Tennessee had a lot of near misses in the 2012 football season, but one of the most gut-wrenching was the Vols taking No. 5 Georgia to the wire at Sanford Stadium before falling short.
In what would become a common theme throughout that forgettable campaign, UT's defense simply couldn't stop anybody, and the Bulldogs outgunned the Vols in a 51-44 shootout.
The conference's top two offenses at the time didn't disappoint, amassing more than 1,000 total yards of offense, according to ESPN's Chris Low. Former UT quarterback Tyler Bray had two crucial turnovers in the game's final minute and 22 seconds to give Georgia its third consecutive win in the series.
Despite UGA freshman running back Todd Gurley's sterling rookie season, the other runner was the one UT couldn't stop. Keith Marshall sped past UT defenders like they were standing still, gaining 164 yards on just 10 carries. Gurley didn't struggle, finishing with 130 yards on 24 carries.
This season, a gimpy Gurley may be spectating from the sideline, but UGA still has plenty of weapons—starting with senior quarterback Aaron Murray. UT's offense is nowhere near as dynamic as it was a season ago, so a monumental task awaits the Vols at home.
Here's everything you need to know about the showdown.
Date: Saturday, Oct. 5
Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
Place: Neyland Stadium, Knoxville, Tenn.
Radio: Vol Network, Bulldog Radio Network, Sirius Premier/XM Channel 91
Spread: Georgia by 11.5, according to Sportsbook.com
*All quotes were transcribed from videos posted on UTSports.com, and official stats were taken from there as well, unless otherwise noted.
Shine in Space
Georgia's a team with SEC speed all over the football field. Tennessee is not.
So, the Bulldogs will try to do what every other team has attempted—and all but Austin Peay has had success—which is get their athletes matched up against UT's slower linebackers with open field to outrun them. Sophomore running back Keith Marshall and receiver Justin Scott-Wesley are especially matchup nightmares.
Look for UGA to run a lot of slants across the middle and quick outs to fast receivers on the perimeter when they aren't pitching to Marshall on the edge. The Vols haven't stopped it this year, and they must if they're going to beat the Dawgs.
It's no secret that UT junior quarterback Justin Worley's play has left a lot to be desired, but he actually looked like a competent quarterback at times in the first half against South Alabama and the second half against Florida.
Of course, UGA is a different test altogether than the Jaguars. If the Vols are going to have any offensive success, they must do some positive things down the field. Since Worley is the starter by default, that is on him to create and capitalize on those opportunities.
For all their defensive inefficiencies, UGA was salty against the run versus LSU, allowing just 103 yards on 32 carries. The Vols are going to have to pass the ball successfully to loosen up that defense if they're going to have a chance to win.
Keep Murray on the Sideline
The only place Aaron Murray can't hurt Tennessee is standing on the sideline. So, that's where the Vols need to keep him.
That means three things:
- UT's offense must sustain drives and score touchdowns.
- The Vols need to rack up a couple more interceptions to go along with the 11 they already have, which is tied for the nation's lead, according to the official NCAA website.
- The defense has to get off the field. Third-downs continued to kill the Vols against South Alabama. The Jags converted five of 10 opportunities in the second half to sustain drives.
The Vols will see a heavy dosage of sophomore running back Keith Marshall, and that's not good news for them.
The sophomore from Raleigh, N.C., is the type of back who can get to the corner in a hurry, turn up field and be gone before anybody in orange can catch him. Teams haven't been incredibly successful running up the gut on UT, but that's not really Marshall's game.
With Todd Gurley likely sidelined, UGA should give Marshall the ball early and often. If it can keep him fresh, UT doesn't have an answer for him defensively.
Find A.J. Johnson in Coverage
If it seems like Johnson is being picked on a bit, that's not necessarily the case. He's a dynamic SEC linebacker who will excel against the run on the next level.
But he's not a coverage linebacker.
Coaches insisted last week that Johnson continues to improve in space, but the 243-pound junior simply can't catch up to running backs and slot receivers. Some tight ends even give him trouble on seam routes, especially as he wears down throughout the game.
Said Vols head coach Butch Jones at his weekly press conference:
Right now we have some major depth issues and I think it is starting to be revealed, I think it is starting to show itself. We had two individuals who had monumental games for us, A.J. Johnson took 83 snaps at linebacker, Dontavis Sapp took 82 snaps at linebacker plus 12 snaps on special teams. We have too many individuals playing way to many reps.
If UT had adequate linebacker depth, Johnson ideally wouldn't be playing in nickel situations. But the Vols don't, and he will be on the field. UGA is the type of team that can exploit that.
Build a Lead
This isn't last year's Vols. A Justin Worley-led offense is not built to come back from a couple-touchdown deficit against a team as dynamic as Georgia.
The Dawgs are more talented than UT. If they get up early, this is just the kind of game that can snowball. It's going to be very difficult for the Vols to match them point-for-point, and they need good things to happen early and often to stay in it.
The senior running back is coming off a career game, as he amassed 169 yards against South Alabama. But UT has seen this before.
The question/concern is can he be consistent? The Vols need a huge game out of him to have a chance, especially with backup Marlin Lane banged up. Butch Jones said he saw a different runner last week against the Jaguars. He hopes this Neal is here to stay.
