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AJ Reynolds/Special to DawgNation
Georgia coach Kirby Smart's emphasis on the red zone during offseason practices is paying dividends for the Bulldogs.

Georgia football: Discipline in red zone could make a difference against Tennessee

Cy Brown

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Discipline in red zone crucial against Tennessee

Kirby Smart mentioned multiple times during the offseason that he was pouring more attention into how Georgia plays in the red zone, and it’s easy to see why. In 2016, Georgia finished 64th nationally in red-zone conversion percent, scoring on 84 percent of trips inside the 20. It was even more of a struggle on defense. Georgia finished 114th nationally in red-zone defense, allowing a score close to 91 percent of the times opponents made it inside the 20, and allowing a touchdown on 74 percent of those trips.

“Red-zone defense can be one of many things and, hoo, [were] we bad,” Smart said in June, according to Mark Weiszer of the Athens Banner-Herald. “We tried to target that this year. We really emphasized going back to basics.”

The emphasis on the red zone in the offseason has paid off thus far. Offensively, Georgia is one of 17 teams still perfect when getting the ball inside the 20. The Bulldogs have scored on all 13 red-zone attempts this year, including 10 touchdowns. The improvement on defense is just as impressive. The team has catapulted to 21st in red-zone defense, allowing scores on seven of its opponents 10 trips inside the 20, 3 touchdowns and 4 field goals.

You can add these improvements in the red zone as the latest entry on a growing list of why Smart is earning the benefit of the doubt. Nothing has changed scheme-wise and little has changed personnel-wise. All that’s changed is attitude. The players seem more disciplined when combatting opponents inside the red zone. Look no further than the goal line stand to end the game against Mississippi State. Georgia had backups in, and State scoring would have changed nothing about the result. But freshmen like Richard LeCounte were determined to keep State out of the end zone. They just took pride in their work and had the discipline to stay focused and complete the task at hand.

Smart and Georgia’s success close to the goal line stands in stark contrast to the foibles of Butch Jones and his Tennessee Volunteers in the same area, and it could make a major difference in the game this Saturday.

Tennessee is one of the worst teams in college football at stopping opponents inside the red zone, ranking 101st nationally and allowing scores 10 of their opponents’ 11 trips inside the 20-yard line, including 9 touchdowns. The Vols are even worse at red-zone offense. Last season, Josh Dobbs helped them finish 33rd nationally in red-zone offense. With Quinten Dormady at the helm this year, the Vols rank 108th, with 11 scores in 15 attempts inside the red zone.

The most drastic example of Tennessee’s ineptitude in the red zone came against Florida. Trailing 6-3 in the third quarter, the Vols had first-and-goal from the 1-yard line. Dormady audibled from a run to a pass on first down and threw it incomplete instead of sticking to the plan and handing off to John Kelly, Tennessee’s talented tailback.  Two incompletions and a false start later, Dormady had his pass picked by Duke Dawson the goal line. The Hail Mary was the final dagger, but the argument can be made that this ineptitude in the red zone cost Tennessee the game.

Here’s the bottom line: Georgia has dominated in the red zone while Tennessee has been dominated in it. The Dawgs have discipline and the Vols don’t. In a close game, that will make a world of difference.

Aaron Murray explains why he didn’t call the Dawgs

Former Georgia QB and CBS Sports analyst Aaron Murray was slated to call the Dawgs along with Verron Haynes ahead of Georgia’s 31-3 win over Mississippi State last weekend, but was scratched from that appearance in the hours leading to kickoff. If you guessed he was scratched because he picked Mississippi State to win the game earlier in the week, you would be correct. On his weekly podcast with fellow former Dawg Drew Butler, Murray explained why he was nixed.

“We think we might need to have you postpone you calling the Dawgs for another opportunity. We’re going to let Verron do it on his own,” Murray said he was told. “So I was like, ‘Listen, if you guys think it’s the best, then that’s fine with me. A little disappointed. But the last thing we wanted as a headline was, ‘Aaron Murray gets booed calling the Dawgs.’ Even it was a couple people you know the paper was going to pick it up.”

Murray also attempted to clear up another matter for the record: Just because he picked Mississippi State doesn’t mean he wasn’t thrilled to see Georgia win.

“I had a strong feeling, and obviously I was wrong,” said Murray, who now works as an analyst for CBS Sports. “No one’s perfect in this business. I’m going to have a lot more games that I pick incorrectly too. I’m happy I was wrong in my decision. Just going back and watching the two teams, that was my thought. It was never where my heart was. My heart’s always with the Dawgs, baby. But I made an educated guess, and I was pretty off with that one, because the Dawgs came in and rolled them. So it was nice to see. I was just glad I was on the sidelines and not in the stadium because I wouldn’t have been able to get out of the stadium.”

Your obligatory Jacob Eason injury update

Smart doesn’t speak to the media on Thursdays or Fridays, so we have no concrete update on Eason from him. But what we do have is the well-informed opinion of DawgNation’s Seth Emerson, who gave his thoughts on Eason and Jake Fromm in his weekly mailbag:

Here’s my sense of the quarterback situation: Jake Fromm will start on Saturday and until either a) Georgia loses a game, or b) Fromm really struggles and the team needs Jacob Eason to come in for the rescue. I don’t think Eason is healthy enough to start this week, but he may be soon, and at that point the coaches may have the dilemma … or may not.

Before the injury, I was as skeptical as anyone that there was a true quarterback competition. Eason was clearly the choice based on his experience, what he did last season, and what he had done in practice. But what Fromm has done the last four games speaks for itself. Even Eason, deep down, would have to admit that it’s hard to make a change when the team is playing this well.

Georgia schedules UAB for 2021

A new opponent was announced Thursday for Georgia football’s 2021 season. The Bulldogs are slated to face UAB on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, at Sanford Stadium. It will be the third time Georgia has faced the Blazers, with wins in the previous two meetings in 2003 and 2006.

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