ATHENS — The Georgia-Tennessee football game wouldn’t seem to hold much intrigue with the Bulldogs favored my more than four touchdowns.
The game within the game, however, has fans on both sides of the rivalry engaged leading into the 3:30 p.m. kickoff at Sanford Stadium.
For Vols fans, it’s simple: Does Jeremy Pruitt have Tennessee headed in the right direction?
But for Bulldogs fans, it’s more complex, because the 2018 season isn’t necessarily a matter of progress, so much as it is about sustainability.
The 2017 Georgia football program was arguably the best in the nation.
The Bulldogs captured the crown in the most competitive league in the nation, winning the SEC Championship Game en route to a runner-up finish in the playoffs.
The 2018 Bulldogs mission is to sustain that success despite losing eight starters on defense, and two NFL running backs and the leading receiver on offense.
Already, injuries have complicated the challenge, with Georgia on its third different starting offensive line combination entering the fifth game of the season.
The backfield also appears thin with the disclosure that starter D’Andre Swift has a nagging groin injury, and 5-star freshman prospect Zamir White lost for the season in fall drills.
So there is room for questions — plenty of questions — but today there can only be one for the purpose of this entry.
Do you think team turns in a complete performance this week i.e. cleaning up some of the sloppiness, oline imposing their will, and stopping the run? Also do you see Kirby utilizing Fields as in previous games or does Fromm get the bulk of the snaps like against Mizzou? Thank you!
I do think Georgia is intent on a complete performance against Tennessee based on Kirby Smart’s tone and the message the players have conveyed.
The emphasis has been on stopping the run, and if the Bulldogs do that, the Vols’ offense is in trouble.
Tennessee’s quarterback play has been shaky, in part the byproduct of three offensive coordinators in three years, and now there’s talk that Tyson Helton is coordinator in title only, and Will Friend is actually pulling the strings.
It’s a team in transition, but it’s also a team that has shown enough talent to compete.
Indeed, the Vols have more talent than a year ago when they came within a dropped pass of beating Florida, 2 yards of beating South Carolina and a dropped interception of a road win at Kentucky.
But the complete overhaul of offensive and defensive schemes have left too many players lost, and the execution has been lacking.
Georgia has been dialed in and intense in each outing. Smart has successfully installed a championship mindset, and the competition within the team for playing time has kept complacency out of the locker room.
But while Smart says stopping the run is a mindset, there’s something to be said for the talent involved, and the Bulldogs have simply dropped off at nose tackle (from John Atkins) and inside linebacker (Roquan Smith).
Still, the Bulldogs have enough to bottle up a Tennessee team that might soon reach its internal tipping point.
Both Jake Fromm and Justin Fields will likely play in both the first and second half.
The Georgia quarterback situation hasn’t reached a rotational level yet, but Fields figures to get more work as the season progresses.
It’s becoming apparent that this young Bulldogs’ team will need all hands on deck to replicate the success of the 2017 team, and the competition will continue at each position, as Smart promised.
Another budding star, tailback James Cook, might also have an opportunity for a break out performance against Tennessee’s aggressive defense in the second half.
Pruitt has made it clear he’s intent on creating an identity and mindset, and that means staying in his press coverage scheme most of the game regardless of the score.
The fact this is a big recruiting weekend for Georgia — several prospects will be on hand — is one more reason to believe Smart and the Bulldogs will have a complete performance.
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