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Post Stopping the Tennessee passing attack

Friday October 7, 2011

It’s unavoidable: the Tennessee passing game against Georgia’s defense is the story this week. It makes sense – Tennessee has a quality quarterback, a very good main target at receiver, and Vol quarterbacks have gone 37-of-49 (>75%) against Georgia in the past two meetings in Knoxville. Year2 over at TSK paints the picture of the challenge presented by the Tennessee offense, and Blutarsky responds with a closer look at how Tennessee rates relative to the best passing attack Georgia has seen so far.

As usual, I can’t let it go without a word about the offense. Georgia has been blown out in their past two trips to Tennessee, and lackluster offense had as much to do with it as Crompton or Ainge or Foster. Georgia managed 14 futile second half points after falling behind 28-0 in 2007. It was even worse in 2009. Georgia scored 19 points, but only three of those came from the offense. That game sealed the fate of Willie Martinez, but it was equally atrocious offense. This year’s Georgia offense should have better success against Tennessee, especially on the ground.

Back to this year. It isn’t 2007 or 2009. Georgia’s defense has changed. Tennessee’s coaching staff has changed. Many of the key pariticpants – from Bray to Rogers to Murray to Crowell – weren’t even on their teams for the 2009 game. The identities of the teams have changed. Georgia now leans on their defense. Tennessee now leans on their passing game. That strength took a big hit several weeks ago when leading receiver Justin Hunter was lost for the year.

The Vols have had only one lightweight game in which to figure out life without Hunter, but one name is emerging. Tennessee’s leading receiver against Florida wasn’t the injured Hunter or emerging sophomore Da’Rick Rogers. It was junior tight end Mychal Rivera.

Rivera hadn’t been much of a factor in the passing game before this season. He recorded 11 catches for 112 yards in 2010. He failed to make a catch in the season opener against Montana. But in the three games since, Rivera has recorded 14 catches for 163 yards – already eclipsing his entire production of a year ago. In Gainesville, with Hunter knocked out of the game, Rivera came away with a team-high 5 receptions and 71 yards.

To give it perspective, Rivera’s 14 catches are only two fewer than Orson Charles has notched on the season. Rivera’s numbers would place him third on the Georgia team behind Mitchell and Charles and ahead of King and Bennett.

If you think back to the Boise State game, the Broncos didn’t torch Georgia deep. They used short and intermediate passes, along with tempo, to put the Georgia defense on its heels. Many of those passes came across the middle. Tennessee’s tendencies might be more vertical, and that makes sense when your offensive coordinator comes from the Brees-era Purdue offense. But the emergence of Rivera does indicate some flexibility there. This is more of a concern due to Georgia’s inexperience at linebacker. Two starters – Washington and Ogletree are on the shelf. Another, Robinson, is still working his way back from injury. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Tennessee test the pass coverage of Georgia’s replacements at linebacker.

Of course Bray doesn’t merit Kellen Moore comparisons yet, but he is still an accurate passer when given time. Another big difference is the relative experience and quality of the offensive lines. Boise started four upperclassmen. Tennessee starts a single upperclassmen. Still, this unit has only allowed 7 sacks on the year, 3 of which came against Florida. Georgia can affect Bray’s accuracy, as Florida did, with pressure, but they’ll have to do it with sack leader Cornelius Washington watching from home.

Third downs will tell a lot of the tale of this game. Tennessee comes in with an SEC-leading 62.1% conversion rate, but they managed only 4-of-12 on third downs in their only SEC game to date. That’s going to happen when you get 0.94 yards per carry. Georgia brings their SEC-leading 25.4% third down defense, but they weren’t so hot against a quality passing opponent. We looked earlier in the week at Georgia’s success on early downs leading to manageable third down situations. Mississippi State’s average third down position was 3rd-and-7.5. They’ll do well against Bray if they can get the Vols into similar third down situations. Bray might be a good passer, but the defense still has the advantage when you know a pass is likely.

3 Responses to 'Stopping the Tennessee passing attack'

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  • Ubiquitous GA Alum

    October 7th, 2011
    3:41 pm


    Bray has yet to prove himself against a qulaity opponent.

    BUF – Pass D = #50
    CIN – Pass D = #104

    As for the FL game, 88 yards of his 288 came in the 4Q when FL was content to sit back and let him sling it. He attempted 48 passes with 2 picks and according to a Rivals recap had “five would-be interceptions” dropped and was aided by “six pass interference penalties”.

    Not saying he’s not above average, but am saying that he’s not elite … e.g. Moore.

  • Really the game changed for Boise when they went to the no huddle. Before that point Georgia was bringing at least one extra man on the pass rush and it affected Moore as Georgia forced several three and outs in the first quarter and a half. After that Boise went no huddle and Georgia started playing a more vanilla defense, seldom bringing pressure and it allowed Moore the chance to sit back and pick us apart. The thing that worries me is that with UT having had a bye week and a pre-season game last week against Buffalo is how much they may have worked on that in practice. However as you said Bray is not Moore and even if they do go no huddle I doubt he runs it as effectively as Moore did.

  • Ubiquitous GA Alum

    October 10th, 2011
    4:18 pm


    Bray’s results …

    18-33 for 251 w/ 0 TDs, 1 sack and 1 int grounding

    Well off his avg, yet respectable. He only had 92 yars in the 2nd half.