KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (UT) - If the Tennessee Volunteers are going to be successful in their remaining eight games, they’re going to have to do it together, a mindset that they worked towards during Wednesday’s practice at Haslam Field.
“One of the biggest challenges, especially with young people, is getting them to learn to play for others and not for themselves,” head coach Derek Dooley said. “I say that because every day you wake up and you don’t feel like doing what you’re supposed to do, whether it’s your job or football or whatever. Something has to motivate you.”
That motivation existed when the Vols opened up preparations for Georgia on Tuesday, but didn’t parlay into the mid-week workout.
“We didn’t have a good mindset today,” Dooley said. “We had a great practice yesterday. We come in today (and think), ‘Do we have to do it all over again?’ Learning how to think of the program and the responsibility you have to your teammates should be what motivates you. We have a long way to go. We’re still a little self-absorbed.”
The Vols have a short way to go until playing the Bulldogs, who bring three consecutive wins into Saturday evening’s 7 p.m. kickoff on ESPN2 at Neyland Stadium.
SCOUTING GEORGIA’S DEFENSE: ‘STATURE’
One word offensive coordinator Jim Chaney reiterated over and over again when asked about each unit of the Georgia defense was ‘stature.’
“I think they’re very good,” Chaney said in reference to the Bulldogs’ secondary. “They’re athletic. They’re physical. Once again, they have stature. I look at Georgia’s defense and I say they have stature at all positions. You’re not going to walk in there and go, ‘Boy, they aren’t very big.’ They’re large, they’re big and they’re athletic. They’re going to be tough to beat.”
‘Stature,’ begins first and foremost with Georgia’s defensive line, composed of no one weighing under 306 pounds. The Bulldogs’ front three is anchored by nose tackle Kwame Geathers, a 6-6, 350-pound sophomore.
“I think they have a lot of stature in the front, power and strength,” Chaney said. “Those are big kids. You talk about some 350-pound defensive tackles, there are not many people in college football that are going to root those boys out.
“I think the bottom line is they’re physical, they have a lot of stature up front and they’re difficult to move. They’re just large.”
Georgia’s defense, which has given up just one touchdown in the last three games, is a dynamic one with the ability to flash a lot of different looks.
“They’re an impressive group of kids,” Chaney said. “They fly around and hit people. I’m excited about the opportunity to get to go play them. They’re a zone team primarily but if they can get to you with some pressure in man-free they’ll do that too. They have the whole gamut. They have everything in their wallet. It just depends on what he’s going to pull out.”
What’s unclear is what Georgia will find in its wallet to slow down sophomore wide receiver Da’Rick Rogers. The Calhoun, Ga., native is second in the SEC with 27 receptions and 442 yards.
“That’s (Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham’s) M.O. in the past,” Chaney said on whether the Bulldogs would try to take Rogers out of the passing game. “He’s done that a little bit on certain down-and-distances. I’m not sure how they’ll try to do that. Da’Rick is playing good and Tyler (Bray) is playing good throwing him the ball. I don’t know. You’ll have to ask them, but I think that they probably will consider that.”
One of the most impressive figures about the Vols after four games is 62.1.
That’s the percentage of third downs they’ve converted (36-of-58), which is tied with Wisconsin for the highest mark in the nation and leads the SEC.
“Anytime you’re doing anything successfully, it’s usually based on execution,” Chaney said. “The kids are more familiar with the plays that we run on those down-and-distances and they believe in them now more than they did last year. They’re out executing plays. There’s no secret to what we’re doing on third down. The quarterback is playing pretty good, the receiver is getting open and he’s throwing the ball to him. Above all else, we’re keeping him standing up quite a bit.”
Against Buffalo, the Vols converted 12-of-16 third downs, the most they’ve been successful on since accomplishing the same number in 1996 at Memphis.
The improvement is vast from a 2010 season in which Tennessee converted 37 percent (69-of-189). One of the biggest reasons is a more fluent offense that’s found increased success on first and second down.
“I don’t feel like we’re sitting there at third-and-13 a lot, although, we do too many of them for me. I feel like we’re ahead of the stakes a little bit.”
GEORGIA OFFENSE ON TENNESSEE’S MIND
As the Tennessee defense prepares for this Saturday’s contest against Georgia, it sees an offense that can put up yards in a number of different ways and a group of players starting to find their identity.
