Sept. 26, 2012
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - The Vols open a probable stretch of four games against ranked teams with Saturday's clash at Georgia. The last time Tennessee played that many consecutive games against ranked teams was back in 1991, when the Vols faced five top-25 teams in a row. Head coach Derek Dooley is prepping his team for the first game in the tough stretch knowing that great opportunities are presented everytime the Vols step on the field.
"Every time you have a big challenge there is always that opportunity that sits there with it," said Dooley on the weekly SEC teleconference. "It is like every week, you have a good opportunity but it is not going to be easy."
Taking down the fifth-ranked Bulldogs could spur the Vols as they follow Saturday's game with an open date followed by matchups at No. 21 Mississippi State, vs. No. 1 Alabama and at No. 6 South Carolina.
"Of course it will [inspire their confidence]," said Dooley when asked what a win over Georgia would mean. "That is our next step is that we are going to have to go out there and perform and beat one of these teams if that is where we want to be. If you do it, you can't get too excited because it takes about a week before the next one rolls in. If you don't do it, you can't get too down cause there is another one coming. There is a lot of opportunity."
History doesn't favor the Vols, who have lost to Georgia in each of the last two meetings and eight of the last 12 in the series. But, that is irrelevant according to Dooley.
"I think it is something that we have discussed since back in January and February that this is a new football team," said Dooley. "This football team is not going to be held hostage for the things that have gone on in the last four years at Tennessee and the last two years that I have been here because it is a new team. We have embraced that and as far as I am concerned we have played four teams, a lot of good quarters of football, a few quarters where we haven't played so well and we just go week to week. Our team is going to be confident and I expect them to play their best."
For a bit of history, back in 1991, the Vols went 3-2 in five consecutive games against ranked teams taking down No. 21 UCLA (30-16), No. 23 Mississippi State (W, 26-24) and No. 13 Auburn (30-21) before losing to No. 10 Florida (18-35) and No. 14 Alabama (L, 19-24).
BATTLING BETWEEN THE HEDGESHeading into a game with the No. 5 team in the country, offensive coordinator Jim Chaney knows he has a tough challenge ahead of him.
The Georgia defense has limited its opponents to 135.5 rushing yards per game coupled with just 207.8 passing yards allowed.
The Vols, who are averaging 513.8 yards of total offense in 2012, second in the league to only Georgia (530.0), will try and continue to put up big numbers this weekend.
"They are heavy, number one," said Chaney." Those are big boys, they are hard to move around, nobody has been able to do that with a lot of success yet and it is going to be quite a challenge. They do a lot of schemes over there that makes them very complicated; it is going to be a challenge, it is going to be good."
Chaney's solution to the Georgia defense? Work harder.
"I guess all I ever know is to go back to work and work harder and have more practice of particular plays that you are planning on calling in the game," said Chaney. "To me, you have to hang your hat somewhere in my position and I like to work more reps on the plays that we are going to call and hopefully we will get better at it. It is a mindset, we have to move some people out of in there and we have to feel comfortable doing so."
Working hard to make the Vols uncomfortable will undoubtedly be Jarvis Jones, who has already tallied 24 tackles, 7.5 tackles for a loss of 50 yards, 4.5 sacks for a loss of 38 yards, an interception, three pass break-ups and 13 quarterback hurries in 2012. Quite simply, he has been a one-man pass rush machine.
"It is hard to figure out where he is going to be," said Chaney on Jones. "He is willing to take a risk to make a play and all of the good ones tend to be able to do that. You know that he is going to be able to rush up field. He makes a lot of plays, he is a very good football player. In my opinion when you classify good football players the first quality that they all have is that they play hard, any position, it doesn't matter."
The Vols, who will likely run a no huddle offense aren't too concerned about the crowd noise that will be flooding Sanford Stadium Saturday.
"The communication set is signal based as you guys know," Chaney said. "So I would like to think that there wouldn't be a heck of a lot of difference as we move in the ball game. Obviously, when you have a bunch of people yelling at you and being mean to you it affects you sometimes."
One Vol who will not likely be affected Saturday, Tyler Bray.
"Anytime you have success and you are a young man, I think it benefits you," said Chaney. "We will see. Every game brings about new demons and new good things so who the heck knows. I feel comfortable that he went out and played pretty well [against Akron], played with a nice calmness about him this past ball game and hopefully that will continue."
DEFENDING THE PLAY ACTIONOne of the biggest challenges the Vols will face this Saturday in Athens will be finding a way to defend the play-action pass which Georgia utilizes as well as any team in the country.
Part of the reason the play-action is so effective for the Bulldogs is the balance of playmakers throughout their offense, something Tennessee defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri is keenly aware of.
"They have a lot of weapons, they have a lot of explosive players," Sunseri said. "What you have to do is be disciplined, play the right edge, do your assignment and this defense really has to play as a collective group. You have to be disciplined, do what you are supposed to do and we have to tackle. They have three great running backs, [Todd Gurley, Keith Marshall and Ken Malcome] and they are going to try to pound you. We have to swarm to the football. We have to go out there and just play great defense."
Those three running backs have helped Georgia average 242.5 yards on the ground through the first four games. That effectiveness in the run game makes defending the play-action pass even more difficult.
"Because they have good running backs, you have to honor the run," Sunseri said. "When you see their running backs and what they are doing, you have to honor the run. That causes separation between your secondary and your linebackers so you have a second level that is getting sucked up and the third level is backed up which means there is a lot of space for them to make good throws."
The UT linebacker corps will be the group most tested by Georgia's play-action but the Vols are looking forward to seeing how they stand up to the challenge.
"Absolutely it puts a lot of pressure on the linebackers and that is where you get a lot of the explosive plays," Sunseri said. "The linebackers get sucked up and then the next thing you know they are running their skinny routes right over the top of them. They have a nice scheme. Mark [Richt] and Todd [Grantham] and all of them have done a nice job down there getting things right. They have some good football players and we just have to go match up."