennessee’s human Smokey Mountin, nose guard Dan McCullers, will be seing a lot of playing time in Athens as opposed to watching most of last week’s game from the bench due to Akron’s spread, no-huddle approach.
So, what are the likely tendencies?
The conventional wisdom (and also in light of my last post) is that the Vols will go as goes their run game. But Tennessee can’t expect this facet of their offensive attack to show significant improvement against a defense like Georgia (a 3-4 defense that has had years to adopt this scheme).
So look for some wrinkles from Dooley & Co. on Saturday. Not so much trick plays, but instead a shorter passing game, with more throws to running backs (tailbacks and fullbacks) and tight ends to take the pressure off Hunter and Patterson from having to make everything happen. More of a running game disguised by passing the ball in small bite-size chucks if you will.
And, who knows, maybe we’ll see some significant doses of Marlin Lane in addition to Rajion Neal.
And the fact that Georgia has given up over 350 yards per game gives the Vols a decent chance to make this a very competitive ball game.
And on the other side of the ball, look for a strategy to rattle QB Aaron Murray into making bad decisions with the hope of coming on the positive side of the turnover tally by a significant margin.
That, with some big plays in the kicking game, give the Vols more than just a ray of hope in a rivalry that has produced a lot of surprises over the last decade.
I’ll believe it when I see it. Look for Tyler Bray and Co. trying to simply survive Jarvis Jones, a linebacking playmaker without equal in the SEC if not the nation.
For now, expect the oxygen masks to drop inside the cabin of the Good Ship Volunteers. Unless, of course, the Georgia Bulldogs are stupid enough to overlook Tennessee in anticipation of next week’s game.
I think they certainly could be (for anthropological reasons). But having been bit by the exuberance bug two weeks ago, I’m playing it safe, although I see Tennessee covering the spread.
The orange banana skin will have to wait for another day.
Georgia 31 Tennessee 20