3 keys for Georgia football against Tennessee in Knoxville
ATHENS — The Georgia-Tennessee rivalry is alive and well, knotted up 23-23-2 with a lively crowd expected for a Saturday night battle.
The Bulldogs’ players, however, haven’t put much focus into the history or border-state nature of the rivalry.
It will be another business trip for No. 3-ranked Georgia (4-0) when the game with the Vols (1-3) kicks off at 7 p.m. on Saturday in Neyland Stadium (TV: :ESPN).
The coaching staffs’ familiarity with one another presents the possibility of a tentative start for Coach Kirby Smart and his team.
Smart exhibited a patient and conservative approach in the Bulldogs’ last game out against Notre Dame, a 23-17 win in a historic Top 10 tilt.
Smart sees Alabama and LSU lighting up scoreboards, just like anyone else. But he doesn’t feel any pressure to do anything outside of what he feels his quarterback and team are comfortable with.
“The other games don’t affect us at all,” Smart said. “I think that it’s not my job to rate what other teams do or how many points they score or how many points they give up.
“Our job is to go play the best football game that our kids can play, and that’s what we try to do each week with the ultimate goal of winning the game in mind. We go play at the highest level we can, and if we’re not doing that, we try to figure out which ways we can do to do it better. But that’s all we do.”
Smart is on record as saying Tennessee is a dangerous team, pointing out the Vols could just as easily have a winning record if not for turnovers.
Like any other game, there will be keys for Georgia to take care of business efficiently in Knoxville. This week’s all revolve around preventing momentum plays.
1. Protect the ball
Georgia put itself behind the eight ball against Notre Dame by fumbling away a punt inside its own 10-yard line, gift-wrapping the opening score to the Irish for a 7-0 lead.
Notably, Tennessee has six interceptions this season in its well-coached secondary. Jeremy Pruitt, like Smart a secondary coach by nature, will be doing his best to bait Jake Fromm into bad decisions.
Smart emphasized for his coaches get the play call in to Fromm quicker at the line of scrimmage so the junior QB can check to the best call.
But it’s a safe bet Pruitt and Tennessee will be disguising coverages and playing cat-and-mouse right up until the ball is snapped.
2. Break even on special teams
Smart didn’t waste any time during the bye week addressing the need for Georgia to improve on special teams.
Tennessee’s special teams have performed well, and the Vols will be looking for any break in the game they can find to get the home crowd into the game.
“I think they do a great job, and they’re kicking butt in special teams, which will be an extra challenge for us,” Smart said, “because we didn’t fare as well last time out in special teams.”
Momentum has always played a large role in Georgia-Tennessee games, and in this meeting, it’s the Vols’ only hope.
3. Prevent big plays
Tennessee has bigger, more physical receivers in Jauan Jennings (6-3, 208), Marquez Callaway (6-2, 204) and Josh Palmer (6-2, 195).
The Bulldogs, meanwhile will likely be without cornerback Tyson Campbell. Physical freshman cornerback Tyrique Stevenson has practiced well, Smart said, but he’s yet to be tested in games.
Vols offensive coordinator Jim Chaney will work to set up advantageous matchups against projected starting UGA cornerbacks Eric Stokes (6-1, 185) and DJ Daniel (6-1, 185).
“Know a lot about them and all their wideouts, they’ve got size,” Smart said. “They’ve got a lot of catch radius … They’re fast guys and they’re really tough matchups size wise out on the perimeter and they’re (all) really physical blockers on the perimeter.”
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