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GAME 6: Vols Face Georgia at Midway Point of Season
Series History: Tennessee holds the all-time series lead 20-16-2 dating to 1899. The Vols also hold a slim edge in games played in Knoxville at 10-8-1. The last five games in the series are split 3-2 in UT's favor.
Last Meeting: Tennessee lost a 26-14 decision in Athens last season, falling behind by 13 points before rallying to within six in the second half. Gerald Jones and Lucas Taylor caught TD passes for the Vols.
Berry Breaks Record: Tennessee strong safety Eric Berry became Tennessee's all-time career interception returns leader after a 54-yard interception return at Georgia last season. He went on to add three picks and 162 return yards en route to breaking the SEC record as well.
Georgia Vols: Twelve members of the 2009 Tennessee football team came to Knoxville from Georgia - the most of any state other than Tennessee. Among the players from Georgia are starters Eric Berry (S), LaMarcus Thompson (LB), Chris Scott (LT) and Chad Cunningham (P).
On Oct. 10: The Vols are 12-3 all-time on Oct. 10 and have one win over the Bulldogs on that date. That win came in the 1998 BCS National Championship season.
October is Important: Tennessee plays the second of a four-game stretch through the month of October that is critical to its bowl hopes. The Vols dropped a close game vs. Auburn to open the month, and have contests remaining with Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina. Against its October opponents, Tennessee has won just 51 percent of its games all-time. UT's has won 74 percent of its games against its November opponents.
A win would: A win would pull the Vols to .500 for the third time this season and give head coach Lane Kiffin his first career Southeastern Conference win.
A loss would: A loss would drop the Vols to 0-3 in the SEC for the second consecutive season and give Georgia its first winning streak in the series since the Bulldogs won four-straight from 2000-2003.
Hardesty SEC's Leading Rusher
Senior tailback Montario Hardesty is finally the feature back in Tennessee's offense after three seasons as a backup. In four starts during the 2009 season, Hardesty has produced rushing efforts of 160, 89, 96, 140 and 90 yards and scored five rushing touchdowns, one in each game.
The New Bern, N.C., native is averaging 115.0 yards per game and 5.5 yards per carry. He currently ranks eighth in the nation and atop the SEC in rushing yards per game. He is on pace for 1,380 rushing yards in 2009.
Hardesty has reeled off 21 runs of 10 yards or more, including four 20-plus yard treks and a career-long 43-yard touchdown run.
He became the 27th back in school history to eclipse the career 1,500-yard mark with a 140-yard effort vs. Ohio and now ranks 24th in school history with 1,621 yards.
Hardesty rushed for 1,046 yards in his first three seasons and worked primarily as a goal line back in 2008, scoring six touchdowns.
Thanks in large part to Hardesty, the Vols are rolling up an average of 188 yards per game on the ground through four contests and have scored eight rushing touchdowns.
The Vols ranked sixth in the SEC and 36th in the nation in rushing offense.
Berry Successful Regardless of Role
Junior defensive back Eric Berry entered the 2009 campaign in search of the school record for career interceptions and the NCAA record for career interception return yards, but a change in coordinators has forced Berry into a new role playing closer to the line of scrimmage.
While Berry is still the NCAA active career leader in interceptions with 13, he is also first on the team and third in the Southeastern Conference in tackles with 45, an average of nine per game. In his first two seasons on Rocky Top, Berry averaged six stops per game.
He tied his career high with 14 stops vs. Auburn, and has posted three double-digit tackle games this season and seven in his career.
Patchwork O-Line Protecting QB
Tennessee has battled inexperience and injuries to its offensive line throughout the 2009 season. The Vols entered the season with an experienced starter returning in three of the five offensive line positions, but were forced to go with a different lineup in the last two games.
Despite the constant turnover, the Vols have allowed just six sacks through five games and have not allowed a sack in two games (Western Kentucky, Auburn).
Concerning the rushing game, the line is paving the way for Tennessee backs to average five yards per attempt, which ranks fourth in the SEC.
In all, the three returning lettermen have combined for 56 starts and are led by senior Chris Scott's 30-game start streak. Cody Sullins and Jarrod Shaw are both first-year starters.
Brown Continues to Impress
Complimenting senior tailback Montario Hardesty in the UT backfield is true freshman Bryce Brown, who signed with Tennessee as the No. 1-ranked recruit in the nation in the 2009 class.
This season, Brown has carried 46 times for 229 yards and one touchdown, good for an average of five yards per carry. He has also shown flashes as a pass-catcher with eight catches for 105 yards and a score.
In the Ohio game, Brown led the Vols in receiving yards for the second-straight game and produced 116 yards of total offense (56 rushing, 60 receiving). Through five games, Brown is averaging 6.63 yards per offensive touch.
Jones Posts Career Day vs. Auburn
Junior wideout Gerald Jones made his case to the be the Vols' No. 1 receiver vs. Auburn, posting career highs in receptions with seven and receiving yards with 75.
Jones, UT's top receiver in 2008, returned to the regular rotation at Florida and has caught 10 passes in two games. He missed the season opener with an ankle injury and played sparingly vs. UCLA.
Quarterback Jonathan Crompton has completed a pass to 14 different receivers, but only senior Quintin Hancock is averaging at least three receptions per game.
Junior Denarius Moore, UT's deep threat in 2008, caught four passes for 47 yards vs. Ohio and three passes for 44 yards and a score vs. Auburn after catching only one pass in the first three games. Moore was also hampered by an injury early in the year.
