KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — We’re glad to have Mike Griffith back in the South. I suspect he’s glad to be back as well.
Griffith spent four cold winters in East Lansing, Mich., covering his alma mater, Michigan State for MLive.com. But SECcountry.com convinced him to return to Knoxville to cover Tennessee. So including past stints covering Auburn and Alabama, Griffith is getting a 21st year of covering SEC football.
And by all indications, he picked a good time join back up with the Vols. They’ll bring a 4-0 record and No. 11 national ranking into Sanford Stadium to face No. 25 Georgia (3-1, 1-1 SEC) on Saturday.
Now, to Griffith’s five questions:
1. I haven’t been keeping up, but it seems like Tennessee has incurred a lot of injuries. What’s status of those linebackers? Any other significant injuries that could impact this game?
Griffith: Middle linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr. suffered a high ankle sprain in the 45-24 win over Virginia Tech on Sept. 10 in the Battle at Bristol and is doubtful to play. Colton Jumper has replaced him and led the Vols with eight tackles against Florida. Jalen Reeves-Maybin played sparingly against the Gators after aggravating the strained shoulder he suffered in the 28-19 win over Ohio on Sept. 17. Reeves-Maybin, the team’s tackles leader last season, will give it a go against this week against the Georgia, though no one knows how effective he will be. If he’s out, Cortez McDowell (Locust Grove, Ga.) would be the next man up at that position.
2. How would you describe Tennessee’s spread offense and how would you say it compares to the ones that already lit up Georgia from Missouri and Ole Miss?
Griffith: Tennessee’s spread has been somewhat stop and go. We didn’t see the Vols push tempo much in the first half against Florida. The offensive line has had some struggles, and the receiving corps isn’t as deep as UT would like. Tennessee’s offense is still evolving, a personality hasn’t really developed outside of Josh Dobbs’ impressive play-making.
3. What would you say the odds are that the Vols are overlooking Georgia and ahead to Texas A&M and Alabama? Any chance they’ll have a hangover from Florida game?
Griffith: No chance Tennessee is overlooking Georgia. None. The Bulldogs were up 24-3 in Neyland Stadium last season, and only Dobbs’ Superman act saved the day. Tennessee has too many players from Georgia to overlook this game. The Vols know they are largely judged by three games: Florida, Georgia, Alabama.
4. Is there any area in this game that you’d say Georgia has an advantage? Anything about the Bulldogs that legitimately concerns UT?
Griffith: I think Georgia has a couple of intangibles. For one, it’s a desperate group playing with the season on the line. Backs against the wall, and with one of the best home field advantages in the SEC and most loyal fanbases (Sorry Mark Richt). This is as close to a must-win as Kirby Smart will have this year. If the Bulldogs lose, this becomes a rebuilding season for Georgia. Therefore, the Bulldogs can play with reckless abandon.
5. Where would you say Butch Jones stands with the administration and fan base? What’s his contract status? Would he be in any jeopardy if the Vols somehow came up short on reaching the SEC Championship game?
Griffith: Butch is about as solid as it comes now that he’s ended Florida’s win streak over Tennessee at 11 games. The Vols are riding a 10-game win streak, and Jones has built a solid culture after inheriting some players with character issues that had well-documented, off-the-field problems. Jones is at his third head coaching stop (Central Michigan, Cincinnati) and he’s never failed to improve in the wins column from one season to the next at any of those schools. He’s taken the Vols from five wins, to seven wins and last year nine wins.
The quarterbacks will sort this one out. It’s Josh Dobbs vs. Jacob Eason, with both facing defenses that like to bring pressure and get after the quarterback. Both also have suspect offensive lines. Obviously, Eason must be ready to handle this sort of game, or the head coach wouldn’t throw a true freshman out there under all this pressure, right?