Published September 24, 2014
Athens, GA – Athens, GA (SportsNetwork.com) - The Tennessee Volunteers will open up their SEC schedule on Saturday afternoon at Sanford Stadium in a difficult road bout against the 12th-ranked Georgia Bulldogs.
Prior to last week's bye, Tennessee had the unenviable task of traveling to Norman to take on nationally-ranked Oklahoma, where it was handed a 34-10 loss. The setback halted a promising 2-0 start for the Vols after they downed Utah State (38-7) and Arkansas State (34-19) to open the campaign.
"Our young football team's going to find out what life is in the SEC with the grind we're about ready to embark on," Tennessee coach Butch Jones said.
Georgia has a signature win on its resume already after defeating Clemson in the opener, 45-21, but it has dug itself an early hole in the SEC Eastern Division after dropping a Sept. 13 matchup with South Carolina, 38-35. The Bulldogs got back on the winning track last Saturday by easily dismissing Troy on their home field, 66-0, and they have now won 19 of their last 20 in Athens.
"Now we've got to turn our attention to conference play with Tennessee," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "It's hard to get the feeling after South Carolina out of your system quite frankly. (The win over Troy) helps a little bit, but we've got to play a conference game and get a victory to get back on track. Hopefully we'll be up for the task."
In a close all-time series, the Vols have a 21-20-2 advantage over the Bulldogs, but Georgia has won four straight meetings, including a 34-31 overtime bout in Knoxville last season.
Tennessee's offensive attack has been solid yet unspectacular through the first month of the season, as it racks up 27.3 ppg and 370.3 ypg, with those numbers plummeting after a tough matchup versus OU.
Justin Worley is completing only 58.3 percent of his passes and has tossed three interceptions, but with his struggles have come some flashes of great play, as he's throwing for 240.3 ypg and has accounted for seven touchdowns.
Jalen Hurd, a prized recruit in the offseason, has emerged as the top tailback with 48 carries for 209 yards and a score. Marlin Lane (34 carries, 137 yards, TD) is in the mix as well.
Marquez North anchors a modest receiving group with 14 receptions for 143 yards and two scores.
Defensively, the Vols have played very well in allowing only 20.0 ppg and 343.0 ypg, while holding opponents to just a 23 percent success rate on third down.
A.J. Johnson is one of the SEC's best linebackers and has proven so in the early going with 29 tackles, 3.0 TFL, an interception, a forced fumble and a blocked kick. Jalen Reeves-Maybin (25 tackles, sack) and Owen Williams (2.0 sacks) have also impressed.
Georgia had a track meet in the blowout of Troy last weekend with 547 yards (367 rushing) in a performance that helped up its season averages to 48.7 ppg (fourth in the nation) and 471.3 ypg.
Todd Gurley is one of the nation's most talented running backs and is in the midst of a Heisman-caliber campaign. He's rushed for 402 yards and four touchdowns on just 41 carries (9.8 ypc) and also ran back a 100-yard kickoff return for a score in the Clemson win.
Freshman running back Sony Michel broke out last week with 10 carries for 155 yards and three scores.
With such a prolific rushing attack, Hutson Mason is more often than not asked to simply manage the game. He throws for just 139.7 ypg, but he's completing 71.2 percent of his passes and has four touchdowns paired with zero picks.
Michael Bennett (10 receptions, 116 yards, two TDs) is the only Bulldog with double-digit receptions.
The Bulldogs' defense (19.7 ppg, 318.0 ypg) had a much-needed break last week in blanking Troy, their first shutout since beating Auburn on the road on Nov. 10, 2012, 38-0.
Amarlo Herrera is not only the unit's top tackler with 24 stops but he's also been a menace behind the line of scrimmage with 4.5 TFL, 3.0 sacks and five QB hurries. Other defensive standouts include Ramik Wilson (23 tackles, 4.0 TFL), Jordan Jenkins (16 tackles, sack, three QB hurries) and Leonard Floyd (3.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks, FF).