Radi Nabulsi, UGASports.com
When Bob Shoop turned on the film this week, Tennessee’s defensive coordinator thought he was having flashbacks.
A quarterback wearing No. 11 in red and black was throwing play-action passes for touchdowns.
“I remember when I first got into the league and Aaron Murray was the quarterback for Georgia. I thought he was smooth, and could do it all,” Shoop explained on Tuesday night.
“They’re different type of athletes, but I saw him as No. 11 and said, ‘Damn, that’s who he looks like.’ He finds the right receivers. He makes good decisions.”
The him is Jake Fromm.
For the second straight year, Tennessee is preparing for a five-star freshman quarterback making just his fourth-career start for UGA. Since taking over for an injured Jacob Eason, Fromm has completed 43-of-69 passes for 650 yards and seven touchdowns to one interception. The Peach State native has a pair of Top 25 wins on his resume, including a road win at Notre Dame.
In the blowout win against Mississippi State last weekend, Fromm was 9-of-12 for 202 yards and two scores.
“He’s a very good player,” defensive end Kyle Phillips said. “He’s a freshman but he’s coming in with a lot of confidence. The thing is, our job is to be very disruptive and make him uncomfortable.”
Georgia’s defense has largely led the way for the No. 7 Bulldogs’ undefeated start this season, but Tennessee is preparing for a UGA offense that’s really found its footing in recent weeks.
The Dawgs tout one of the nation’s best collection of tailbacks, a dynamic group of outside playmakers and an offensive line starting to build some continuity.
“I feel weird, I’ve played against Georgia more than anytime I’ve ever coached against. At Vanderbilt, Penn State, (Tennessee). Heck, when I was at Boston College we played them in Music City Bowl. I think this is the best Georgia team I’ve seen,” Shoop said, before quickly adding, “It doesn’t mean we can’t win the game.”
On the heels of Saturday’s performance against UMass, Tennessee’s defense is entering the rivalry showdown with some renewed confidence. The Vols recorded seven sacks against the Minutemen and sealed the game with multiple stops in the fourth quarter. They face a whole new challenge this Saturday, but they feel like they’re making progress as a unit.
“As a defense, your mentality is just to win the game, and that’s what we did. So I think that was a step forward for us,” Phillips said.
“A lot of times, we haven’t finished games. So I think last week gave us confidence that we can finish games, and that the team can put it on us. If the offense is struggling, they’ll know that we have their back.”
After going against a variety of funky offenses over the first month of the season, Shoop is glad Tennessee will finally face a more traditional attack this Saturday. His glee subsided a bit following film prep, though, after he outlined his “who can hurt us, who can help us” chart. The Vols’ second-year coordinator said he was “hard-pressed” to find answers in the latter category.
“We anticipate them trying to throw the ball deep on us," Shoop said.
"They have as much depth at running back as any team I have ever seen. They could put five different guys out there and barely skip a beat. … From is very good. He’s very composed. He’s a guy who played in the Little League World Series, that’s kind of cool. He’s a winner.”
Under former Tennessee offensive coordinator Jim Cheney, Fromm has been afforded lots of safe throws to start his career. With teams having to contend with three backs who average more than 5.3 yards per carry and nearly 50 yards per game — Nick Chubb (92.8 yards per game), Sony Michel (64.0) and D'Andre Swift (49.0) — Georgia has hit opponents with several big passing plays over the last few week, fooling Mississippi State on a flea-flicker and a play-action seam route to tight end Issac Nauta.
While Shoop is a bit concerned about Tennessee’s untested secondary, he believes the Vols have enough playmakers to frustrate Fromm & Co. He thinks the 12th Man could be a big factor, too.
"This is his first SEC road game,” Shoop said. “We've got to get Neyland rocking on Saturday. We've got to introduce him to what road SEC football is all about."
So how does Tennessee make that happen Saturday afternoon?
“We’ve just got to kick ‘em in the mouth,” Phillips said.“I mean, that’s the only thing we’ve got to do. We’ve got to be physical and disruptive. It’s going to be a hard-fought battle.”