The Georgia Bulldogs will play host to the Tennessee Volunteers Saturday afternoon in Athens with UGA looking to stay unbeaten and UT looking to get back on track in conference play.
Although UGA is currently ranked in the top five in both polls and just plain better on paper, that often does not translate well on the field against rival Tennessee. Few in the Bulldog Nation have forgotten that the Volunteers upset a highly favored 2007 Bulldogs squad, knocking UGA out of SEC title contention.
Here are five keys for the Bulldogs to avoid a similar upset against the Vols on Saturday.
Tennessee is clearly a pass-happy offense, with quarterback Tyler Bray slinging the ball around to two of the SEC’s most talented wide receivers in Cordarrelle Patterson and Justin Hunter. But against a stout UGA defense, Tennessee must have at least a semblance of a balanced offensive attack.
The Bulldogs need to limit Rajion Neal and make the Volunteer offense one-dimensional on Saturday. In fact, if Georgia can jump out to an early lead, UT may actually go ahead and do this itself. The Vols pretty much completely abandoned the run against Florida in the fourth quarter after surrendering the lead to the Gators.
Without the threat of the rush, look for the Bulldogs defense to lock in and put a lot of pressure on Bray all afternoon.
As already stated, Tennessee is a passing offense and, of course, it all starts with Tyler Bray. UGA needs to blitz Bray early and often. Against Florida, Bray looked lost against the blitz and was forced into bad decisions all night when pressure came, including two interceptions.
With Jarvis Jones on the edge and John Jenkins eating up blocks in the middle, blitzing linebackers and safeties should be able to follow UF’s game plan, pressuring Bray and forcing him to make quick decisions with the football.
With ball hawk Bacarri Rambo—who led the SEC with eight interceptions in 2011—presumably returning for this game, look for Bray and the Vols offense to struggle to move the ball against the Dawgs.
Despite having an elite quarterback, Georgia demonstrated that it is still a run-first offense last week against Vanderbilt. The Bulldogs had nearly twice as many rushing plays than pass attempts versus the Commodores. UGA needs to continue to utilize its stable of talented running backs against the Vols.
Between Todd Gurley, Keith Marshall and Ken Malcome, the Bulldogs have already racked up 822 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns combined. Considering that Tennessee is 11th in the SEC against the rush, giving up over 168 yards-per-game, Georgia shouldn’t have much trouble establishing the run game on Saturday.
It will be interesting to see if offensive coordinator Mike Bobo sticks with the up tempo, no huddle offense in this game. One might think Bobo would want to grind the pace of this game down and keep the Tennessee offense off the field, but Georgia is averaging over 40 points-per-game and this contest may very well be a shootout.
With the way UGA is running the ball, and the way Tennessee has been defending the rush, look for the Vols to load the box to slow down Gurley and company. This is going to lead to big opportunities for Murray to strike through the air on the play-action pass.
Tennessee is going to be forced to line up one-on-one with at least some Georgia receivers, and so far for UGA it’s been pick your poison when it comes to wideouts this season.
Marlon Brown, Michael Bennett and Tavarres King are all on pace for 1,000-yard seasons. Plus, Malcolm Mitchell should see more snaps on offense this week with the—again, presumable—return of senior safety Bacarri Rambo.
With the exception of the first half in the season opener against Buffalo, Murray has been pinpoint accurate all season, especially on the deep pass. Murray will probably only have around 25 pass attempts in this game, but look for him to make the most of them and have another solid game for the Dawgs.
While Georgia is certainly capable of getting and keeping a comfortable lead early in this game, it really just needs to stay close going into the fourth quarter.
Georgia has only given up 13 fourth-quarter points through four games, as opposed to 27 surrendered by Tennessee.
Granted, many of those points came against defensive subs for both teams, but the Georgia defense has still been extremely stingy in the fourth quarter. UGA shutout Missouri and Vanderbilt in the final period, with most of the starters going the distance in both those games.
One of the main reasons the Dawgs have been so dominant late in the game is that they are stacked with depth on both sides of the ball. As mentioned, UGA is loaded at both the tailback and wide receiver positions.
And, between injuries at linebacker last season and suspensions at linebacker and in the secondary this season, the Bulldogs are overflowing with defensive personnel with significant game experience. Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham will be subbing players in all afternoon, so the defense should be fresh in the fourth quarter.
If this game comes down to a fight to the end, expect Georgia to outlast Tennessee and come away with the W.