Now that we are on the verge of the season's halfway point, it is useful to delve into the statistical minutiae in search of lessons and patterns we might find instructive as we look ahead to Saturday's game . . . and, yes, Hamp, I will be getting to the data you requested in due time.
As I attempt to break down Georgia's upcoming contest with the Volunteers, I intend to provide you neither a modicum of knowledge nor a smidgen of insight; instead, my goal is to load you up with . . . Too Much Information.
Let's go ahead and get the bad news out of the way by looking at the two teams' respective aerial assaults. A year ago, Erik Ainge shredded the Georgia secondary in Athens, throwing for 268 yards and two touchdowns as the Volunteers became just the second visiting squad ever to score 50 points on the Bulldogs between the hedges. (I had the misfortune of being in the stands for both of those games.)
Ainge continues to flourish under David Cutcliffe's tutelage, leading the league with 282.5 passing yards per contest and trailing only Tim Tebow in total offense. Tennessee's senior signal-caller has thrown 10 touchdowns to just two interceptions.
Alone among Southeastern Conference receivers, Vanderbilt's Earl Bennett has surpassed the Vols' Lucas Taylor in receptions per outing and in receiving yards per game. Taylor is one of three Big Orange receivers to be ranked among the league's top eight players in catches per contest.
It is unsurprising that, with all that firepower at the team's disposal, Tennessee ranks first in the S.E.C. in aerial offense. The Volunteers rack up 285.8 yards per game through the air and U.T. quarterbacks are hooking up on 65.7 per cent of their forward pass attempts.
Where, then, does that leave the 'Dawgs?
Actually, the Red and Black aren't in bad shape. Despite ranking fifth in the conference in pass defense, Georgia allows only 184.2 yards per game through the air, about a football field shy of U.T.'s typical total. Most importantly, the Bulldogs have given up the second-fewest touchdown passes in the S.E.C., having surrendered just a pair of T.D. tosses in their first five games.
While the Classic City Canines are less productive than their division rivals from Knoxville, they nevertheless manage 207.4 passing yards per game and, in the areas that count the most, the two teams are strikingly similar: Tennessee averages 6.8 yards per pass and has tallied ten touchdown passes while throwing just three interceptions; Georgia, on the other hand, manages an identical 6.8 yards per pass, has thrown an equal number of picks (3), and has passed for very nearly as many touchdowns (8).
Matthew Stafford and the Bulldog receiving corps ought to be able to move the ball through the air against a Volunteer defense that ranks 11th in the conference against the pass. Tennessee surrenders 250.8 yards per game through the air, has given up three times as many touchdowns in four games (6) as Georgia has allowed in five games (2), and permits a league-worst 8.1 yards per pass attempt. (The S.E.C.'s next-worst pass defense gives up 7.0 yards per pass.)
Surely, though, Tennessee's defensive statistics are skewed, right? After all, the Vols were forced to face No. 3 California and No. 9 Florida, weren't they? Actually, the Golden Bears rank 58th in the country in passing offense, averaging 227.4 yards per game . . . yet they managed 241 against the Big Orange. The Gators rank 31st, tallying 264.4 yards per contest through the air, but, when Florida faced Tennessee, the Orange and Blue tallied 299.
The Big Orange also gave up 264 passing yards and 6.4 yards per attempt to a Southern Mississippi team that came into the week ranked 83rd in the land in passing offense.
Ere anyone attempts to explain away U.S.M.'s big passing numbers against the Vols as the result of a desperate attempt at a comeback, it should be noted that just 31 of the Golden Eagles' passing yards came in the fourth quarter. Even Arkansas State connected on 50 per cent of its passes for almost 200 yards against U.T.
In other words, when it comes to the forward pass, Georgia should be at least as capable of throwing the ball against Tennessee as Tennessee is able to throw the ball against Georgia. This brings us to the ground game, to which we will be turning forthwith. . . .