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Georgia head coach Kirby Smart leads his team to the field for warmups before a NCAA college football game in Athens, GA. UGA Bulldogs vs Mississippi State Bulldogs football.

2018 Opponent Preview: Middle Tennessee will test Georgia’s fundamentals

Cy Brown

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2018 Opponent Preview: Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders

Like Austin Peay in the opening week of the season, Georgia’s Sept. 15 game in Athens with Middle Tennessee shouldn’t prove much of a challenge. The Bulldogs are bigger, stronger and faster than the Blue Raiders and even though they’ll be fresh off what could be a tough game at South Carolina, they should be able to outclass the visitors. A win is a given — lest Ragnarök come — so Georgia’s performance in this one will be judged on how it won.

Bill Connelly of SB Nation has an excellent preview of Middle Tennessee, and you should read the whole thing for an in-depth look at how this team works. But this passage is a nice summation and gives the gist of the challenge the Blue Raiders will present.

Identity is important, and MTSU knows exactly what it is: fast, feisty, and undersized, more ninja than sumo. The Blue Raiders have almost no one above 280 pounds on the defensive line, their best defender is a 200-pound linebacker, and their best skill guy is listed at 5’9, 163 (which usually means he’s more like 5’8, 153). If you can get your hands on the Blue Raiders, they might not be able to respond.

If you can’t, though? MTSU will kill you with seven-yard passes and a high tempo, and they will attack you defensively from every possible angle.

Georgia doesn’t need to do anything fancy to win this game. It just needs to play fundamental football. Considering plenty of fairly green players will be stepping into important roles this year, another early season matchup that will require Georgia to play a sound game will serve these guys well when the opponents are tougher.

Offense

The offense revolves around redshirt senior quarterback Brent Stockstill, son of Middle Tennessee head coach Rick Stockstill. The younger Stockstill heads into his final season in Murfreesboro as the Blue Raiders’ all-time leading passer with 8,951 yards and 77 TDs despite injuries keeping him out of nine games in the last two seasons. His top target is Ty Lee — the aforementioned 5’9 guy — who hauled in 79 catches for 955 yards last season. Three starters return on the offensive line out of total returning starters, and they have a trio of running backs that are a threat. But the key to this offense is Brent Stockstill’s health. If he’s injured before the Georgia game, Middle Tennesse’s offense will get creamed. With him, they might show some fight.

Defense

Middle Tennessee’s defense should primarily pose a challenge to Georgia’s offensive line, particularly the tackles. The Blue Raiders return eight starters from one of the best defenses in Conference USA last season. OLB Khalil Jones led the team with 7.5 sacks last season, and he’ll be the primary threat. Missouri transfer Michael Brady disappointed at defensive end last season, finishing with 3.5 sacks, but if he gets everything to click he’ll add even more heat to an already dangerous pass rush.

What to expect Sept. 15

Georgia is the much better team and shouldn’t have a difficult time breaking away early and cruising to a comfortable win. This will just be a tuneup for the trip to Missouri — and the beginning of the grind of the SEC schedule — the next week. With a 7:15 p.m. kickoff scheduled, it’ll give fans plenty of time to tailgate and a visit to Sanford Stadium that won’t be accompanied by the blistering sun. Sounds like the perfect day in Athens.

FPI Projection: Georgia has a 97.8 chance to win

S&P+ Projection: Georgia has a 94 chance to win

Opponent Previews: Austin Peay | South Carolina

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Jeremy Pruitt gave Georgia football the kick in the butt it needed

A lot has been made of Aaron Murray’s — and David Pollack’s — comments about how Pruitt, now Tennessee’s head coach, treated Mark Richt during their time together in Athens. Murray’s assertion is that Pruitt’s abrasive personality, which led him to butt heads with Richt, could be unsuitable for a head coach. And I’ve seen a lot of animus toward Pruitt from Georgia fans who agree with Murray that Pruitt didn’t treat him right.

But Dawg fans shouldn’t dismiss Pruitt as a gadfly who bellyached his way through two years in Athens. In fact, his abrasive attitude kinda helped the program become what it is today.

Pruitt was abrasive because he saw how much needed to change at Georgia for it to become a program on the level of an Alabama. After years spent working under Saban at Alabama and Jimbo Fisher at Florida State, two of college football’s most sophisticated programs, Pruitt came to Georgia and made a ruckus because he saw how far Georgia was behind its rivals in terms of facilities, staffing, recruiting practices and culture. I’m sure Richt didn’t like hearing that the program he worked so hard to lead for more than a decade wasn’t built to cut it in the modern age of college football — and I’m sure Pruitt didn’t use kind words and his inside voice to tell him — but it didn’t make it any less true.

Put another way, by the end of Richt’s tenure in Athens, he was caught holding a knife in college football’s gunfight. And being upset that Pruitt got in Richt’s face and yelled, “YOU NEED TO GET A GUN,” makes far less sense than being upset at Richt for his insistence that a knife will do. Because Georgia did need a gun and by the time enough people in power wised up to that, it wasn’t long before Kirby Smart came back to Athens with a bazooka on his back.

Terry Godwin assumes a leadership role

A big question this offseason is how Georgia would replace the leadership lost by Roquan Smith, Lorenzo Carter, Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, et al. With SEC Media Days in the books for Georgia, we’re finally getting a good idea of the players who are stepping into those roles. We’ve already heard about what Jonathan Ledbetter is doing on defense, and it seems Terry Godwin is showing similar leadership skills on offense, particularly in the wide receivers room.

“He has a wonderful family …. he is just a bright-eyed guy that loves to practice every day,” Smart said, according to Mike Griffith of DawgNation. “You can put Terry in any position, and it works for him. He understands the game, and his leadership in that room with wideouts has been tremendous for us.”

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