Can Tennessee beat Georgia? Can Dawgs repeat? Are Vols for actual?: Teaching confidential
Is Tennessee’s leap for actual, and has its rocket ship trip in Yr 2 below coach Josh Heupel made it a legit nationwide title contender?
“I feel so. Individuals say, ‘Oh, unfold groups can’t win the nationwide championship.’ No, groups that may’t run the ball can’t win the nationwide championship,” one assistant who has confronted the Vols this yr stated. “Tennessee can run the ball.”
Is Georgia’s juggernaut program already able to reloading from a nationwide title run, after dropping 5 first-round picks and the Butkus Award winner, to seize back-to-back titles?
“Final yr’s protection was historic, they usually’re not fairly on that degree, however they’re nonetheless actually good,” stated a coordinator who confronted Georgia this yr. “They don’t bust coverages. They don’t make errors. They simply don’t provide you with something straightforward.”
On Saturday, the 2 historic SEC East powers will face off in a matchup of No. 1 (Tennessee) and No. 3 (Georgia), in accordance the Faculty Soccer Playoff rankings. This week, The Athletic spoke with eight individuals, together with head coaches, coordinators and place coaches across the SEC and amongst those that have confronted the Bulldogs and/or the Vols, to get perception into the matchup.
They have been granted anonymity for aggressive causes and to permit for a extra unfiltered have a look at the matchup from the angle of coaches.
Tennessee’s offense has been the story of the season’s first two months. Hendon Hooker is the Heisman Trophy front-runner. Receiver Jalin Hyatt exploded onto the nationwide scene with 5 landing catches towards Alabama and should win the Biletnikoff Award. Regardless that neither Heupel nor anybody on his employees coached below Artwork Briles at Baylor, they’ve used his system to reboot the Tennessee program in simply a couple of season.
“Peak Artwork Briles Baylor, his previous few years, the Bryce Petty Years, this Tennessee crew is the closest to that of every other crew that’s tried to run that,” a coordinator stated. “Kendal Briles, Jeff Lebby, Dino Babers, everybody has advanced. Kendal and Lebby added a few of (Lane Kiffin’s) stuff. Sean Lewis and Kent State advanced up north with climate and physique varieties after he left Dino. However Tennessee runs essentially the most stripped-down model of peak Baylor. They don’t run a complete lot of performs. They simply get broad, get athletes in house and run by individuals.”
Arkansas and Ole Miss additionally run Briles’ Baylor system within the SEC, together with applications like Oklahoma and Syracuse. However why have the Vols separated themselves from different applications that run related schemes and brought this offense into hyperdrive?
A number of coaches pointed to personnel.
“They’ve a quarterback who can run and throw the deep ball. So abruptly you need to defend each edges of the sector, you gotta defend him operating and you need to defend the sector vertically,” an assistant stated. “That’s only a lot.”
Final yr, Tennessee ranked seventeenth in offensive yards per play, at 6.47 yards. It was a lot improved from 2020 and nice, however a step in need of elite. This yr, it has made the leap to 7.4 yards per play and third nationally, virtually a full yard extra per play by means of seven video games. Why?
A number of coaches pointed to Hooker and the receivers having a deeper understanding of the offense.
“He has significantly better really feel for studying routes, and he’s on the identical web page as receivers. They appear to all be working collectively and understanding if a nook is enjoying on prime of them, they’re going to come back again down the stem. In the event that they really feel like they’ve the nook beat, they’re going to run previous them,” one coordinator stated. “He and the receivers are simply in tune. That’s the distinction.”
Added one other assistant: “The quarterback understands the place the ball must go when various things occur. And the receivers have gotten higher. He’s extra correct as a result of he understands the place to go together with the soccer earlier.”
Alabama did not cease Tennessee on the way in which to 52 factors in a loss — essentially the most an Alabama crew has surrendered since 1907.
So simple as the offense is on paper, it will get sophisticated when the ball is snapped, and the Vols are having fun with the fruits of expertise this yr.
“Loads of their routes are learn routes. There’s one play name, however there are a variety of various combos of what the route can find yourself being. It may be one play name, however you may get a cease and a go, you may get two goes, you may get two stops,” one head coach stated. “They usually pair that with in-breakers. The change launch, the skin man can have a go or a cease, and the within man can have a go or a dig. There aren’t a whole lot of calls, however there are a whole lot of variations of what the routes can change into based mostly on the learn.”
