Aerial assault?
Erik Ainge

Posted Oct 6, 2006


Tennessee leads the Southeastern Conference in passing offense (296.2 yards per game) and passing efficiency (185.0 rating). Georgia is looking to replace three All-SEC defensive backs now playing in the NFL.

Since the strongest aspect of the Vol offense will match up against the shakiest area of the Bulldog defense, UT might put the ball in the air early and often Saturday night in Athens.

Remember: Even with the afore-mentioned All-SEC defensive backs still around, Tennessee's Rick Clausen burned Georgia for a career-high 310 passing yards in 2005.

UT offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe isn’t going to announce plans to launch an all-out assault on Georgia's secondary, even if that's what he has in mind. The fact is, he won’t even concede that Georgia’s defensive backfield is suspect, despite the loss of standout corners Tim Jennings and DeMario Minter, along with All-America safety Greg Blue, from 2005. He suggests that last year’s Bulldog backups are filling the voids nicely in 2006.

“They played a lot of those guys last year,” he says. “Paul Oliver already had played a lot, and they had other guys playing in nickel situations. They’re really not playing with anybody who hadn’t played a lot.”

Although Georgia’s defensive backs are less experienced than a year ago, Cutcliffe says they are as athletic as ever.

“They have the ability to run, they have great feet and they’re excellent tacklers,” he notes. “Everybody knows Greg Blue and the impact he had in a game but I haven’t seen any letup. Tra Battle and Kelin Johnson are both active safeties, and they’re really well coached.”

Blue’s physical style gave Tennessee all kinds of trouble last year in the ground game. He was a liability against the pass but Georgia managed to protect him most of the time.

“Greg Blue was a linebacker-sized player. His impact was obvious in the run game,” Cutcliffe recalls. “I’m sure they did a good job keeping him out of man-to-man situations. With these (2006) guys, they’re a little more interchangeable and they can play man-to-man defense.”

Georgia has allowed just 34 points in its first five games to rank No. 1 nationally. Even with a suspect secondary, that number catches your eye.

“They may well be the best defense in the country,” Cutcliffe notes. “They have no weaknesses. They’re tremendous upfront, excellent against the run. They have an experienced, fast linebacking corps.

“They’re outstanding pass rushers. Quintin Moses may be the best pass rusher in America. They have a lot of speed on defense, and they use that speed to their advantage.”

Tennessee has faced just one quality defense in its first five games, and that was in Game 3 vs. Florida. Like the Bulldogs, the Gators have some holes in their secondary but are very strong against the run. They limited the Vols to minus-11 rushing yards.

Cutcliffe says Georgia’s defense is “very similar” to Florida’s adding: “It’s a challenge. We’re going to have to help ourselves every way we can to run the football. Our inability to do that against Florida made it very difficult to play offense.”


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