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Tennessee’s defense to provide stiff challenge for Georgia on Saturday

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Slowing Derek Barnett on Saturday will be key for Jacob Eason and the rest of the Bulldogs’ offense.

Outback Bowl - Northwestern v Tennessee Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images

Georgia’s offense will face quite a challenge on Saturday against a versatile and deep Tennessee defense that appears to be figuring things out with each passing week. The Vols’ defense sparked a second half comeback win over Florida last weekend and will be looking to pressure Jacob Eason early and often on Saturday.

The unit is led by All-SEC defensive end Derek Barnett who recorded a pair of sacks in the second half of Tennessee’s come from behind win over Florida on Saturday. Defensive coordinator Bob Schoop likes to move Barnett all over the field and Georgia will need to adjust accordingly.

The unit is far from a one-man show however and its biggest strength might be its depth. Schoop hasn’t been shy keeping guys fresh rotating as many as 12-defensive lineman into the game at key spots. The linebacking group is talented as well led by Jalen Reeves-Maybin and Darrin Kirkland.

Georgia is going to need to find a way to protect Eason and for him to handle the pressure when it comes. That was a huge problem in last week’s blowout loss at Ole Miss. Per ESPN.com:

Making Eason uncomfortable is the main objective. Bringing more guys at him could really benefit the Vols when you consider that Eason completed just 1 of 9 passes for 11 yards against Ole Miss' blitz last week. His line has also given up 12 sacks this season (three per game).

According to ESPN Stats & Information, when under duress against Ole Miss, Eason went 0-for-8 passing with a sack, an interception and a fumble. On the season, Eason is just 1 of 7 for 9 yards when under duress and hit. Teams are averaging a paltry 2.19 yards per play when under duress by Tennessee's defense.

Running the football would be a great start but even that has proven to be a challenge against Tennessee’s athletic front. The Vols are currently fourth in the SEC in total defense and allowed just 106 yards on the ground last week against the Gators.

Schoop thinks his unit can perform even better. Consider they have been outscored 60-44 in the first halves of games this season but have flipped the tables on opponents to the tune of 87-24 after halftime.

“We’ve had 785 snaps this year,” Shoop explained. And 773 have been darn good snaps, but 12 have been really, really bad. Those 12 plays have accounted for a significant amount of yardage. It’s been three snaps a game. If we eliminate those three bad snaps, we’ve got a good unit out there.”