Can Georgia a minimum of gradual the red-hot Vols?
A number of coaches pointed to 2 methods to do it: gradual Tennessee’s run recreation and strain Hooker. However each need to occur with solely 5 – 6 our bodies. Georgia is certainly one of only a few groups with the expertise degree and depth to do it.
“Georgia can provide them points within the run recreation. Everybody focuses on the go recreation, however what makes the Baylor offense go is the run recreation,” a coordinator stated. “I feel Georgia can take away the run recreation, however the place they’ll have points is protecting these guys within the secondary. Kelee Ringo is likely one of the finest corners within the nation, however there’s a drop-off after him, they usually have some depth points at nook. That’s Georgia’s solely weak point.
“When Tennessee throws 4 receivers at you going vertical again and again and over, in some unspecified time in the future one thing’s gonna pop.”
Tennessee’s offense is constructed round numbers: If there are too few our bodies within the field, Hooker will hand the ball off to backs and have them run behind the skilled, bodily offensive line. If the field is stacked with six or seven defenders, meaning a minimum of one receiver is left single-covered. If defenses play too gentle, receivers will minimize off their route and take 10 yards. Oklahoma infamously discovered the exhausting approach in 2014 that loading the field after which enjoying off receivers to forestall deep balls received’t work.
If defenses stack the field and play as much as let corners run on the skin, Tennessee leans on its pace to outrun them.
And within the case of final week towards Kentucky, their route combos will be deadly. Tennessee used Cedric Tillman and Hyatt stacked collectively to Hooker’s proper aspect, with Tillman drawing consideration from a security on a change route inside to free Hyatt on a vertical route up the sideline for a pair of lengthy touchdowns.
“Tennessee runs that switch-vertical like eight instances a recreation,” one coordinator stated. “While you’re operating that play and also you’ve acquired the receivers they’ve acquired and the quarterback they’ve acquired, it’s sort of unstoppable.”
In the end, stopping — or a minimum of slowing down — Tennessee comes all the way down to having the expertise to win one-on-one matchups, a number of coaches stated. Most groups don’t, particularly with what the Vols have at receiver this yr. However Georgia would possibly. And if it does it sufficient, the Bulldogs can restrict Tennessee sufficient to outscore it.
“I don’t know the way nice Georgia is at nook. No. 3 in Kelee Ringo, I don’t know if he’s a pace man, and each time I watch Tennessee, their guys are operating previous someone. They make you get one-on-one matchups and that’s the Achilles’ heel of Georgia,” a coordinator stated. “I don’t know if they will run with them of their matchups.”
Tennessee’s lightning-quick tempo has been an issue for everybody it has confronted, and coaches who confronted Georgia’s protection have seen tempo be a problem for the Bulldogs.
“I feel Tennessee can provide them issues with that. The largest factor Georgia struggles with is unique formations and bunches within the boundary. I do know Georgia killed Oregon however that employees, Dan Lanning, they know Georgia’s defensive scheme rather well. Oregon tried to do a ton of that. Quads within the boundary and unique shifts and motions,” a coordinator stated. “Tennessee goes to play quick and do related issues.”
Tennessee makes use of tempo to catch defenses out of place and in the midst of receiving defensive calls, in addition to to tire out defenses. However that fixed menace of tempo means most defenses set up recreation plans figuring out they’ll battle to make pre-snap checks. And the Vols use that towards defenses.
“While you play with the specter of snapping the ball rapidly on any play, it actually vanillas out what you are able to do defensively,” one head coach stated. “They will even use dummy cadence, and coach Heupel and his employees will diagnose what you’re doing after which get into the best play.”
Georgia discovered this week that linebacker Nolan Smith will miss the remainder of the season with a torn pectoral muscle. One place coach felt Georgia might lean on its depth and recruiting energy to play with out him. A coordinator who confronted Georgia was much more skeptical.
“He’s particular. He sort of makes them go,” he stated. “He’s their finest go rusher. They transfer him in all places. He performs extraordinarily exhausting. He’s in all probability a first-round choose. That’s an enormous loss for Georgia.”
