An interesting line of thought has emerged this week – a mini-meme, if you will – about the Georgia-Tennessee game which suggests as Boise State went with Kellen Moore’s passing success in the opener, so can Tennessee with Tyler Bray. (Even Todd Grantham sort of went there.) Here’s Year2’s succinct analysis:
… The good news for UT heading into the Georgia game is that passing is largely what brought Georgia down in its one decisive loss. Kellen Moore completed over 82.4% of his passes versus the Red and Black, the best mark of his career against anyone other than San Jose State. He basically passed the Broncos to a win with Martin having his least effective game of the season. Moore averaged 7.68 yards per pass and had 261 yards total; the Bulldogs’ other three opponents averaged just 5.09 yards per pass and didn’t top 157 yards in a game.
So if it’s possible to pass to victory against UGA’s resurrected defense, Bray certainly has the ability to do it. If you’re going to be unbalanced on offense, that’s how you want to be when facing Georgia…
Ah, our old friend balance. I presume that Year2 is referring to balance there in the Mike Bobo sense, that is, being able to both run and throw the ball in roughly equal measure. But there’s also the Mike Leach definition of balance, which is all about spreading the ball around.
… To me, a balanced offense is one where each skill position touches the ball, and every position contributes to the offensive output. There is nothing balanced about running it 50 percent of the time and throwing it 50 percent of the time if you are only utilizing two or three offensive skill positions and only attacking part of the field… [Emphasis added.]
The problem for Tennessee is that I’m not sure how well they can measure up under either definition. Year2 notes that UT is going to have to run the ball better against the Dawgs than Boise State did, but that’s a fairly tall order for an offense that’s currently ranked a woeful 98th nationally in rushing (and remember that stat’s been compiled against the likes of Montana, Cincinnati and Buffalo). And as for spreading the ball around, go back and take a look at Bill Connelly’s handy spreadsheet on passing targets: Da’Rick Rogers and Mychal Rivera have almost half of Bray’s passes thrown their way.
There are a few other reasons I’m skeptical the comparison holds up. The most obvious one is experience. Moore looked every inch the savvy four-year starter as he carved the Georgia secondary up; Saturday night will mark Bray’s tenth start. Bray may be precocious, but that gap still means something.
There’s also the matter of adjustments. After Moore threw his one interception of the game, Boise State abandoned its deep passing game and settled for picking Georgia’s zone apart with quick timing passes that were devastatingly effective. Moore completed a whopping 82.4% of his pass attempts, but only at a 7.7 ypa clip. Tennessee, on the other hand, likes to stretch the field more with its passing attack, which makes sense given Bray’s arm strength and Rogers’ and Hunter’s talents. For the season, UT is averaging better than 9 yards per attempt. The only game the Vols played this season in which they failed to exceed Moore’s ypa rate against Georgia, they lost. So I’m not convinced that emulating Moore in that regard is something that Bray will be totally comfortable doing.
Finally, personnel. The loss of Justin Hunter is a huge one for Tennessee, both in terms of the loss of production, but also in terms of how UT replaces that going forward. Buffalo may have been stupid enough to presume that Rogers didn’t need much extra attention, but I doubt that Grantham and Lakatos are going to make the same mistake. And on the other side of the ball, there’s Bacarri Rambo, who was suspended for the opener. Now I’m not blind enough to pretend that the quality of opposition has been similar since then, but the passer ratings for Georgia’s opponents still tell quite a tale: Boise State, 170.07; South Carolina, 85.50 (a season low); Coastal Carolina, 61.99; Mississippi, 79.39 (second lowest mark of the season); Mississippi State, 85.43 (also a season low). Clearly, Georgia’s passing defense has taken a step up since Rambo was inserted back into the starting eleven.
None of this is to say that Georgia is a lock tomorrow night. We’ve seen too many flaky things this year to feel comfortable about that. (Speaking of flaky, how about this: Tennessee has fumbled fourteen times in four games, only losing four, and Georgia has fumbled twelve times in five games, only losing three. That’s a lot of luck.) But I’m not so sure Bray will be as big a threat as Moore proved to be. And between that and Tennessee not having the Broncos’ defensive line on the field, Georgia’s got a decent shot to reverse its recent misfortunes in Knoxville.
By the way, since I use his site so often, it’s only fair to mention that Marty at cfbstats.com is having a pledge drive. If you find his site as invaluable as I do, you might want to throw a little love his way.