Despite the two touchdown point spread, Georgia fans know the rivalry with Tennessee is a tough one and frequently confounds expectations, so I don’t believe anyone in red and black is taking this game for granted.
But how do the invading hordes in orange pants feel about it? For the Rocky Top viewpoint, as usual, we go to my old Volunteer friend Joey Ledford …
I’d like to thank my old buddy Bill for asking me to come play in his Junkyard for the third straight year. I’ve spent more years in Georgia than I did growing up in Tennessee and I love it here, but I will always be a Volunteer.
I can’t help but think a lot of Dawgs are overlooking us, gazing down the road at those Carolina Chickens. Rather than be angry about that, it is fine with me. We like being overlooked. Smokey can bite back and finally, Coach Derek Dooley has enough players to make this a game.
Let’s start with our offense. Tyler Bray is a tremendous passer. Note I didn’t say a quarterback, because he’s got to lead us to victory over some tough SEC rivals before I will consider him an elite quarterback. That said, the Kingsburg, Calif., junior has put up some seriously gaudy numbers. He has averaged 325 yards a game so far this year with 12 touchdowns against 3 picks. We have run the ball much better this year, averaging 172 yards a game. As Coach Richt pointed out this week, we have piled up more yards over four games than any other team in Tennessee football history, and we’ve averaged 38 points.
We match up well with you guys since your secondary is a wee bit suspect, though I recognize your suspended players will be back. I like our receivers over anybody’s in the SEC despite the fact Dooley kicked Dalton bad boy Da’Rick Rogers off the team. Junior Justin Hunter, who is 6-4 and doubles as a long jumper, has caught 30 passes for 410 yards. JC transfer Cordarrelle Patterson fits in right where Rogers left off. He’s a physical 6-3, 205 and can really run. We also have an excellent tight end, redshirt senior Mychal Rivera, who can catch it over the middle.
Rajion Neal, who may be the fastest guy on the team (he’s run a 4.36 40) and is also one of the strongest, is our No. 1 tailback. He’s from Henry County, by the way. We’ve done a lot to improve the running game, but it’s still not what we want, especially on 3rd and short. You may want to prepare for our wildcat package though, which so far has featured three different QBs, including sophomore linebacker A.J. Johnson from Gainesville, a hard-hitter you guys didn’t actively recruit and appears to be a bit motivated for Saturday.
We finally have some size on the defensive front. We’ve had a hard time coming up with a nickname for our nose tackle, Daniel McCullers. “Man Mountain” has been used, and somebody on ESPN called him “Smoky Mountain.” Dan, another JC transfer, is an honest 6-8 and 360. Our defensive coordinator, Sal Sunseri, who also coached Terrence Cody at Alabama, says McCullers is a lot more athletic. The other two guys on our 3-4 front are 300 and 288.
Along with Johnson at linebacker, we have fifth-year senior Herman Lathers, an inspirational team leader, and Curt Maggit, a speedy 240-pound sophomore. Both of these guys have been banged up, but they are getting healthy just in time for the Dawgs.
Like you guys, we worry a bit about our secondary, especially when it comes to speed. We lost one safety to injury, but our leader back there is senior corner Prentiss Waggner, who has eight career picks, and Southern Cal transfer Byron Moore, a redshirt junior safety, who has three so far this year.
On special teams, our placekicking has been nearly as exciting as yours. We’ve missed three extra points and don’t have a field goal longer than 37 yards. But we’ve settled on a walk-on who is 5 for 5 on field goals and hopefully we’ve stabilized a bit there. And unlike two years ago in Sanford, we can now catch a punt, so no freebies for you there.
I’ve picked the Vols the last two years, and since I have such a horrible record as a picker, I’ll try to continue my streak by taking you guys this year. I do think the Vols will cover.
Good luck on Saturday and be nice to me. I’ll be the guy in the orange shirt.
My UT friend is right that the Vols’ offense is likely to be the most challenging Georgia has faced so far this season. If Bray is allowed to sit back there in the pocket, he can pick the Dawgs defense apart, and pass defense is where UGA has been shakiest so far this season — though the expected return of Bacarri Rambo and the shifting of Sanders Commings back to cornerback does make me feel a bit better.
Also, Bray doesn’t handle pressure well, his decision-making can be suspect (not just when he’s chunking bottles at cars), and he has shown this season that he sometimes has difficulty keeping his emotions in check when things don’t go well. That’s where Georgia’s defensive front and game-changer Jarvis Jones should be a key factor. I expect Todd Grantham to bring the heat early and often and in unexpected ways.
The other key for Georgia is making Tennessee’s offense one-dimensional, and despite Joey’s optimism about the strides the Vols’ running game has made of late, the Dawgs have been pretty tough against the run. And that was without Alec Ogletree, who should bolster the rushing defense even if he’s a bit rusty after his four-game suspension.
On defense, Tennessee should be a step up from Vanderbilt, but in their first year of going to the 3-4 alignment under former Alabama linebackers coach Sal Sunseri they’ve been up and down and susceptible to the big play. In the first four games, the Vols have allowed 20 plays of 20 yards or more and in the last game and a half have given up scoring plays of 80, 75 and 70 yards.
SEC offensive leader Georgia, on the other hand, has specialized in big plays this season, in both the passing game and the running game. I’m particularly excited about seeing how the Dawgs’ tailback corps of Todd Gurley, Keith Marshall and Boo Malcome do against a Vols defense that has given up more yards per rush than any SEC team except Auburn.
And seeing Malcolm Mitchell get more playing time as part of Georgia’s deep and talented wide receiver corps should be fun, too. If Aaron Murray can keep from coming out too hyped up, the Dawgs’ passing attack could have a big day.
If there’s a wild card in this game, it’s likely to be special teams. Georgia fans have been holding their breath when the Dawgs are receiving a punt and even when it’s time to kick a PAT. Mark Richt talked this week about the need to improve in both aspects of the game, so here’s hoping we’ll see things settle down there.
Bottom line: I expect Tennessee’s offense will keep them in the game for at least three quarters, but as long as Georgia doesn’t turn the ball over, I believe the Dawgs will pull away after the fans in Sanford Stadium hold up those four fingers.
What do you think?
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg