A brief study on how the Vols can contain UGA's perimeter run game
For the Tennessee Volunteers, an early in-conference tilt versus the University of Georgia represents a chance to show that the Vols are on the right track behind head coach Butch Jones.
Coach Jones is a masterful recruiter with a slew of skins on the wall — specifically at Central Michigan (27-13 record) and the University of Cincinnati (23-14) — and he’s proven to be equally adept at the Xs and Os part of coaching (specifically on offense).
With talented players like the 6’4″, 224-pound freak Marquez North, Von Pearson (injured), “Pig” Howard, Josh Malone, Josh Smith (injured), Jalen Hurd and Marlin Lane, the Vols boast a dynamic group of skill players on offense.
And with the improvement senior quarterback Justin Worley has made under Jones, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Tennessee can win a shootout on the road in Athens, Georgia.
But for Tennessee to truly compete, it must try to corral the explosive rushing attack of the Bulldogs, specifically the perimeter game.
It will take a Herculean effort by the Vols’ front seven, but if anybody can do it — in the SEC East, at least — it’s Tennessee.
The linebacking trio of A.J. Johnson, Curt Maggitt and Jalen Reeves-Maybin may be the most talented in the entire conference.
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If you were going to construct a linebacker to go head up with a great running back such as Todd Gurley — Georgia’s 6’1″, 230-pound force of competitive nature — it would be one that could “scrape” sideline to sideline, has the football I.Q. of an elite QB and brings the thunder upon impact.
Tennessee’s Johnson is that and more.
The 6’2″, 242-pound, Gainesville, Georgia native is an unparalleled athlete at the middle-linebacker position. He’s versatile enough to play both inside positions in an odd-front defense, and he’s skilled enough to play all three position in the Vols’ 4-3-based defense.
But having his intelligence be covered up by an even-front alignment (which keeps linemen off of him), and two supporting outside backers (who also take on blockers depending on the play call), is worth its weight in gold.
But it will be worth its weight in diamond encrusted platinum if he and his band of brothers can contain UGA’s rushing attack.
Funnel Outside Action Back Inside
Georgia employs a pro-style offense that has elements of the spread sprinkled throughout it. For what was once virtually a two-back offense, Georgia has found ways to get the same physicality out of its offense out of “11” and “12 personnel.”
But when you have a beast like Gurley, all you need is one key block for him to generate a sizeable gain.
Georgia does really good with its counter run game. It has athletic guards that can pull with the best of them, and not to mention Gurley’s ability to hit the edges quick, fast and in a hurry.
Tennessee can’t afford to get caught in the “muddy waters” where it can’t contain the edges.
The outside backers, Maggitt and Reeves-Maybin, must attack the edges with ferocity and not get kick-out blocked or sealed; doing this would allow Johnson to flow to the action.
This is exactly the format that the Vols need to follow in attempt to slow down Georgia’s attack. Maggitt read the play as strong right and set the edge with some serious ferocity — destroying the fullback’s hopes and dreams in the process.
This freed up Johnson to do what he does best, which entails laying ball-carriers across the grass like fertilizer.
The Vols’ defensive line has to at least play the ‘Dawgs offensive line to a stalemate. If UGA’s line is able to get a consistent push, it’s pretty much curtains for the Vols. But if the line can allow the linebackers to operate in space, their athleticism can shine through.
But when the ‘backers do encounter blockers it’s imperative that they don’t try to skirt around blocks. As a former linebacker myself — albeit at the semi-professional level — I know a thing or two about taking on blockers.
Some player’s first instinct is to run around blocks to get to the running back. There’s nothing wrong with that; it’s just a preferred style of play.
But to be successful against a powerhouse like Gurley — along with UGA’s true freshman tandem of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel — Tennessee’s linebackers must apply the stack-and-shed technique.
To do this a backer must attack the center of a blocker, hold him up and then attack to either side of him. Georgia’s backs are too powerful, quick and savvy to be taken down with arm tackles.
It’s time to bring the wood on each and every play.
While there are other variables that will decide the outcome of this game, Georgia’s rushing attack against the Vols’ front seven may supersede all.
Is it game time, yet?