Thursday, October 04, 2007


Thank you Jody.

FootballWeek 6

Opponent: Tennessee Volunteers

Kickoff: 3:30 PM


In a weekend filled with upset after upset, we struggled early defensively and saw a few offensive drives stall out before finally waking up and destroying an overmatched Ole Miss team. It was scary for a while but the end result was far better than the one that awaited half of the top 15. This week is a chance for revenge on a team that hung 50+ on us in Athens last year. This isn’t the same UT team we saw last season and they’re reeling a bit at .500, but Fulmer’s teams play us best when no one is giving them a shot, so this will be as scary as ever.

About the Ole Miss game

Where do you start to describe this game? The score was not at all indicative of the struggle we had on our hands. Ole Miss carried over all the momentum they established in the UF game and came out ready. They utilized that massive OL to open huge holes in our DL all day, which allowed their RBs to get yardage in chunks, which in turn opened up their passing game. Just a rough day defensively for us, but you have to give it to Ole Miss. They played extremely well offensively. Their QB was accurate and smart, rarely miscuing on attempts and constantly putting his guys in good position to make a play on the ball. His opening TD toss was thrown as perfectly as you’ll ever see one. Great coverage on that but you can’t defend the perfect pass. The defense rose up in the end though, and coupled with our explosive offense, we were able to turn a tight game into a rout.

Speaking of that offense, wow, I don’t know what to say. Yeah, we gave up two sacks (on the same series, although one was a scramble that almost got back to the line), but the OL once again played tremendously. Our RBs had some holes and when they didn’t, they seemed to make their own. When you average over 7 ypc as a team, something is obviously working. I don’t recall two RBs each being as effective as what we saw Saturday. Both were lethal. Brown seemed to feed off the energy of Knowshon and played like a guy having fun, trying to make folks miss as opposed to playing like the little back that always tries to prove he’s not little by running folks over. It was just an all around solid offensive performance against a defense that was overmatched. This was one of the rare games of the Richt era that you could make a strong case for the offense winning the game when the defense was scuffling. Yeah the defense only gave up 17 points, but once we got up multiple scores in the 2nd half, it took Ole Miss away from their ground game that had been working so well. Perhaps the most impressive thing all day was our drive in the 3rd quarter that saw us answer their TD that tied it at 17. We went 80 yards in 2:23 and only used 8 plays, picking up yardage in chunks (7 of the 8 plays were for 1st downs or TDs). Unreal. It was a solid win in a typical trap game…now on to Knoxville for a little payback (hopefully).

UT Offense

· This UT offense is not a prototypical UT offense, especially ones under OC David Cutcliffe. They have a veteran, senior QB, a handful of RBs that are serviceable, an OL that has played pretty well, but they don’t have that deep threat at WR, a longtime strength of the UT offense. Traditionally with UT you could count on solid RBs, solid OL and a fleet of amazing WRs. Not so this year.

· At QB, Eric Ainge is the senior starter that heads the UT attack. He led UT to wins over UGA in Athens in both 2004 and 2006. He’s a smart, accurate passer that occasionally gets rattled but for the most part plays with considerable poise. He’s not a threat to run, but if the play breaks down he’ll do a good job of going where they ain’t (so to speak). He’s really blossomed under Cutcliffe. He hasn’t been the reason behind UT’s offensive struggles this season. After struggling under Randy Sanders in ‘04 and being benched in ’05, Cutcliffe came in to work with the QBs again and Ainge responded with a 67% completion percentage last year. He’s over 66% this season, although his yards per attempt are down significantly (in large part due to his diminished WR corps. On the year he’s thrown 10 TDs to only 2 INTs. He loves throwing quick timing routes to his WRs on slants and outs, etc. Aside from the debacle that was his 2005 season, he’s had an outstanding career, due in no small part to his performances in Athens.

· At RB, UT sports a bevy of capable backs, with Jr. Arian Foster leading the way. The big 6-1, 225 pounder is an experienced back that suffered through an injury-plagued 2006 (yet somehow managed 3 TDs against us last year), but has bounced back to average 5.0 ypc this season. He’s only topped the 100-yd mark once this season (against Southern Miss), but he’s a big-play threat every time he touches the ball. LaMarcus Coker (2nd in carries and yards), Lennon Creer and Montario Hardesty provide incredible depth and allow the offense to sustain a TB injury with ease. The top 3 backs all average right at 5.0 ypc or better. Their top 4 RBs average over 4 receptions per game combined, so look for their involvement in the passing game as well.

