Tennessee Might Be Unbalanced Just The Right Way to Beat Georgia

After two games, it looked like Georgia's projected defensive renaissance for this year was not meant to be. Boise State clinically dissected it throughout the opener, and South Carolina beat the Bulldogs in a shootout in the second game.

A couple games later, it's not looking quite so bad. Boise State's Doug Martin had his lowest yards-per-carry rate so far against UGA (2.4), closer inspection reveals that South Carolina scored 21 of its 45 points on defense or special teams, and the Bulldogs allowed just 23 combined points and racked up nine combined sacks against the Mississippi schools. We're still figuring out just how good any of these teams are, but right now the defense is looking like a strength in Athens.

Tennessee, meanwhile, has established itself as one of the premier passing teams in the league. Against just I-A competition, Tennessee is third in the league with 1,035 passing yards on the season. Not impressed? UT has played only three I-A opponents so far, and the two teams ahead of the Vols have played four (Arkansas) and five (Alabama), respectively.

Tyler Bray was brilliant in Tennessee's wins over Cincinnati and Buffalo. In those games, he completed 77.5% of his passes for 10.52 yards per attempt with eight TDs and no picks. Granted those teams aren't world beaters, but that's still better than most other SEC quarterbacks have done against their tune up opponents. Where Tennessee has struggled is in the rushing game. The Vols averaged just 4.28 yards per carry in those two wins (that figure doesn't include sacks), and those opponents don't exactly have fearsome front sevens.

The good news for UT heading into the Georgia game is that passing is largely what brought Georgia down in its one decisive loss. Kellen Moore completed over 82.4% of his passes versus the Red and Black, the best mark of his career against anyone other than San Jose State. He basically passed the Broncos to a win with Martin having his least effective game of the season. Moore averaged 7.68 yards per pass and had 261 yards total; the Bulldogs' other three opponents averaged just 5.09 yards per pass and didn't top 157 yards in a game. 

So if it's possible to pass to victory against UGA's resurrected defense, Bray certainly has the ability to do it. If you're going to be unbalanced on offense, that's how you want to be when facing Georgia. The catch is, Tennessee probably will need to get something going on the ground even though Moore beat the Bulldogs with only a sporadically good running game.

In the loss to Florida, the Vols managed just 0.94 yards per carry. Not coincidentally, Bray had his worst day throwing the ball too. He completed just 54.2% of his passes for 6.0 yards per attempt, though numerous defensive penalties prevented him from completing a few more passes and helping those averages. He also threw two picks, both with the team down by double digits, as he tried to help his team make a comeback. The complete lack of production from the rushing game led Jim Chaney to abandon it almost entirely, and Bray was unable to win the game on his own.

If there's one last optimistic bit for Tennessee, it's this. Before sending the team out on the field in Gainesville, Derek Dooley and Chaney had no idea they were going to lose Justin Hunter to a freak ACL injury in the first quarter. It's obviously better to have Hunter than not, but they at least can game plan for Georgia knowing he won't be there. They can put something together that favors the players who will likely be on the field all game.

Bray presents a problem for Georgia's defense that it hasn't seen Moore sliced and diced the secondary and Lattimore ran through the line for 167 yards at a 6.5 YPC clip. Garcia isn't this year who he was last year, and there may not be a single effective passer in the state of Mississippi. The trend line for Todd Grantham's crew is pointed up, but Tennessee's passing game is more than dangerous. Will the Bulldog defense be able to overcome a superlative individual effort by an opponent and have a good game like it did against the Gamecocks, or will it be unable to recover as was the case in the Georgia Dome?

We should learn quite a bit more about these two teams once this game is through.

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