No. Tennessee at Georgia
Where: Sanford Stadium, Athens
When: 12:21 p.m.
TV: SEC network
Last meeting: Tennessee won, 45-19
Georgia’s offense opened up with A.J. Green on the field at Colorado, so the Bulldogs need that to carry over. Lost in the attention over Caleb King’s game-deciding fumble is the fact that King had a very good game. The tight ends were also involved, as the middle of the field was opened up. As long as QB Aaron Murray continues to manage the game, and find Green for a couple big plays, that may be enough for Georgia’s offense to say it did its job.
Tennessee’s hope probably lies in RB Tauren Poole, and if he can gash the middle of Georgia’s defense the way Marcus Lattimore did last month. Poole is capable, having rushed for 109 yards at LSU. But Georgia’s run defense has been better lately, so Tennessee will need something out of QB Matt Sims. There may only be so much Sims can do – he has young receivers, and a porous offensive line, which has allowed him to be sacked 19 times this year. Sims does have tight end Luke Stocker, a 6-foot-6, 253-pound pass-catcher.
Georgia’s focus will be on avoiding past mistakes, especially the coverage breakdowns that have led to big plays. But given the problems of Tennessee’s line, the Bulldog defense has a chance to dominate a game like it hasn’t since the opener. The tone should be set early: If the Bulldogs can get off the field on Tennessee’s first possession, ending the streak of opening-drive touchdowns, it will feel like this game will finally be different.
Tennessee’s main problem has been tackling, a big reason it ranks 10th in the SEC in run defense, and ninth in pass defense. The Vols actually have done a good job on Green the past few years, but they don’t have Eric Berry around any more. Look for the Vols to aim at containing Green and the Bulldog passing game, and avoid the big plays.
Logan Gray is set to return punts, with Branden Smith out with a concussion. But others, such as Green, could get a shot too. Georgia’s special teams is rounding into form, with kick and punt coverage improving, and punter Drew Butler getting back to normal. Kicker Blair Walsh, a week after not getting a chance to win the game, will be antsy to get back on the snide.
Senior kicker Daniel Lincoln is doubtful to play with a quadriceps injury. Lincoln has hit all seven f his field goal attempts this season, while freshman Michael Palardy is 0-for-1. Tennessee isn’t getting anything out of its return units, ranking 11th in the SEC on kickoff returns and 11th in punts. Its kickoff and punt coverage is better, however.
Mark Richt, under fire from fans for the 1-4 start, decided to get physical this week in practice. Whether or not it was too late to do so, it’s a sign that Richt felt his team needed a spark. If it wins today, expect him to credit the full-pads practices, even if the Vols aren’t exactly a world-beater.
Derek Dooley has coached in his dad’s stadium before, as an LSU assistant, but this will be his first time at Sanford Stadium as a head coach. Vince will be watching from home, but Barbara might be in the Tennessee rooting section. Derek’s focus will be elsewhere, on making sure his team has rebounded from the stunning turnabout at the end of the LSU loss.
Georgia WR A.J. Green vs. Tennessee CB Art Evans and Marsalis Teague. The Volunteers are holding opponents to 6.5 yards per pass attempt, one of their few positive stats. But Green seemed to make a big play every time he touched the ball at Colorado. Something will have to give in this matchup.
Tennessee RB Tauren Poole vs. Georgia’s line. For all the focus on stopping big plays, a bigger key for Georgia will be making sure the secondary knows when the Vols have to try for them. That depends on containing Poole on first and second down, and forcing a lot of third-and-longs.
Prediction: Georgia 34, Tennessee 14.
- Seth Emerson