· The UT receiver corps is a shadow of the units they’ve put out in the past. The loss of Meachem, Swain and Smith and their nearly 2,500 yards receiving has seen a dropoff in individual receiver production, but overall, they’ve actually been decent statistically. Each of their top 3 receivers has already topped his career numbers on this short season. WRs Lucas Taylor, Austin Rogers and Josh Briscoe each have over 20 receptions so far. Taylor leads the team in receptions and yards with 24 and 382 respectively. His 15.9 ypc are also the best on the team. He’s also gone over 100 yards receiving in every game except UF. TE Chris Brown has been a steady if unspectacular performer his whole career. He’s found the endzone this season, with 4 TDs, doubling his career total.

· The UT OL is a nice mix of veterans and young guys. They have good size, averaging just over 300 pounds a man. They’ve only given up a couple of sacks this season, which has as much to do with their scheme as it does their talent. Short drops and quick passes don’t give the DL much time to get to the QB. Considering how much they’ve thrown the ball though, the fact they’ve only given up 2 sacks is impressive. This OL is prototypical in terms of size and given Fulmer’s past as an OL himself, he’s always seemed to have solid OLs. This one is no different.

· Bottom Line: UT’s problems this season haven’t been on the offensive side of the ball. This is a group that’s averaging nearly 35 ppg and is leading the conference in passing (surprisingly given their WR issues). The fact that they are 11th in the SEC rushing is more a factor of them getting down big in a couple of games and having to throw more. They have seemed to shy away from the run more than you’d expect, which is very odd given UT’s history of pounding the ball. They do a good job of protecting the QB, mostly because they throw those quick, short passes. UT’s WRs aren’t a deep threat type of scary. They’re more of a ball control, well-coached type of scary. Look for our CBs to play much closer at the line of scrimmage than we saw last week against the likes of the speedy Wallace and the week before against DJ Hall. UT’s running game hasn’t been overly effective but we’ve struggled at times this season defending the run. I think you’ll see them deviate from their pass-happy attack (they pass the ball roughly 65% of the time) to this point and try and run it at us, especially with the absence of Marcus Washington. We’ll need more production from our DEs if we’re going to shut their O down.

· Key Matchup to watch when they have the ball: Ole Miss ran off tackle on us all day and you got the feeling their massive OL was just blowing our DEs off the ball. Fulmer would love nothing more than to grind it out like that, but I think you’ll see a more motivated UGA D this week. Watch our DEs against their OTs in both the run and the pass. If we can get some pressure on Ainge (difficult to do with their short drops) and do a better job shoring up those off tackle runs, we’ve got a good chance of slowing their potent offense.

UT Defense

· The real shocker this year has been the play of the UT defense. This defense has been lit up like the Hot Donuts Now sign at Fulmer’s closest Krispy Kreme, yielding 37.5 ppg (110th nationally) and 439 yards per game (95th nationally). This is a unit that’s struggling against the pass (11th in the SEC in pass yardage defense and 12th in pass efficiency D) and the run (9th in the SEC). Like Ole Miss, this is a defense we should be able to move the ball against.

· The UT DL sports a pair of bookend senior DEs in Antonio Reynolds and Xavier Mitchell. They each have 12 tackles on the season but combine for 0 sacks, 4 TFLs and only 2 QB hurries. The starters at DT combine for a mere 7 starts on their career. Neither has done much to distinguish themselves. There’s talent there, as Demonte Bolden was highly regarded coming out of HS, but they won’t remind anyone of guys like Henderson, Haynesworth, etc. that manned the middle in the past. The most effective DL on the team, Robert Ayers, doesn’t start but sees plenty of time, enough time to lead the DL in tackles and the team in TFLs (6.5) and sacks (3).

· MLB Jarod Mayo leads the team in tackles (26) and is an experienced player after starting every game last season. WLB Rico McCoy, a So., is 2nd on the team in tackles. SLB Ryan Karl has started 17 games (including all of 2006) on his career. He had a big game in Athens last season, tipping the pass that UT intercepted to start the 3rd qtr. None of these guys really jumps off the page at you and given their defensive struggles this season, it’s understandable.