For the Bulldogs, it all starts with the ability to run the ball and the emergence of freshman running back Isaiah Crowell, who ranks fourth in the SEC with 103.0 yards per game, has allowed them to do just that.
“Georgia, their football brand has always started with a good power-I running game,” Dooley said. “When they have a good, heavy tailback who can make yards, then it opens up that play action big time. They’ve found that. They didn’t have that the first game. They were still searching. Since that time, they set up that throw with a good running game and it’s hard to defend. They’re very balanced and very efficient.”
Tennessee defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox echoed Dooley’s sentiments about Georgia and, more specifically, Crowell.
“He is very explosive and has great change of direction,” Wilcox said. “He has really good vision. I think he is a talented guy. He has gotten better throughout the season and you can see that they have added some more things from the first game to where he is now in terms of some different plays, a little bit more in pass protection and some screens. He is a very talented guy and he can take it the distance on any snap. He is a threat any time he touches the ball.”
As dangerous as Crowell can be, don’t expect to see the Vols crowding the box to stop the run.
“Everything they do on offense complements each other,” Wilcox said. “You can’t really cheat in terms of formations because whatever they do in the run game, they have a complement in the pass game for it and they have really good people doing it. Obviously the quarterback does a heck of a job for them, they have talented guys at running back and their tight end can stretch you, so it is a very well-rounded offense and they can score a lot of different ways.
“Play action is a big part of their game in their two-back stuff. We have to have really good eye discipline at every level – defensive back and linebacker – because they can fool you and get your eyes in the wrong places.”
Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney
(On going against a Bulldog defense without linebacker Cornelius Washington)
“I think he’s an explosive, good football player. Without him being there, that definitely doesn’t make their defense better. They have enough capable backups that I don’t know that they’ll fall off much schematically. They’re a good football team with a lot of talent. We’re not expecting a lot of things different. They have good backup players, young kids that will get a chance to go up and play and we’ll see how they do.”
(On the advantages of Tyler Bray in shotgun)
“You don’t have to have a drop. You can have an undisciplined drop and still stay in a rhythm in the passing game. Ultimately, you’re further away from the defensive linemen. The idea of seeing the defense, I don’t necessarily agree with because you have to find the snap before you see the defense. We’ve had some issues with that. I don’t know if that’s one we can say is in our favor right now. We don’t have to worry about the drops to make the passing game work. I think that’s what he likes about it.”
Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox
(On Georgia tight end Orson Charles)
“He can stretch you. He is a very athletic guy, when he runs with the ball he looks like a wideout. Anytime you have a tight end that can stretch the field like that (the question) always comes up about how you are going to cover them, whether you have linebackers or safeties, that is always an issue. Tight ends that can stretch the field vertically always create problems. It will be a test for everybody, not only the linebackers, but the safeties, the corners, anybody who has to match up with him or their wideouts. They are athletic guys that can do something with the ball so it will be a good test for us all the way around.”
(On Izauea Lanier)
“He has gotten better and better. He is far from perfect, but he is very competitive and he is learning. Obviously, you don’t want to have to be learning during games, but sometimes he is. I think he has done a good job and has gotten a little better every week.”
(On freshmen Jordan Williams and Allan Carson playing against Buffalo)
“They earned it during practice. Jordan is a very active guy who goes 100 miles-per-hour. He’s not always 100 percent (sure) about what he is doing, but is getting better at that. We try to give him a small amount of stuff from week-to-week and he has done a good job of earning his reps in practice because he goes hard and that is what we need. Allan is big. He’s lost a few (pounds) but he is right around 320 and is hard to move. He just has to become more consistent in playing blocks and he will get some more time.”
(On the lack of interceptions)
“If there was a magic answer to that we would have addressed it already. Obviously it is pressuring the quarterback, it is being aggressive with the ball in the air, it is affecting the routes of the receivers, it is affecting the pass protection, it is a lot of things. It’s really not one answer. We practice turnovers all the time. We work on it daily. If you try to force the issue, sometimes guys will start pressing to make plays they shouldn’t and that’s how you get beat. Experience plays a big part in that, seeing the release of a wide receiver, seeing sprint outs, seeing things and being able to play where the game slows down definitely helps you take chances on plays sometimes.”