No coaches contacted by The Athletic felt Georgia might severely restrict what Tennessee’s offense can do.
“I feel Georgia will take away the run, however Tennessee could have some huge performs,” a coordinator stated. “If they will do it towards Alabama, they will do it towards Georgia.”
One apparent key for Georgia will likely be placing up sufficient factors to maintain management of the East towards an offense anticipated to attain. Practically each coach raved concerning the Bulldogs’ tight finish room, led by Brock Bowers and Darnell Washington.
“(Bowers) is particular. I got here away from that recreation pondering this is perhaps one of many best tight ends of all time,” a coordinator stated. “Everybody talks about (Michael) Mayer and the Utah child (Dalton Kincaid), and I’m like, ‘Why is nobody speaking about Bowers?’ They’ve acquired a historic tight finish room. These guys are actually particular.”
Bowers led the nationwide champs in receiving final yr as a real freshman and is doing it once more this yr, however Washington has grown right into a a lot greater function within the offense.
“They do an important job of designing stuff to get guys the ball. They’ll have some designed performs to get Bowers the ball. They usually’ll have some performs for (Washington),” one assistant stated. “He seems to be like an offensive sort out enjoying receiver. It’s ridiculous.”
Bowers was the one individual on Georgia’s offense who left a number of coaches raving, though a number of famous that quarterback Stetson Bennett will get shortchanged when individuals divvy out credit score for Georgia’s success. The phrase “particular” got here up a number of instances with reference to Bowers.
Earlier this yr, Bowers broke a 75-yard speeding landing on an end-around.
“He’s simply an unimaginable participant. I’ve by no means seen anybody do this,” an assistant stated.
One coach pointed to the absence of operating again James Prepare dinner and receiver George Pickens as two items Georgia has been unable to interchange in 2022, to the detriment of the offense.
“I don’t suppose they’ve that sort of playmaker at operating again, however Stetson has taken his recreation to a different degree,” one coordinator stated.
Added one other coordinator: “The one cause Stetson Bennett was a walk-on and why he will get undersold is as a result of he’s brief. However he could make each throw.”
Each coach who confronted Georgia preferred the Bulldogs’ possibilities to maneuver the ball on Tennessee’s protection. A number of coaches stated Tennessee’s cornerbacks are recognized for taking part in bodily and toeing the road of interference, daring officers to throw go interference flags greater than they like.
“The issues they do defensively enable them to get their offense again on the sector and never hand over a ton of factors. It’s not a bend however not break type, however they’re prepared to surrender some stuff beneath they will rally to,” one head coach stated. “They’re not going to surrender huge performs over their head. (Defensive coordinator Tim) Banks does a superb job of retaining all the things in entrance of them whereas additionally creating destructive performs.”
Tennessee ranks twentieth nationally with simply 5 performs longer than 40 yards surrendered. That’s the identical quantity as Michigan and Alabama.
The Vols have performed that whereas additionally blitzing greater than 5 rushers on 37.7 % of snaps, the very best proportion within the SEC and thirteenth nationally.
“Extra of their strain is on third-and-medium-plus, relatively than first or second downs,” one head coach stated.
This season, that has helped Tennessee produce 16 takeaways in seven video games. Solely 13 groups have extra.
However one coordinator felt Georgia’s offense was properly suited to make the most of Tennessee’s defensive entrance and exploit matchups with their tight ends.
“Georgia has the firepower and the stability on offense if they will management the sport and play complementary soccer to maintain Tennessee’s offense off the sector and let the protection recoup,” he stated. “That’s their finest solution to win the sport.”
As for Georgia’s protection, one coach noticed this yr’s group as virtually pretty much as good as final yr, but it surely has spent a lot of the primary half of the season adjusting to new faces and a brand new coordinator in Glenn Schumann.
“I don’t suppose anybody will have the ability to accumulate the extent of expertise that they had final yr, however they’ve found out what they’re good at and never good at on protection, they usually’re beginning to play to these strengths,” one coordinator stated. “Final yr, they have been extra disruptive. I imply, that they had the No. 1 general choose with (Travon) Walker, the large D-lineman (Jordan Davis). Nakobe Dean, the opposite man, went third spherical. That they had a bunch of skilled dudes. This yr, they’re much less disruptive schematically. They’re not doing as a lot this yr as final yr.”