· The Secondary is led by Sr. safety (and former CB) Jonathan Hefney, a kid with incredible speed and cover skills for a safety. At 5-9, 185, he’s small for an SEC safety. Opposite him is true freshman Eric Berry, a GA native whose father played at UT (and a kid we REALLY wanted last year but really never had a shot). Berry has a 96-yd INT return for a TD this season and, like Hefney, provides incredible athleticism and cover skills. He’s young though and is still learning. Another true freshman will be joining Berry in the secondary at CB, where Brent Vinson will be making his first career start. Vinson has played at WR and CB this year. He’s got good size (6-2, 190) but is very green and didn’t play CB in a game until late in their 3rd game. The fact that he’s starting is as much a testament to the other options as it is to his abilities. Smallish So. CB Marsalous Johnson rounds out the starters. Hefney is the best player in this secondary by far. His 20 tackles are 3rd on the team and he’s proven he’s a capable player for 4 years now. The rest of this group is more than a little suspect at this point although ultimately this will be a VERY talented goup.

· Bottom Line: UT has struggled mightily this year. They’ve given up yardage and points to everyone they’ve played. They’ve been an equal opportunity defense, giving up yards on the ground and through the air. With our developing ground game, look for us to make them stop us running the ball on 1st and 2nd downs as we try to build a lead. The recent success of the running game will make the play action passing more effective, but we’ll need that young OL to protect (something they did with flying colors in their first road test). Much like Bama, UT doesn’t have the DL to really scare you in terms of QB pressure. Unlike Bama, UT is incredibly young in the secondary, so I think our veteran receivers should find some space back there for Stafford to throw to.

· Key matchup to watch when we have the ball: Watch Southerland. He had a phenomenal game last week, leading on several of those tosses and stretch plays and just sealing the edge for Brown and Moreno to pop through, often to incredible success. Richt made the statement that our OL didn’t play well enough to merit 300+ yards rushing on their blocking along. Southerland and our TE combo (Chandler and the man-child Figgins) will play key roles in keeping the LBs off our RBs. Also, Southerland made only his 3rd catch of the year last week. He’s been asked to block more this season, but don’t forget how dangerous that guy is in the flats out of the backfield. Our FBs have always played well in Knoxville, from Verron Haynes to Jeremy Thomas to Southerland himself two years ago.

The UT Game Overall

Don’t underestimate the importance of this game being the 2nd road trip for our young team. They were able to go into a raucous Tuscaloosa and walk out with a win. That makes going to Knoxville a little more bearable. This is a football team that will get better and better as the year goes on, especially at the OL (if they can stay healthy). Being able to go through the noise and general mania that accompanies an SEC road game is invaluable from an experience standpoint.

I fully expect both teams to move the ball. UT has a solid offense, led by a veteran QB. They’ve also had a week off to scheme for this. I would expect us to give up yardage and make Ainge drive the field against us. Their running game hasn’t been as effective as in years past, but they might go to it in an attempt to keep our offense off the field. As big a blowout as last year’s game was, we only punted one time…granted we turned the ball over a couple of times, but we scored a lot. We have a much more dynamic offense this time around and UT’s defense is considerably weaker. Last year’s debacle wasn’t a defensive meltdown, at least not completely; the offense put them in a horrible position time and time again. Numerous 2nd half turnovers and special teams miscues saw us turn a 10-pt halftime lead into an 18-pt loss. 4 2nd half turnovers will generally kill anyone’s lead. We have to continue to protect the ball. It’s something we’ve generally been able to do this year. We haven’t created a ton of turnovers and if we can somehow pull in a few of those, it would greatly improve our chances.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Richt’s stellar record on the road as a head coach. That record includes a sporty little 3-0 mark in Knoxville. He’ll have the team ready to play. He always manages to do it.

Lastly, I think it’s incredibly important to remember the number of big special teams plays that have marked this rivalry in recent years. Damien Gary’s punt return for a TD in 2001, Thomas Flowers’ return for a TD in 2005…heck, even in last year’s loss we had a kickoff return for a TD from Brown and a punt return for a TD from Henderson. This is odd considering UT’s legacy of great punters. They are currently 91st nationally in net punting (10th in the SEC). I know they’ve already given up one punt return for a TD this year (Jackson for Cal had that nasty run), don’t be surprised to see another one this Saturday, there’s certainly a precedent for it and Mikey’s due for a long one.

