Category Archives: Because Nothing Sucks Like A Big Orange

“Good” and “fine”: the grudging sounds of moral victory

Wes Rucker:

Tennessee was fine. Georgia was fine. What we saw was an appropriate result for both of those teams being fine.

Vegas told us three scores should have separated these teams in this game, and three scores ultimately separated these teams in this game. Neither team was great. Neither team was terrible. Both teams were more or less themselves.

Velus Jones, UT wide receiver:

“They (Georgia) are a good football team, but we’re a good football team as well,” said Jones, who caught eight passes for 44 yards and a touchdown. “That just shows how close we are to putting the whole thing together.”

It’s always impressive to see what a meaningless score in garbage time does for a team’s confidence.

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Lit, baby.

You know what stuns my senses?

“The matchup that I’m most looking forward to today is Georgia versus Tennessee,” Howard said on SportsCenter. “This game is taking place in Knoxville. Georgia comes in there with the No. 1 defense in the FBS. I mean, just destroying offenses, but this is going to be most complex offense that Georgia has faced all season.

“Josh Heupel loves to run an up-tempo offense — give them a lot of different looks. And the quarterback Hendon Hooker is playing very well at this point. So, I think this is going to be a huge challenge for Georgia’s defense. It’s going to be lit in Knoxville today.”

How supposedly sharp pundits can push some sort of “lit” narrative about today’s game without mentioning that Tennessee’s defense has yielded almost 1700 yards in its last three games against SEC competition, including 612 yards at the hands of Kentucky last week — 50 yards more than any other team the ‘Cats have played this season.

And today they’re going up against a Georgia offense that’s seventh nationally in yards per play and all we get is crickets about it? Now, that’s stunning.

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It’s a four quarter game, man.

Meanwhile, come the second quarter, Tennessee’s been outscored 71-96.  Georgia, you ask?  101-12 in the first quarter and 110-7 in the second.  What’s beyond stunned?

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Bill Connelly’s keys to Saturday’s game

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.

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“It’s a take-a-shot team, and it’s a pound-you team.”

As much attention as Tennessee’s offense has gotten for its big play passing attack, it’s first and foremost an offense that likes to run the ball.  In fact, the Vols average five more rushing attempts per game than does Georgia.

You probably won’t be surprised to learn that somebody’s completely aware of that.

“Make no mistake about it, they are a tremendous run-game team,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “They have a crazy average of runs per game. They wear you down. They wear you down. They wear you down. They’ve got good backs and a physical O-line. This is not an Air Raid team.

“They wear you down” three times is the way you know he’s serious.  Very serious.

Really, although UT goes about its business in a different way than does Georgia, the guiding philosophy behind both offenses is similar, with similar results.  And not just in the rushing game.  Bennett and Hooker are one and two in the conference in passer rating, while being 11th and 12th in passing attempts.  One big reason for that is that they’re the only two SEC quarterbacks (and only two of four nationally) averaging more than ten yards per pass attempt.

Which secondary does a better job of preventing the big pass play is going to be a major key on Saturday.

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It’s your funeral.

It’s unusual enough that Tennessee selected the Georgia game for homecoming.  On top of that, there’s this:

Hard to believe Willie Martinez hasn’t warned them about wearing black for a big game at home.  After all,

A TideSports reporter covering practice was filming the team during warm-ups during the week leading up to the game. Caught on camera was the raspy, multi-decibel voice of S&C Coach Scott Cochran, putting the team through its daily paces. At one point on the video, the infamous Cochranian quote can be heard as clear as a bell: “They wearin’ black jerseys because they know they goin’ to a f***in’ funeral!”

Honestly, I hope Smart gives Cochran a chance for a reprise this week.

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Laissez faire game prep

Kirby’s been flogging his defense for weeks to get ready for Tennessee’s pace on offense.  How are the Vols getting ready?

There’s only one possible response to that.

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Heard it before

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.

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The anecdote for play action

Shot.

Chaser.

I’m no football expert, but it’s usually pretty hard to sell play action if you can’t run the ball well.

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Heavy duty

Somebody mentioned the fact that Tennessee’s defense was on the field for 101 snaps in the Ole Miss game.  That led me to dig into the game log for the Vol defense.  Take a look:

Those last three games — holy crap.  292 plays defensed!  At least they’ve been balanced, giving up lots of yardage by both the run and the pass.

If the Dawgs can’t wear UT’s defense out with the running game by the fourth quarter, I’m really gonna start questioning what Matt Luke’s doing with the o-line.

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