Georgia pressures opposing passers on simply 35 % of dropbacks. That’s No. 39 nationally, down from No. 25 final yr.
“Final yr, that they had some unique stuff. They’re not as unique this yr, going out and in of funky fronts and mixing D-linemen and linebackers in twists and actions. Final yr, that they had much more unique stuff,” one assistant stated. “It is perhaps youth, and it is perhaps a brand new play caller and never wanting to place youngsters in unhealthy conditions. All play callers have completely different philosophies.”
As for why Georgia struggled towards Missouri? A number of coaches pointed to Missouri doing what Tennessee must do defensively.
“They know what you’re going to current. So you need to do various things they haven’t performed and haven’t seen or repped,” an assistant stated. “(Missouri) had performed largely base protection previous to SEC play, and as they acquired into SEC play, with Georgia as certainly one of their first video games, they did a ton of various issues in that recreation they hadn’t proven on movie. They have been bringing strain from the sector and boundary and created turnovers.”
That gave Georgia’s offense points, and the Bulldogs misplaced the turnover battle 2-0 within the recreation, too.
“Mykel Williams, they transfer him throughout and he’ll even play some linebacker. He goes inside. That’s actually spectacular as a freshman. He’s going to be the subsequent family identify on Georgia’s protection. He’s particular,” he stated. “Malaki Starks, they transfer him throughout. They’ll play him at security and transfer him to linebacker of their dime stuff. I do know they have been 5 stars, however to come back in as freshmen and be as versatile as they’re is actually spectacular. Each these guys are going to be big-time.”
Each coach agreed on the central fact about Georgia: The expertise is elite, and the Bulldogs use it in addition to any crew within the nation, even when this crew lacks the star energy of final yr’s nationwide champion.
“They play actually exhausting. They rally to the ball higher than anyone within the league. There are all the time six, seven, eight guys to the ball. They’re coached properly. They by no means appear to misfit run gaps. It’s a very good group,” one assistant stated.
One assistant believed defensive lineman Jalen Carter’s return to well being could possibly be a game-changer and argued Carter was one of the best expertise on final yr’s protection. This spring, one other SEC head coach urged Carter was one of the best participant on Georgia’s protection final season.
One other assistant stated the collective soccer IQ of Georgia’s protection jumps off the movie, suggesting the protection takes movie examine critically and, because of this, excels at anticipating what opposing offenses will do.
“Clearly, they’ve acquired unimaginable gamers and have recruited properly, however what makes them particular is that they’re extraordinarily well-coached. They’re disciplined. They don’t make errors. You see a whole lot of groups that recruit at a excessive degree, however they will’t get on the identical web page and play unselfish soccer,” a coordinator stated. “Kirby (Sensible) does an outstanding job of that. They play actually exhausting.”
So what’s going to occur after they lastly match up? No coach thought Georgia would win huge. A number of thought it will be shut. However the majority believed Tennessee would win as an underdog in Athens.
“I felt like Tennessee was going to beat Alabama. Georgia matches up with them a little bit higher, however I feel Tennessee goes to win,” an assistant stated. “Bryce Younger performed the most effective video games of his profession or else that may have been a 10-14 level win.”
Added a coordinator, “I see Tennessee successful by 7 or so.”
Each coach anticipated a high-scoring recreation.
“It could possibly be a deal the place it’s whoever has the ball final. Georgia will have the ability to transfer it constantly on Tennessee’s protection,” a coordinator stated. “I’ll say 45-42, Georgia. Simply because they’ve been there earlier than and it’s in Georgia.”
One head coach requested what the betting line was for the sport. Georgia is favored by 9 factors.
“9? Actually?” he stated, shocked. “That’s attention-grabbing. It’s going to be a heck of a matchup. I don’t know if I’d ever low cost what coach Sensible and (offensive coordinator Todd) Monken are doing over there, however I feel it might go both approach.”
(Prime photograph of Hendon Hooker, proper, and Jabari Small: Eakin Howard / Getty Photos)
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