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3 keys to victory vs. Tennessee
Georgia’s trip to Knoxville this Saturday has all the makings of a trap game. Going on the road off the high of the win over Mississippi State to face a talented SEC East rival that has it’s back to the wall and a coach who desperately needs a big win is a dangerous proposition indeed. If the Bulldogs aren’t disciplined and are caught looking ahead, Tennessee could pull off the upset.
But Georgia is the favorite for a reason. Georgia has one of the best defenses in the country and a stable of top tailbacks. Tennessee has a defense that biffed it in one clutch moment already this season a hot mess of an offense. If Georgia does these three things, renditions of “Rocky Top” will be kept to a minimum on Saturday.
1. Stop the playmakers — In this case that’s running back John Kelly and wide receiver Marques Callaway. The two have scored 9 of Tennessee’s 15 offensive touchdowns this season, 6 rushing for Kelly and 3 receiving for Callaway. They’re the only two skill players who have stepped up for the Vols this season. If Georgia can limit the production of these two — and that means wrapping up the slippery Kelly — Tennessee will have trouble finding the end zone.
2. Contain the pass rush — Tennessee will present a nice barometer for how far the offensive line has come. Despite the loss of Derek Barnett to the pros, the Vols still have a good pass rush. A pass rush that can cause lots of problems if the line fails to play as well as it did against Mississippi State. Tennessee is tied for first first nationally in passing-down sack rate, recording a sack on 17.5 percent of all passing downs, according to Bill Connelly of SB Nation. Considering that, the best way to stop the Vols’ pass rush will be to get good yardage on first downs and limit passing-downs altogether.
3. Attack QB Quinten Dormady — The Tennessee line has only allowed 2 sacks this season, but that should go up Saturday. For the first time this season, Georgia’s defense will face a quarterback who isn’t fancied a runner. This defense has shown the ability to to contain mobile quarterbacks, but it’s yet to get a chance to let the players pin their ears back and tee up on a QB. Dormady has shown a penchant for panicking and making bad decisions in critical situations. If the defense brings the heat and puts him in critical situations all afternoon, he’ll make mistakes that could tilt the game in Georgia’s favor.
Look at the game tape
Speaking of Georgia’s defense, you should check out this post on the unit from Ian Boyd of SB Nation. Boyd goes into how the aggressive, versatile Bulldogs defense has stopped a couple of very different spread offenses against Notre Dame and Mississippi State. Here’s a taste:
The Dawg defense held Notre Dame’s Brandon Wimbush to a total of 212 yards despite the Irish QB throwing or running 55 times, an average of 3.9 yards per play with a pair of lost fumbles. They held Nick Fitzgerald to 130 total yards on 39 combined passes or runs, for a total of 3.3 yards per play with a pair of interceptions to boot. They also held the Irish to almost seven yards below their average per carry otherwise (1.49 to 8.28) and MSU to more than a yard per carry less than LSU allowed (4.78 to 5.94).
For spread offenses built around the QB, those are dismal numbers that virtually guarantee defeat.
Make sure you read the whole post. Boyd uses diagrams and game tape to show three ways Georgia’s defense has stopped some tough offenses. You’ll come away with a deeper understanding of how this defense is able to stifle the opposition. It’s well worth your time.
Your obligatory Jacob Eason injury update
It seems more and more likely Eason will be ready to go, in some capacity, Saturday against Tennessee. He worked as the No. 2 quarterback behind Jake Fromm at practice Wednesday, and Kirby Smart said he “[hopes] to have him ready to go,” for the trip to Knoxville. From Seth Emerson of DawgNation:
“He’s improving,” Smart said when asked about Eason. “He’s gotten better with each day. He did a nice job yesterday, being able to move around some in the pocket. We did some drills with him, and had some rushes for him to move around.
“So he’s improving day to day and mentally catching up to the speed of the game. It’s different when you go three, four weeks without taking a snap. So he’s started catching up on that.”
‘The heart of the trench’
The most important player on Georgia’s defense you never think about is John Atkins. And that’s kind of the point. As the nose guard, Atkins’ job is to eat space in the middle so inside linebackers Roquan Smith and Natrez Patrick can attack the backfield and not get jammed at the line. Here’s Smart explaining what makes Atkins so valuable to this defense, via Emerson:
“He’s the heart of the trench,” coach Kirby Smart said. “Without him, the guards and centers are getting up on Roquan.”
Atkins does a great job of what Smart called “block recognition,” that is seeing where the block is going, who is moving to block him, and then reacting to it.
“And he strikes. He holds the point down,” Smart said. “A lot of our defense is predicated off not being able to move him. And the less people move him the more success we have. And he takes a lot of pride in that.
“And there is no glory in what he does. He’s got thumbs and ankles and wrists. He’s battered. But he loves it. And he never complains.”
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