Positional Notes

· Washington is out until UF at the earliest. That’s tough, he was starting to play really well. In his absence, Ellerbe will slide back to MLB with Dewberry returning to his starting spot at WLB. Miller will continue to man the SLB. Richt has stated that Miller has been playing tremendously in recent weeks…basically since he got demoted against WCU.

· Johnson appears set to start this week at safety, but he’s gotten knocked out of the last two games, so I’d expect to see a good bit of Jones and maybe even Banks in there this week. Speaking of Banks, he made some very nice open-field tackles on Saturday and certainly looked the part.

· Massaquoi continues to make the tough catches. At what point does he get credit for having good hands after struggling last year for a spell? He’s made at least 3 catches this season that were incredible.

· Yes, I know Chandler had a drop on Saturday (that first one he got mugged on, so it doesn’t count), and it was a big one, but he made two nice grabs after he settled down. You could see him really concentrating on the ball on those last tow catches and I think you’ll probably see more focus from him. He’s an ideal TE if he can stay focused.

· Haverkamp’s absence with an ankle injury might turn out to be a good thing, as Boling continues to impress. When Haverkamp does return, that’ll just be more depth we can rotate in.

· Jeff Owens apparently turned his ankle earlier this week but is expected to be ready to go. That’s huge for us, as he’s been a rock inside. He, Weston and Atkins have all played extremely well and Garner said Irvin is playing really well right now also, so we’re looking at a stout DT rotation.

Random Thoughts

· I don’t care if you like rap music or not, you had to enjoy watching the exuberance you saw on the UGA sideline when the PA system played the beat (no lyrics, just the beat) to Crank Dat by Souljaboy. Moreno and Brown started out slow just bobbing their heads but by the time the video board put them on, they were full on dancing. They were having fun and it made you remember these guys are still kids. Just a great moment and it really seemed to get the team going.

· Speaking or Moreno, I was watching during pregame warm-ups and the thought occurred to me that I don’t know if I want Moreno stretching anyone of any importance. That guy is SO excitable I can just see him popping the hamstring of one of our guys just from getting a little amped up. The kid is pure energy. I guess that’s why they called him a walking Red Bull.

· Look, I like baseball, I really do, probably moreso than your average college football fan, but I’m SO ready for the baseball season to be over with so ESPN (and other networks) will stop breaking in to good football games for highlights of baseball. Baseball is played at a different pace than football and it’s REALLY tough to switch gears back down to watch baseball after being set on football.

· I know Tubberville was pretty fired up after the game, but I found at least one of his comments pretty interesting. Maybe it was the post-game jubilation talking, but when asked about the 3 TD spread he said that Auburn hadn’t been beaten that badly in “years”…I guess he meant on the road…because I could’ve sworn we beat them 37-15 last year…for you non-math majors, that’s a more than 3 TD win.

· I wonder how Mike Patrick is handling the fact that Britney lost custody of her children.

· I’ve still yet to see anyone using the synched camera angles to determine a review. It seems so logical yet no one will use it. The FL-AU game was a perfect example. From one angle you can clearly see where the ball is when the knee touches but you can’t really tell the position of the ball relative to the goal. From another camera angle you can see the ball in relation to the goal but you can’t see the guy’s knee. At some point, some producer is going to revolutionize instant reply by doing a split screen of these….one would think anyway.

· The best separated at birth I got from a reader this week was David Cutcliffe and that announcer guy from the WWE. I mean they were identical, but I lost the images and I’m not a wrestling guy so I can’t remember the guy’s name. You’ll have to trust me.

· I thought Auburn was going to play well. I didn’t think they’d win. LSU will take what AU did to another level this week I’m afraid.

· Alright, I know I ramble a good bit about the pregame stuff, and judging by the late arriving crowd many of you might not have any idea what I’m talking about, but I feel the need to say something about our pregame music selections. Look, there’s a time and place for Journey. I’m almost positive that time and place isn’t 2007 in Sanford Stadium. It just isn’t right. Look, I’m not saying play current music at all, most of that stuff isn’t that good either, and for the most part, the pregame music is pretty safe…anything by the Rolling Stones, Black Betty, Mississippi Queen, that kinda stuff, just stay away from hair metal. It kinda solidifies our opponents’ comments that we’re stuck in the glory days of the early 80s. Steve Perry has no place in Sanford Stadium.

Have a safe weekend,


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