Mind you, Bill’s not predicting a Tennessee win. He’s just answering the question “how do you beat Georgia?” ($$). He’s got three criteria, all backed with some data:
Step 1: The Dawgs settle for field goals. One thing Georgia is not particularly good at this season is red zone touchdown rate, where they rank 86th nationally. Bill cites the Clemson game and the first half of the Florida game where things were a little dicey because Georgia couldn’t get in the end zone.
Step 2: The opponent strikes deep. This one’s relative — Georgia’s pass defense against the deep ball is merely good, not great (29th in success rate allowed). On top of that, you’ve got to keep your quarterback upright (“Georgia is 16th in sack rate despite almost never blitzing”) to have a chance to strike deep. That last task poses an even more monumental challenge for UT, which is an abysmal 123rd nationally in sacks allowed.
Step 3: Stetson Bennett runs into trouble on passing downs. This is the one that concerns me from a scheme standpoint. What if Tennessee doesn’t go balls out to stop the run, but chooses to play a softer defense that doesn’t allow Bennett easy opportunities to throw against single-man, press coverage — and still manages to do a fair job of handling Georgia’s run game? Bill points out that Stetson’s strong suit isn’t throwing under pressure: “Obviously everybody is better when they’re not pressured, but a 74% completion rate and 12.7 yards per pass versus 38% and 8.4 is quite a difference.”
A lot of stuff would obviously have to go right for the Vols to have a real chance at the upset, and I’m not finding that likely. The rebuttal to Bill’s three keys are that (1) given their offense’s pace, it’s hard to see Tennessee’s defense holding up for four quarters as Clemson’s did; (2) it’s hard to see UT’s offensive line giving Herndon the kind of consistent time he’ll need to pop a few big pass plays; and (3) Georgia’s got JT Daniels available in relief, if necessary.
Still, any given Saturday and all, it’s worth thinking about.