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3 Things That Worry Me About Tennessee

Fresh off watching a top team fall down the rankings after a non-convincing win, going to a stadium filled with hostile natives and turf monsters, playing in front of a nationally televised audience eager to see an SEC team lose, and facing 5 former coaches on the home team’s sideline. What, me worry???

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: AUG 31 Georgia State at Tennessee Photo by Bryan Lynn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Here is what I’m NOT worried about come Saturday night’s kickoff against the Volunteers of Tennessee:

1) Sacks. Bear with me. I’m talking about sacking Jake Fromm and company. (Us sacking the opponent? Keep reading). Tennessee averages 2 defensive sacks per game on the year. But let’s give them some credit; they didn’t get to face Feleipe Franks so I’m sure that suppressed their opportunity.

As an offense, Georgia has only given up 1 sack. I still marvel that there were zero sacks by either team in the ND @ UGA game. I don’t even know if the locker room attendant has had to break out the OxiClean on Jake Fromm’s gray silver britches. There may be questions about our blocking ability to gain 2 yards in a must-have situation, yet our quarterback is getting rid of the ball fast, our receivers seem to make their cuts timely, and our O-line is forming a nice pocket.

2) We’re going up against Jim Chaney. The previous occupant of the Least Favorite Coach on Georgia Staff chair got quite the nice tax bracket bump when Phillip Fulmer opened up the Twinkie vault underneath the Thornton Student Life Center and yanked Chaney from Athens to Knoxville in the offseason. But as Kirby said, it comes down more to execution than facing a recently departed coordinator. And heck, half the UT coaching staff was at one time employed by UGA.

Absent drastic schematic change, which is almost non-existent in college football (see: Rodriguez, Rich), playing a division foe means both teams are already familiar with each other. Four games of film also means little is left up the virtual play-calling sleeve. Teams have established a great deal of their identity, so match-ups will be countered and the difference will be in execution: which Jimmy and Joe will perform best at which X and which O.

3) Ball security. We simply do a good job of keeping possession. Well, until we have to punt near the end of games as a conservative strategy of attempting to flip the field. Then we’re not great. Still, we don’t turn the ball over much. Georgia has only lost 3 fumbles on the season to date. That is probably helped by some fortuitous bounces, yet the fact remains. And the only interception thrown by a UGA quarterback was by former walk-on Stetson Bennett in what can only be described as live-action practice.

Tennessee is a little more free with the pigskin (there are several jokes here). They’ve also handed the ball over 3 times on the ground, but have kindly tossed it to the opposition 5 times. The thing is, they’re pretty good at creating turnovers, recording 3 fumble recoveries and 6 picks. This tells me they are sloppy while we are more crisp in execution.

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 playing football by the Tennessee River:

1) A couple of weeks ago, I wasn’t worried about our offense getting to the edge. Then in the first 30 minutes against Notre Dame, that seemed to be the only play drawn in the Dooley Field dirt. But I do think it was intentional to bring up their safeties and corners, and eventually get to 1 on 1 for our wideouts and to let us wear them down and break open big rushing lanes in the second half. At least I want to believe that.

Yet after utter lack of success with jet sweeps, bubble screens getting regularly blown up, and not being able to pull down the deep vertical routes, I begin to wonder. Coach Smart continues to praise the blocking of our receivers, which is key for getting the sealing the defensive edge and creating space for the ball carrier. I just didn’t see it against a good defense. And if we can’t keep Tennessee honest, they can run blitz and cause problems with our inside running game or create pressure on our passing game.

2) Our cornerback depth. Campbell and Stokes were not at full strength earlier this week. DJ Daniel seems questionable due to a bad hammy. With the news that Campbell is back at practice, it is still anybody’s guess who actually starts against the UT wideouts. J.R. Reed seems to be coming into his own of late, and a seeming hallmark of a Kirby Smart defense is the run support by our secondary.

Now Jeremy Pruitt has decided not to name the Volunteer starting quarterback. I admit, I haven’t scouted the Vol signal-callers in depth. There was never doubt that Jarrett Gaurantano was the incumbent coming into the season. So far he’s completed just shy of 65% of his passes, about 15 a game good for 184 yards or so. I think the four interceptions he’s thrown is probably the reason Pruitt has given the Tennessee fans pause. Backup Brian Maurer is 4 of 13 for 44 yards (and another pick), so I have a hard time believing there’s an actual competition. Maybe there’s a Bauta-like minky bearcat surprise that Jim Chaney will throw at our gimpy DBs?

3) Pass Rush. It seemed non-existent against Notre Dame. I saw liberal substitution, so dead legs doesn’t seem likely. The bright side is that I can only remember two plays where we got significant pressure on a Notre Dame quarterback, and both plays won the game. Still and yet, we can’t let a quarterback have time to throw. Even a 1-3 Tennessee team can catch a hot slant and run to the end zone. We’ve got to be able to stunt better and heck, even bull rush better.

We’re missing Julian Rochester and Tramel Walthour. I guess David Marshall will be returning. But until I know we can cause the opposing offense to leave a tight end for extra blocking, or keep a running back in on extra protection, I’m gonna worry. Every single dropback.

Call me crazy, just don’t call me late for dinner. Sound off in the comment below on what worries you about the biggest game in college football so far. And as always…