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October 4, 2013Tennessee returns to SEC play Saturday afternoon as #6 Georgia coming calling full of confidence after last week's 44-41 win over LSU. The Vols meanwhile enter with some growing confidence internally despite the gnashing of the teeth externally following their 31-24 win over South Alabama.
Confident or not this is a serious challenge for Butch Jones and company as the Bulldogs arrive scoring at a high rate. Led by quarterback Aaron Murray, who some have not entering the Heisman race, the Georgia offense has scored 35 points or more in every game and have scored 40 or more the last three games which includes wins over then #6 South Carolina and #6 LSU.
And it's been Murray leading the way. The quarterback has been terrific in two SEC games completing 65% of his throws for 607 yards, 8 touchdowns and 1 interception.
There's no question the Vol defense has their work cut out for them, but it's a defense who's belief is different than it was this time last year. The Vol defense has seen an early season revival in the careers of seniors Corey Miller and Marlon Walls. The duo has 4 sacks on the season, which is three more than they combined for last season. In the secondary, there have been struggles at the nickel back position in terms of productivity, but the defensive back end is ties nationally with Virginia Tech with 11 interceptions this season. The Vol defense has forced 15 takeaways in 5 games which is two less than they had a season ago.
"Big concern," Jones said. "[Murray] does a great job with his ball mechanics and hiding the ball on play action and we always look does the run look exactly the same as the pass. What type of run/pass keys does the offensive line give you and they do a great job in that area so again the eye discipline is going to be critical. Obviously when you have a formidable run game and you're physical and can run the football, now all the sudden in your mindset you're trying to stop the run and that lends to big explosive plays in the pass game. It'll be the same this week, stressing the small details and body position."
The Vol defense must be opportunistic on Saturday forcing turnovers and they must get off the field on third down. Last week, South Alabama was 7 of 17 on third down conversions. Five of their 7 conversions were for 6 yards or more. Tennessee cannot afford to give the Georgia offense extra chances. When the opportunity is there to get off the field, Tennessee's defense must win.
Another key is rhythm. The Vol offense found it in the midway through the first half, scoring on three straight possessions. But then fell out of rhythm. Throwing three interceptions in the next four possessions. Tennessee has to have success in the run game to help the passing game, but to have a chance the Vol offense has to find consistent success in the passing game. Something they haven't shown all year.
It's obviously a big challenge this weekend on the field for the Vols. It's also a huge weekend on the recruiting front with official and unofficial visitors (for a list of visitors checkout the War Room. Jones knows the importance of every weekend in recruiting, but especially this weekend which is why he knows he needs help from the home crowd.
"The way we're recruiting in our program, every weekend is big, every day is big, but again, we're going to welcome a lot of individuals here," Jones said. "Again, it's critical that everyone sees the support that the best fan base in the country has for this football team. You know, we're building this and they understand that we're building this and they're still passionate and they're still positive. They believe in the mission of this football program and they're behind us. I've been indebted to them since Day 1 I walked in the door. They play a hand in the recruiting as much as anyone with the positivity they bring."
The key match-up this week is third down. Tennessee must win on third down on both sides of the ball. Offensively against ranked opponents (Oregon and Florida) the Vols are just 10 of 28 on third down (36%). Tennessee's offense must stay on the field and extend drives.
Defensively, Tennessee has struggled to get off the field and have given up way too many third and long situations. Oregon was 6 of 12 on third down and Florida was 10 of 18 on third down. Getting off the field is a must for John Jancek's defense.
"They have great balance. They have great players, they're very, very well coached. They know what they're doing," Jones said. "They do a great job of creating one-on-one match-ups with their skill. That's a Sunday quarterback, [Aaron] Murray is as good of a quarterback as we've seen. He manages their offense, they're playing with great confidence. You have the great running back stable that they have. They have a veteran, physical offensive line, and great speed on the perimeter. They play to the strengths of their football team. It's going to be a great challenge. And that's what makes them hard, because the other thing is, they manage the downs. They're not in predictable situations. They're always in 3rd-and-3, 3rd-and-4, where it's a run or pass situation. Very rarely are they in 3rd-and-long situations, and I think that's a product of a very strong run game, but also a very strong playaction game as well."
For a closer look at the rest of the match-up's, check out How they match-up from Rob Lewis.
Jones and the defensive coaches are always preaching ball disruptions. Forcing turnovers and breaking up plays. Tennessee's takeaways are well documented. But the most impressive sign of development on the defensive side of the ball is the growing number of pass break-up's. The last two games, the Vol defense has 11 pass break-up's, giving them 21 for the year.
A season ago, the defense had just 35 deflections for the entire season.
MAXIM THAT MATTERS
Ball, oskie, cover, block, cut and slice, pursue and gang tackle - for this is the WINNING EDGE
Tennessee doesn't have to play perfect to pull the upset. Georgia is a more talented team and is playing well, but the Vols don't need perfection. What they must do is make plays on both sides of the ball. Which is what Maxim #5 is all about.
Tennessee must create defensive turnovers. They must cover in the kicking game. They must win the line of scrimmage on offense. Tennessee's skill guys must make Georgia miss turning a 4 yard gain into a 14 yard gain.
And maybe what is most crucial for the Vol defense is to pursue and gang tackle or orange swarm as they like to call it. Georgia's run game is elite as Tennessee fans saw a year ago. Tennessee's defense must rally to the ball and gang tackle for 60 minutes.
BEHIND ENEMY LINES
We asked UGAsports.com's Jake Rowe to take a stab at a couple of questions for us about this weekend's Tennessee-Georgia game.
All the talk this week has been if Todd Gurley will be able to go or not, if he can't, how much of a blow is it to Georgia's offense?