Tracking The True Freshmen
Tennessee has played multiple true freshmen in each of its first three games. The Vols played 11 true freshmen vs. Western Kentucky, eight in the UCLA game, nine at Florida, seven vs. Ohio and 10 vs. Auburn. Among those freshmen in all four games were offensive standouts Bryce Brown, David Oku, Nu'Keese Richardson and Marsalis Teague.
The four are combining to average 215 all-purpose yards per game. All four rank in the top seven on the team in individual all-purpose yardage. Richardson actually started the Auburn game at quarterback and rushed once for 41 yards. It was the second-longest rushing play of the season. Brown has now caught a pass in four-straight games.
Lincoln Making Mark in Record Book
After starting off the 2008 season a shaky one-of- four in field goal attempts, UT placekicker Daniel Lincoln has hit seven of nine attempts early in the 2009 campaign.
He converted on a career-long field 49-yard field goal to seal Tennessee's win over Ohio and made a 26-yarder vs. Auburn. He has now made a field goal in four-straight games.
Lincoln began the season with 31 career makes and now sits sixth in school history with 38 conversions. He also is climbing UT's career scoring list as he now ranks ninth with 204 points.
Through his career, Lincoln is averaging 1.22 field goals per game, which puts him on pace to kick 61 in his UT career. That number would tie for second on the all-time UT list behind Fuad Reveiz's 71 career conversions.
Lincoln now has 14 multiple field goal games in his career. The Ocala, Fla., native earned All-America honors in 2007 after converting 21 of 28 field goal attempts and scoring a school record 112 points.
Kiffin's Defense Strong Through Five Games
Through five contests, the Tennessee defense ranks in the top 20 nationally in passing defense and total defense. The Vols are ranked 17th in the nation at 163.8 passing yards per game and 19th in the nation at 278.2 total yards per game. The Vols also rank third in the SEC in tackles for loss with 35 for a total of 150 yards.
Tennessee held Auburn to its lowest point total of the season and allowed the Tigers just two touchdowns, two fewer than any other team has surrendered this season.
The Vols held Ohio to just 21 total rushing yards and minus-1 rushing yard in the first half.
In the UCLA contest, the Vols did not allow the Bruins a first down on six of 13 possessions and posted five tackles for loss and two sacks.
In the season opener vs. WKU, the defense allowed 83 yards of total offense and posted 12 tackles for loss and five sacks.
New Face on Defense Appears Each Week
UT defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin certainly has leadership and experience he can depend on within his unit. The Vols, however, are also relying heavily on a number of players who have not contributed in past seasons or are new to the program.
The UT participation report from the UCLA game, the Vols' first true test of the season, noted six new starters and an additional 10 backups who had not previously played significant snaps in their careers. Among those 16 players, 10 were either true freshmen, redshirt freshmen or sophomores.
At Florida, the Vols saw another new face step up as true freshman Greg King filled in nicely for an injured LaMarcus Thompson at linebacker, posting one tackle for loss.
In the Ohio game, Tennessee turned to true freshman Nigel Mitchell-Thornton at middle linebacker after senior and team captain Nick Reveiz was lost for the season with a knee injury. Mitchell-Thornton finished the game with five tackles and a quarterback hurry. King earned his first start of the season and posted six tackles and a PBU.
The Auburn game saw junior Savion Frazier fill the void left by Reveiz. He posted a career-high 11 tackles, including one for a loss, in his first career start.
McCoy Shining in Reveiz's Absence
Rico McCoy posted a game-high and career-high 16 tackles vs. Auburn and tied for the team lead with eight tackles including a shared tackle for loss vs. Ohio. The senior from Washington, D.C., has now led the team in tackles in two-straight games and 16 times in his career.
McCoy is currently second on the team with 44 tackles, including two for lost yardage, from his weak side linebacker position. He finished the 2008 season second on the team with 87 stops.
Defensive Line Making Plays
The UT defensive line was expected to be somewhat of a question mark entering the 2009 season, but through five games, the Vols are among the national leaders in tackles for loss with 35 stops behind the line of scrimmage.
Tennessee's 35 tackles for loss rank third in the SEC and in the top 25 nationally. The defensive line is responsible for 15 of the TFLs and eight of the Vols' 10 sacks.
Chris Walker has emerged as the star of the unit, posting two sacks at Florida to give him four on the season. In the Ohio game, Walker registered his first career interception return for touchdown on a busted screen play.
The unit also features seniors Dan Williams and Wes Brown inside along with juniors Ben Martin and Gerald Williams on the ends. Freshmen Montori Hughes and Willie Bohannon along with senior Andre Mathis provide depth in the group.
Cunningham Takes Over Punting Duties
For the first time since 2000, Tennessee entered a football season without a Colquitt on the roster and handling the punting duties. Replacing the departed Britton Colquitt in 2009 is Chad Cunningham, who handled the punting duties for five games in 2008 while Colquitt served a suspension.
After not having to punt in the season opener, Cunningham has kicked 19 times for a 41.2-yard average. He kicked three times for a 49.5-yard average vs. UCLA, which was the best single game average of his career. He also connected on a 57-yard boot vs. the Bruins, which tied a career long (at Auburn, 2008).
In the Auburn game, he played a key role in slowing down the Tigers' powerful offense, landing four of his seven punts inside the 20-yard line.
In comparison to his numbers through five games last season, Cunningham is averaging an additional two yards per boot.