Georgia and Tennessee looking to get back on track
A Tennessee win over Georgia will do a lot more than tie the all-time series between the Volunteers and Bulldogs at 21-21-2. It would provide the shot in the arm that Butch Jones’ struggling squad sorely needs.
A win for Georgia in Week 6 will do more than just give the Bulldogs their longest winning streak over their rivals to the north at six games. A victory would say we’ve learned from our drubbing at the hands of Alabama and are ready to get back to work.
It wasn’t exactly one thing that doomed Georgia in Week 5 against the Tide, rather a confluence of shoddy execution and mismatches.
“We had some protection issues, drop issues, accuracy issues,” Bulldogs head coach Mark Richt said during his Sunday press conference. “It wasn’t the best conditions, throw and catch, for anybody, but Alabama caused a lot of those problems. We’ve got to react better to those.
“I don’t think we had an effort issue,” the coach continued. “That hasn’t been a problem all year. I’m thankful to say we had guys giving it everything they had. We just have to execute better.”
One of those inefficiencies Georgia struggled with versus Alabama was with their usually-stout run game. Nick Chubb reached the 100-yard rushing mark for the 13th-consecutive contest to tie Herschel Walker for most in program history; but the Crimson Tide held Chubb and company to 193 yards on the ground, or about 65 yards fewer than the UGA team average entering the game.
It should be noted that the Alabama run defense allows only 84.0 ypg. Tennessee, by contrast, gives up twice as many yards (171.6). The Vols are suffering from the season-ending loss of DE/LB hybrid Curt Maggitt, who, not coincidentally, happened to go down with a chipped bone in his hip shortly before Tennessee’s season went in the tank during the second half of the Vols’ Week 2 matchup with Oklahoma.
But the running games aren’t the issue for Georgia nor Tennessee, who sit at Nos. 2 and 3 respectively in the SEC in rushing offense, separated by a mere 99 total yards and less than 20.0 ypg.
Both teams struggle at wide receiver. Malcolm Mitchell has had a quality season with 371 yards and 3 touchdowns. But after him, the next best Georgia wideout is Terry Godwin with 109 yards. There are seven tight ends and two running backs with more receiving yards than Godwin, including teammate Sony Michel with 149 yards through the air.
Butch says Tennessee ran the ‘zone-read’ scheme 15 or 16 times on Saturday.
— Paul Fortenberry (@Volquest_Paul) October 5, 2015
Tennessee’s leading wide receiver is tight end Ethan Wolf with 157 yards and 2 touchdowns. The Vols’ receiving corps has been decimated by injuries with the likes of Pig Howard (concussion), Marquez North and Johnathon Johnson all missing time to ailments. On the field, the biggest ills have been dropped passes. Tennessee’s leading wide receiver is freshman Preston Williams with 117 yards and 2 touchdowns. The frosh is tops among a group of not-very-imposing wide receivers that includes sophomores Josh Malone (109 yards, TD) and Josh Smith (104 yards).
Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs put up 232 yards in Week 5 against Arkansas, but it was mostly through smoke-and-mirrors with slants and short passes.
Georgia was prone to giving up big plays against Alabama, but has the edge defensively over Tennessee, yielding 119.6 YPG less than the Vols on defense. Like his wide receiving unit, Jones’ defense has also been hit hard with injuries. Tennessee has seven defensive players, including three defensive linemen, out or in question for Week 6’s game versus Georgia.
If history is any indication, however, the Bulldogs and Volunteers contest will be a close one. The last four matchups between the two schools have been decided by a touchdown or less — with Georgia winning all of them.
“It’s going to go down to the wire,” Richt said at his presser. “It’s not going to be any different than years past. We know they’re very talented. We know they play hard as heck. We know their fans are loud. It’s going to be very difficult to hear anything. It’s one of those kinds of places. We’ve got to deal with the noise and the talent base. Like I said before, we have to make sure we execute under those kind of circumstances.”
If Tennessee wants to pull off the upset at Neyland Stadium, they’ll need to exploit their kick return game for field position, where they have a marked advantage over the Bulldogs.
The Volunteers’ kick-return unit is the best in the nation with an average of 37.9 yards per return and total of 493 yards — 447 of those yards and two touchdowns which belong to sophomore Evan Berry.
Georgia, strangely enough, has the nation’s very worst kick-return unit with 14.0 yards per return. Those numbers are impacted worse considering that Bulldogs kick returner Isaiah McKenzie is now battling hamstring issues. Georgia isn’t all that efficient at preventing big returns, either, and is tied with Boise State and Wyoming for 85th in the country with 22.0 yards given up per return.
Tennessee (2-3, 0-2 SEC) has resoundingly underachieved this season. The Bulldogs (4-1, 2-1) are coming off a deflating home loss to Alabama. Neither are exactly in the position they’d hoped they’d be in when they squared off for the 45th time in their rivalry that dates back to 1903. Stranger things have happened and a Volunteers win could throw a crooked monkey wrench into the SEC East race, leaving the Bulldogs with an unfathomable two losses at the season’s halfway mark.
TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS CLOSER LOOK
Top player, offense: Jalen Hurd, So., RB — Jalen Hurd is on pace to lead the Vols once again in rushing. The sophomore running back’s 492 yards this season are roughly 400 shy of eclipsing his mark of 899 yards from last season. Hurd’s seven touchdowns are enough for third-best in the SEC, tied with Georgia’s Nick Chubb.
Top player, defense: Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Jr., LB — Linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin appears to be in on every play for the Tennessee defense. The junior leads the Vols with twice as many tackles 51 than the next closest player. Reeves-Maybin is also tops on the Tennessee stat sheet in tackles-for-loss (8.0) and sacks (3.0).
Top player, special teams: Evan Berry, So., KR — Berry has already surpassed his 414 kick return yards from last year to lead the nation with 447 yards and 2 touchdowns through the season’s first six weeks. The sophomore is averaging 40.6 yards per return.