Here is what I’m NOT worried about come Saturday’s mid-afternoon kick off:
1) Kickoffs. Not ours, though Rodrigo Blankenspecs did not fare quite as well against the winds coming sweeping off the plains. I’m talking about theirs. Tennessee kicker Paxton Brooks is getting touchbacks on only 50% of his kickoffs so far this year. UGA kick returner extraordinaire Mecole Hardman is therefore literally drooling right now. You know what also gets Mecole drooling? The fact that Tennessee punts over 4 times a contest. If there is a game to look for a return to the house, I have to believe this week is it.
2) We will get our chances to score. Tennessee is 71st nationally in 3rd down conversion percentage as an offense, moving the chains less than 40% of the time. The always loveable Georgia Bulldogs allow a 3rd down conversion only about 32% of the time. So you know what they do when they don’t convert 3rd downs? Punt to Mecole Hardman. See: above.
Let’s say just for argument’s sake that they are better Saturday than they’ve shown so far in 2018. Never fear, because the Rocky Toppers volunteer a turnover to the opposition about 3 times a game. Our defense has shown how to strip the QB, force a fumble on a tied up runner, and cause other havoc. We will change possession more times than Greg McElroy changes hairlines.
3) Tennessee is the 97th ranked passing offense. We might not be recording the sacks, but at least we’re applying pressure and keeping containment. We just need to face a quarterback like Fromm that will hold onto the ball long enough for us to get there. (Kidding, not kidding.) Fromm did release it a little better last week, so I’m glad to see an improvement there.
And Mel Tucker’s defense has been good against the pass. Not only keeping Drew Lock under 200 and no end zones, but breaking up about 5 passes a game (okay, Bama breaks up about 7 a game). And we have 12 QB hurries in the young season (okay, Bama has 27). I fully agree, however, that we have seen some gunslingers and offenses that were geared towards getting the ball out quickly. Whomever gets under center for the Vols will have their hands full.
We all know this game should be a cake walk. At least relative to playing a division rival, a border state, and a team that has ruined many a Georgia campaign. We are better than Tennessee, period. Now forgive me, as I was weaned at the nipple of Larry Munson’s scratch on AM radio, so here’s what I am worried about this Saturday back Between the Hedges:
1) Can we maintain gap integrity? UT RB Tim Jordan gets most of the action at running back, but Ty Chandler and Madre London look to be just as successful. As a unit, they’re averaging 5.25 yards per carry and have scored 6 of the 10 Volunteer rushing touchdowns. And with Tennessee currently running it about twice as often as they pass it, I’m worried about our rushing defense. We were up early against the Missouri Tigers, but they still found ways to gash up the middle as well as consistently move the chains on the ground. And we did give up 4 rushing touchdowns last week, against a team we feared might shred us through the air. With Tennessee’s current state of anemia, what the heck are we gonna do?
2) Our offensive line is somewhat depleted, at least in terms of bodies available, and bodies with meaningful experience. It’s a shame Big Country won’t get to play in this game with so many visiting fans donning overalls, and with Andrew Thomas with a gimpy ankle, we are starting to throw out combinations that haven’t seen much game time together. I am glad Cade Mays will play against his hometown team. Mays was a UT commit from the womb, with multiple family members suiting up for the Creamsicle and White in yonder year. Bluetick Hound is a dish best served in consecutive years.
I’m sure Coach Sam Pittman and Jim Chaney have seen most every possible combination in practice, but they’d better find the right 5 and fast. Tennessee sports 6 players who’ve recorded at least one sack this season. They’ve always had pretty good defensive fronts, and I expect them to be anxious and keyed up on the front five we trot out.
3) Third down play calling. In the first half versus Mizzou, Georgia Offensive Coordinator Chaney and Head Ball Coach Kirby played it safe when inside field goal range. They finally get aggressive later and go for it on 4th down only to get stuffed. Somehow, we have not shown the ability to impose our will when the defense knows what’s coming in short yardage situations. I won’t mention the 2 point conversion attempt. This was a former hallmark and I believe something Coach Smart wants with all his heart.
The Bulldogs had a nice drive going in the 4th quarter in Columbia last week, but it stalled on a bad pass from Fromm and then a blocked field goal. That should have been the necessary cushion, but it became the requisite nail-biter. And, with only 3 minutes left, our 3rd down attempt was converted only by the Ridley-Donkulous sideline fade to Riley which finally nailed the coffin shut. All credit to the pass and even moreso the catch, but that is not a recipe for sustained success, and is called a 50/50 ball for a reason.
We needed the turnovers and the special teams to win last week. Sure, sometimes that is the necessary difference and the mark of a championship team when you’re not clicking or you lose key players. But you can’t rely on that every week. The difference this year between Alabama and Georgia as I see it, is that they are decisively winning the game with their offense, and they absolutely bury you with the defense and special teams. Georgia, to this point in the 2018 season, is not.
What worries you about Saturday’s first test versus a consensus rival? Leave them in the comments below. And as always…