Attacking, decisive in his run reads, getting the ball north and south, making defenders miss. I thought he played at another gear. He showed some bursts and acceleration. He made individuals miss. Obviously moving forward against a talented Georgia defense, we're going to need his durability and we're going to need some play making ability.
Tennessee is anxious to see what a healthy Corey Vereen can do rushing off the edge, but it's another Corey at defensive end who is playing the best football of his career.
Miller excelled against USA, saving a crucial touchdown by chasing down a Jaguar who was racing toward the goal line after a blocked field goal. Then with the Jags driving inside UT's 20-yard line late, Miller sacked Ross Metheny to help save a win.
With Georgia on tap, Miller knows he has to pressure Aaron Murray, or it's going to be a long afternoon. Miller said he puts pressure on himself because Jones demands excellence and continuous hustle.
"He tells us it's our last year; we don't have anymore tomorrows," Miller said Tuesday. "He's going to stress for us to be leaders on the team. He says the speed of the leader's the speed of the pack."
If Worley can somehow play up to his potential, UT has a chance. If he struggles the way he has most of this season, not only will Georgia run away with the game, but also a freshman could walk away with Worley's job.
Riley Ferguson and Joshua Dobbs continue to progress behind Worley, though Jones insists they aren't ready.
If Worley doesn't give UT a chance to win, Jones' hand may be forced. Worley is running out of time to impress.
The senior quarterback can be turnover-prone sometimes, but when he's good—and he was incredible against LSU—he's one of the best players in the nation.
Now, he'll give Tennessee's young secondary its biggest test of the season. If he gets time to throw, he'll pick the Vols apart. UT can't let that happen, but it's difficult to see any scenario where Murray doesn't put up big numbers.
He'll be hard to handle, and this is just the type of quarterback who can take advantage of the multiple holes that exist in a secondary full of freshmen.
This will be Marshall's team if Gurley can't go, and that's not necessarily good news for the Vols.
At least they won't have to deal with two monster runners.
Marshall averaged 16.4 yards per carry last year against UT, shredding the secondary and then running past everybody. The Vols are going to have to mix up defenses this week to contain him, and they have got to always account for him on the field. UGA coach Mark Richt believes Marshall can assume the role of workhorse:
"I think (Keith) Marshall is very capable of carrying the load," Richt told Georgiadogs.com. "You talk about carrying the load with 15 or 20 carries, and I think he could do it if he had to."
He's the type of player who can beat UT single-handedly.
The sophomore safety was suspended for the Clemson game, and Georgia missed him dearly.
Though he has played one fewer game than most of his defensive teammates, he's third on the team with 27 tackles, and he also has 2.5 tackles for loss and a fumble recovery. He'll be one of the best athletes on the field, and he is a player who can harass a young receiving corps looking to get going.
Georgia tight end Jay Rome may have a good buddy on Tennessee's team in senior linebacker Dontavis Sapp, but that doesn't mean he's in love with UT's traditions.
Take "Rocky Top," for instance. He's heard enough of that song this week for it to get under his skin.
"Yeah, not a fan of the song," Rome told the Athens Banner-Herald's Rachel G. Bowers. "It's just an annoying song."
Former Tennessee head coach Phillip Fulmer spoke to a high school in Chattanooga this past week, and the Chattanooga Times Free Press' David Paschall asked him about this year's game against UGA.
"Georgia is a really, really fine football team," Fulmer said. "Hopefully we'll keep it close and in the fourth quarter make a play that wins the ballgame, but it's going to be a challenge."
Fulmer also dished on the firing of Lane Kiffin, the man who replaced him in Knoxville: "It's a big business, and I'm sure there was some frustration there."
UGA quarterback Aaron Murray is just eight passing touchdowns shy of breaking the all-time SEC mark of 114 held by former Florida Heisman winner Danny Wuerffel. He also could pass David Greene's all-time conference passing-yardage mark of 11,528 this week.
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Chip Towers, Murray said he has never thought about it much, but it's a big deal.
It's definitely an honor. It's crazy to think about. I've never been a guy who's worried about stats. It's all about winning, winning, winning. But it's definitely an honor to be alongside some of those guys like Greene and Wuerffel, guys who did some unbelievable things while they were at their colleges.
Tennessee safety Brian Randolph has played against a bunch of good offenses in his time in Knoxville, but the redshirt sophomore indicated this Georgia team, averaging 41.3 points per game against the level of competition they've played, is special:
"Oh, they're very good,” Randolph told GoVols247's Wes Rucker (subscription). "That's one of the best offensives I've ever seen. It's gonna be a challenge for us to go out there and play them."
Georgia 41, Tennessee 21
With the Bulldogs coming off an emotional win against LSU, there are a lot of folks in red and black concerned about this being a trap game for UGA.
The Vols know all about those, narrowly escaping a game South Alabama team last week in a contest sandwiched between conference rivals Florida and Georgia.
Simply put, this UGA team has too many weapons for UT to contain.
Multiple times in the past decade, the Vols have spoiled very good UGA teams' seasons, but the talent discrepancy is simply too great this year. Unless the Vols can come up with the kind of game we've not seen them play yet, Mark Richt is going to get his fourth consecutive win over an SEC East rival.
And it shouldn't be that close.