It’s that time of year again.
Does that look like a couple who wears masks? But I digress.
I saw that a pundit described Tennessee under Pruitt as Georgia-lite. The same thought occurred to me and at least one commenter. Just like Smart emulating the Process to jump start the program when he arrived, Pruitt has followed the same approach. It’s most readily apparent in the Vols’ lines of scrimmage.
There are two issues with that coming in to play today. First of all, Tennessee’s roster isn’t as deep or as talented as Georgia’s. That’s an issue both because UT is traveling and also because that’s likely reflecting in each team’s special teams.
The second issue is that Jim Chaney is Tennessee’s offensive coordinator. I don’t say that to cast aspersions on Chaney, who is a good, albeit not an elite, OC. He’s done a solid job managing UT’s offense to protect Guarantano. The offense he runs is familiar to us, and therein lies the rub. It’s the offense Kirby installed in Athens and it’s now two generations behind Saban.
Alabama had already taken steps to move in a different direction when Smart left and now Georgia appears to be doing something similar with Monken’s hire. Pruitt, on the other hand, is comfortable running an offense that worked well for Alabama and Georgia in previous seasons, but has its own limitations in the present.
I can only imagine the pleasure Smart is about to take in loading the box and saying, “have at it, Jimbo”.
Seems to me both coaches go into this game with the strategy to make the other team’s quarterback beat you. I think that favors Georgia simply because it has the better horses on defense.
That being said, there are a few wild cards that give me concern. First, and most obvious, is the weather. The latest forecast I’ve seen shows a slight chance of rain at kickoff, steadily increasing through the afternoon, with the heaviest falling at six and later. (Whoever wins the coin toss might want to think about taking the ball first.) At least the temperature won’t complicate things.
Second is penalties. Georgia, dead last in the conference, is currently running at a pace better than twice that of Tennessee, both in terms of number of penalties per game (10 vs. 4.5) and yardage per game (83.5 vs. 35). In and of itself, I don’t worry about that deciding a winner, but it can certainly have an impact on things like field position and scoring drives.
Third is turnover margin. Tennessee is one of only five teams in the country that has yet to turn the ball over. At +3, it’s tied for first in the conference in turnover margin. (Georgia, at +2, is third.) That’s a sign, at least in the early going, of a disciplined offense that’s made an effort not to put the ball at too much risk. Can Georgia’s defense generate sufficient havoc to throw Chaney and the Vol offense out of their comfort zone? And will the weather have an impact?
I do give credit to Pruitt for righting the ship after a disastrous start last season. And while I recognize that their current eight-game winning streak has been built on the backs of less than stellar opposition, it still indicates the first step an improving program has to take, which is to beat the teams it’s supposed to beat.
All that in mind, Georgia is favored, and deservedly so. I think the weather, ultimately, is going to be the limiting factor. Georgia wins by ten, twelve points, and so doesn’t cover the early spread. I’m good with that.
I’m heading out and heading up to Athens. See you on the other side.