Tennessee’s up-tempo attack could give Georgia trouble this week

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The No. 1 ranked Georgia Bulldogs (9-0) take on the Tennessee Volunteers (5-4) this Saturday in Knoxville at 3:30 p.m. ET. The game will be aired on CBS.

Georgia comes into the game with best defense in the nation, allowing just 6.6 points per games this year. It’s faced some tough opponents, but this Tennessee team might have the best offense the Bulldogs will have to play in the regular season.

The Volunteers runs an up-tempo offense, and they run it well. Here’s a crazy stat for you. The Vols rank dead-last in the FBS (No. 130) in time of possession per game, having the ball on offense for an average of 24:03 per contest. They also somehow rank No. 15 in scoring offense, putting up 38.2 points per game. For comparison, Georgia has the ball on average six minutes longer per game and is scoring just .2 points more, ranking No.14 with 38.4 points per game.

Georgia’s not faced an offense like this yet, so the Bulldogs are doing their best to simulate Tennessee’s approach this week in practice.

“It’s so fast you can’t really simulate it in your practices, so you have to try and find a creative way to practice for it,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said.

Smart says Georgia’s trying to simulate Tennessee’s style with the Bulldogs offense, but noted it’s difficult to prepare for because the Dawgs don’t run it as well as Josh Heupel does in Knoxville.

“It’s so different than the triple option, I’m not trying to compare it to that, but it’s so different that it’s hard to prepare for. You can’t simulate it with your team unless you do it. We don’t do that as well as they do it, so it makes it tough to prepare for.

Your players really have to buy in, they have to know it’s important to play that way against that tempo and you’ve got to work really hard at it.”

Tennessee’s offense has really come to life this season and dual-threat quarterback Hendon Hooker is playing very good football. The Vols are fresh off a 45-42 road win over Kentucky where Hooker threw for 316 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. Hooker has thrown 21 touchdowns this season to just two interceptions.

If there’s one big area of concern for the Vols’ offense, it’s the pass protection. Tennessee has allowed 33 sacks this season. The only Power Five program with more sacks allowed than that is North Carolina. Georgia’s defense, which has accounted for 28 sacks this year (No. 14 in the nation), should be excited to get to Hooker on Saturday.

Georgia’s defense did not play its best game last week against Missouri despite allowing only six points. The Dawgs missed a few tackles and Mizzou quarterback Tyler Macon gave UGA some trouble with his feet. Hooker has averaged 50 yards per game this season on the ground and put up 108 rushing yards on Ole Miss.

“Hendon Hooker is a tremendous athlete. He’s hard to tackle. He’s big, physical, strong arm. Saturday’s miss ques (against Missouri) had a lot to do with execution. Tackling. We missed tackles, did not tackle well. Probably our poorest game in terms of tackling.

They (Missouri) did a nice job of that. The quarterback run is an element that makes stopping teams really hard. Missouri did a nice job with that and Tennessee does that really well too.”

Smart pointed out that the Vols passing attack has been great this year, but it’s their rushing offense that makes them so deadly. Tennessee ranks No. 19 in the nation with 217 rushing yards per game this year.

“Everybody thinks these guys are pass-first, but they run the ball really well. They’re stubborn about it. They wear you down, and they body-blow, after body-blow, after body-blow to the point where you can’t rush the passer, or you can’t stop the run. And it’s the big runs that lead to the explosive passes.

We are going to have to play well on all parts of the defense. It’s a great challenge for this group because no matter how good you are up front, guys in the back end are going to have to make plays, and no matter how good you are on the back end, the front guys are going to have to control the quarterback and run game. They’ll test you; they’ll test you everywhere.”

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