One of the season’s recurring themes has been Georgia’s opponent this week is their biggest challenge yet. (Exclamation point optional.) We heard it about Clemson. We heard it about Arkansas. Then Auburn. After that, Florida.
According to Barrett Sallee, now it’s Tennessee’s turn.
Main course: Tennessee is Georgia’s toughest test
How many of you thought before the season that the above headline would be even remotely possible? Put your hand down. No you didn’t.
Yet here we are in mid-November with the Volunteers offense improving to a point that it should scare Georgia fans and grab the attention of Georgia coaches. The Volunteers leads the SEC in yards per play in conference games at 7.15, they led the SEC in yards per play in October at 6.93 and put up 9.81 yards per play in its lone November game — a 45-42 win over Kentucky. Georgia coach Kirby Smart knows just how dangerous this team is.
“Offensively, in the last three or four games, they’re averaging the most points in the SEC,” Smart said in his Monday press conference. “They’re up-tempo, fast-paced and that’s really hard to prepare for. Everybody tries to prepare in the offseason, but it’s so hard to simulate when you talk to people going against it, it makes it tremendously tough.”
Dual-threat quarterback Hendon Hooker is the trigger man of that offense, and has evolved into one of the most dynamic signal-callers in the country. Velus Jones Jr., Cedric Tilman and JaVonta Payton have emerged as one of the best wide receiving trios in the country, and coach Josh Heupel has found creative ways to get them open. Georgia’s secondary is stout, but it’ll be on Jordan Davis and the rest of that defensive line to get pressure on Hooker and disrupt plays before Hooker gets loose outside of the pocket.
Funny how he neglects to mention anything about the Vol defense, such as being seventh in yards per play in conference games at 5.83 (almost 2 ypp worse than Georgia). Or how they’re twelfth in the SEC in defensive scoring in conference games, giving up almost five times the points per game that Georgia’s defense has. Georgia does get to play on offense Saturday, amirite?
As far as Smart’s “really hard to prepare for”, that doesn’t mean he’s not giving it the old college try. Like he’s done before.
“We’ve had the scout team preparing for this for weeks,” Smart said. “We’ve done a lot of work to get them ready for this. Again, it’s very similar to facing the triple-option, because you better have a plan since it’s so different and outside the norm.”
Lewis Cine makes it sound like they’ve been preparing for a root canal.
“You’re going to be huffing and puffing,” Cine said of the impending preparation, “and some of the time you’ll be discombobulated. Am I looking forward to it? Of course not, but am I going to have to do it? Yes, so I might as well enjoy it while I’m out there.”
Will that be enough? Well, let me remind you about Georgia Tech’s yardage totals from Paul Johnson’s last two games against Georgia: 219 in 2018 and 226 in 2017. And those were in two seasons that the Dawgs defensive ypp was a yard greater than it is in 2021.
Obviously, there are no guarantees in life, but seeing as Smart looks at every opponent as being his team’s toughest test, I expect Tennessee’s offense will get Georgia’s best shot.