September 28, 2012

No time to forget

Raise your hand if you've already heard or read about the analogy comparing Saturday afternoon's game against Tennessee to the one Georgia played against the Volunteers in 2004.

Bulldog head coach Mark Richt is making sure his players don't forget.

To refresh your memory, the Bulldogs were riding high after shellacking LSU in Athens 45-16, were getting a lot of love from the national media before Tennessee bounced the Bulldogs the following week 19-14 behind then-freshman quarterback Erik Ainge.

Sound familiar?

Saturday, the fifth-ranked Bulldogs (4-0, 2-0) find themselves getting a lot of national love after obliterating Vanderbilt 48-3, setting up yet another matchup on national television (CBS, 3:30) with an underdog Vol squad (3-1, 0-1), anxious see history repeat.

"I told them that this situation reminded me of that season. We played a game like we played against Vanderbilt when we played LSU in '04, one of those what people would call a complete game. Everything just seemed to work that day. Everything went well that day," Richt said. "The very next week we were favored to beat Tennessee. Tennessee came in with a freshman quarterback and beat us. I wanted to help them understand that it could happen and we better get our minds right. We better prepare just as hard as or harder than the week before. I just want us to play our best. If we lose, we lose, but you want to play your best. That's what I'm trying to make sure we do."

But unlike his father Vince - a noted history buff - Tennessee coach Derek Dooley is more concerned with the present. More specifically, can his Vols correct some of the mistakes they made during last week's 47-26 win over Akron?

Against the Zips, quarterback Tyler Bray was 5 of 10 throwing from inside the 20 yard line for just 42 yards and two touchdowns, numbers Dooley knows won't cut it if it wants win any kind of scoring race with Georgia, which leads the SEC with 47.5 points per game.

"The red zone there was several factors in not scoring touchdowns," Dooley told "They (Akron) were bringing the house. They were bringing safeties from everywhere. So we had a couple of protection breakdowns up the middle which forced a bad throw. It wasn't Tyler's fault. But we had a guys wide open on a double move and couldn't convert it. We had a drop. We had a couple of missed assignments getting a little loose on protection.

"One time, we were going to throw a slant to Justin (Hunter) and Tyler got stepped on coming back so just a lot of details. And the pressure caused them. We didn't execute the way we needed to on throwing, catching and protecting."

But as Richt is quick to point out, Bray and the Vols' league-leading passing attack (341.2 yards per game) is as good as it gets.

Not only does Bray project well to the next level, but wide receivers Cordarrelle Patterson and Justin Hunter just may be the SEC's top wideouts.

But Tennessee knows to be a success it's still going to need to run the ball. Here's where the Vols hope Rajion Neal (80 carries, 356 yards) is able to shine.

"Our goal is always to come out and stop the run first. Tennessee has a great passing attack but it's very tough to win in this league if you can't establish a balanced offense," linebacker Christian Robinson said. "Coach Dooley has said that he wants to be able to run the ball a little more, so we're going to be watching for that. We've been good at defending against the run the past couple of years with big guys like Kwame (Geathers) and John (Jenkins) plugging up the holes so hopefully we'll be able to keep it going."

But just because you might make the Vols one-dimensional, Richt knows that doesn't necessarily guarantee the game's outcome.

In fact, If Richt were calling Tennessee's offensive plays, he might just let Bray wing it as often as he could.

"I was saying just the other day that if I had those receivers and that quarterback, I'd have a hard time trying to stay balanced. I like throwing the ball, and they've got great pass protectors. When you have those tackles like they do that don't need any help, you can release five guys out and then you've got a guy that can spin it like Bray," Richt said. "I don't know if I would sit there and say that I need to be totally balanced, but I think if you do shut down a running game and you just know someone is going to pass, it's just much easier to defend. But they're not that. They're running the ball well, and they have good play-action pass. They're really good at throwing and catching, I can tell you that."

Tennessee defensive line coach John Palermo knows slowing down Georgia won't be easy, either.

"They obviously have a great quarterback and like I told you, they've got three tailbacks (Todd Gurley, Keith Marshall and Ken Malcome) as good as I've seen, to be honest with you. I was at Wisconsin for all those years and we had Ron Dayne and Brent Moss and these guys are in the same league as those guys," Palermo said. "They're downhill runners," Tennessee defensive line coach John Palermo said. "Their offense makes them downhill runners. Even when they run toss sweep they're downhill runners. They run power and they toss it back to those guys so he doesn't have to change direction. They want to hit it downhill. Sometime it's famine but most of the time this year it's been a feast where they break the line of scrimmage and they're in the secondary before you know it."

The Vols are counting on 377-pound nose tackle Daniel McCullers plugging some of those gaps.

According to defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri, Saturday's contest shapes up nicely for the former GMC standout.

"I think like anything else this is more McCullers' game," Sunseri told Volquest. "Last week McCullers wasn't in the picture much because it was all spread, throwing it out there and dinking and dunking you. Now they're going to get in what we call '21' personnel and they're going to see if we can stop their run."

But as Georgia has already shown, the Bulldogs aren't afraid to go no-huddle with four wides and a back.

In fact, that's something Richt said he won't be afraid to continue against the Vols.

"The more plays you run, the more yards you get, the more points you score. We're like anybody else. We're going to watch people do what they do and try to learn why they do it. When you first start seeing people in the pistol you are kind of wondering why. Then after you experience it a little bit or study it a little bit and see the advantages of it, it's worth doing. It's not that hard to do."