You know what my favorite thing about Tennessee’s story is this year? All things being equal — and, let’s face it, the Vols aren’t really that much better this season than last — it’s a lot easier for a fan to be excited for their program if it isn’t coached by a joyless asshole.
That Phil Fulmer sure could pick ’em.
My second favorite thing about the Vols this season is considering, as surprisingly good as Hendon Hooker’s been, he wasn’t Heupel’s first choice as starter, despite arriving on campus before Joe Milton. There’s no question that, between the two, Milton is the more physically gifted of them. But if you can’t hit the broadside of a barn, it doesn’t matter how great your arm talent and your wheels are. What puzzles me is how that wasn’t obvious to UT’s coaches in the preseason. It’s not like there wasn’t an obvious reason Milton transferred from Michigan. But I digress, I suppose, as Hooker is the story today.
I’ve already mentioned he’s done a very similar job in Tennessee’s offense as Stetson Bennett’s done in Georgia’s. He’s not asked to throw the ball a ton, just to be both efficient and explosive when he does. What I haven’t mentioned yet is how important he is to UT’s running game. He leads the team in rushing attempts, and by a pretty wide margin. A peek at his game log reveals he’s rushed the ball 20 or more times twice in SEC play; he’s had double digit carries in six straight games, all against conference competition.
Job One for Georgia’s defense, then, is containment. They’ve got to set the edge and maintain it. (I assume that the Vols aren’t crazy enough to run Hooker into the middle of Georgia’s defensive line.) He can be shut down running the ball and UT’s two worst losses in conference play came in the two games when he had his worst games running.
Job Two is more obvious, preventing the big pass play. The more you can make Tennessee work to score, the better the odds that their offense will sputter, and that’s the one thing the Vols really can’t afford to happen. Again, take a look at their offensive game log. They managed to generate good yards per play number in their losses — in fact, they haven’t posted a ypp below 5.28 all season — but they simply couldn’t manage to run enough plays against the likes of Florida and Alabama to keep up. The real anomaly for the UT offense was last week, against Kentucky, where they managed 45 points on only 47 plays. That happened because they bombed the ‘Cats into submission, posting a remarkable 9.81 ypp.
So, yeah, it all starts and ends for Georgia’s defense today with containing Hendon Hooker’s running and long ball passing.
The other side of the ball? Well, I’ve already posted about my puzzlement about how little attention Tennessee’s defense is getting going into this game. When your offense is averaging just a tick under ten yards per play and it still comes down to the last series of the game before you can secure the win, that’s a pretty good indication that your defense isn’t exactly elite. I posted earlier this week that UT’s defense isn’t horrid on a per play basis, but simply doesn’t hold up because Heupel’s offensive approach leaves them out there on the field far too long for their own good.
So, how exactly is that supposed to change with Georgia’s offense today? In the ordinary course of play, I’m not sure. I think Tennessee, just like pretty much every other team Georgia has played, is going to have to steal a possession or two, whether by turnover, failure to convert on fourth down, onside kick or whatever. They’re also going to have to exploit Georgia’s inconsistency scoring red zone touchdowns while not succumbing to Georgia’s red zone defensive prowess. For all of that to happen is a pretty tall order.
The big question I have about Tennessee’s defense against Georgia’s offense is the scheme they deploy. Do they sell out to stop the run, or do they take their chances with Georgia’s ground game by playing to deny Bennett the deep pass? Either way they go, Monken shown he can adjust, and UT definitely doesn’t have Clemson’s d-line.
Unless it’s one of those any given Saturday kind of days, I don’t see the Vols taking control and coming off with a dominating win. (Before you scoff, it’s happened before.) Either things get a little freaky and we get our first squeaker since the opener, where things could go either way, or the wheels come off the wagon and Georgia covers. I find myself leaning towards the latter, but your mileage may vary, obviously.
Either way, share your game time observations in the comments.