Athens, GA - Following a thrilling 44-41 victory over SEC Western Division rival then-No. 6 LSU on Saturday afternoon at Sanford Stadium, the No. 6 Georgia Bulldogs will look to extend their three-game win streak when they travel to Knoxville, Tenn. this Saturday to take on the Tennessee Volunteers.
Tennessee enters the game with a 3-2 record, including an 0-1 mark in SEC action. The Volunteers earned a 31-24 victory over South Alabama in their most recent outing on Saturday. Georgia brings a 3-1 record into the game, with a perfect 2-0 mark in SEC play.
“I haven’t looked at their tape yet, but I watched them play on TV a little bit against Florida,” said Georgia head coach Mark Richt on Sunday evening when referring to the game plan against Tennessee. “I just know what it’s like to go there, and I know what it’s like to play in front of a crowd that’s going to be really excited.”
Several former Georgia assistant coaches will be on the sidelines for Tennessee on Saturday. Volunteers defensive coordinator John Jancek coached the linebackers at Georgia from 2005-08 before serving as co-defensive coordinator in 2009, and Tennessee defensive backs coach Willie Martinez coached the Georgia secondary from 2001-04 before serving as defensive coordinator from 2005-09.
“I enjoy seeing those guys,” said Richt about his former assistants. “I like them very much, and I consider them good friends. We go compete. We’re looking at tape. We’re not looking at coaches’ pictures in the media guides. We’re just looking at the film trying to formulate a plan, and they’re doing the same I’m sure.”
Georgia will be looking to continue their winning ways following an extremely difficult opening stretch this season, as the Bulldogs faced three top-10 teams in their first four games.
“You kind of think in terms of your first two games of the year during your offseason, but after that, I didn’t think much about the third and fourth game of the year until they showed up,” said Richt. “We’ve just been taking them one at a time once we got through that first conference game.”
Starting tailback Todd Gurley left yesterday’s game in the first half following an injury and did not play for the rest of the game, but Richt noted that no surgery would be necessary for Gurley’s ankle injury.
“He sprained his ankle, so he’s day-to-day,” said Richt. “It’s nothing. There’s no surgery. We just have to get as much treatment as you can and get it ready as soon as you can.”
In Gurley’s absence, fellow sophomore tailback Keith Marshall stepped up to lead the Georgia run game, carrying the ball a career high 20 times for 96 yards. Richt noted the importance of the strong play of the offensive line that allowed for Marshall’s success, and he believes such quality of play will continue in a position where there’s not only depth, but also competition.
“When you sub, the coaches are communicating to everybody that guys are truly competing,” said Richt. “The more guys that play, obviously there’s more opportunity to play well enough to earn more playing time. I think it helps in that way and I think it probably keeps them a little bit fresher too. I think it’s been good for everybody. It’s good for the morale and depth and just good for the health of everybody.”
Richt stressed the importance of freshmen tailbacks J.J. Green and Brendan Douglas receiving increased repetitions in practice this week, as Gurley will most likely be limited in his practice time.
“(J.J. Green) is definitely going to have to have more carries this week, and Brendan Douglas will have to have more carries this week if we can’t get Gurley ready,” said Richt. “We just have to wait to see what’s going to happen. They’re definitely going to get more reps in practice because I don’t see Gurley going full speed Monday or Tuesday. Like I said, you just have to go day-by-day with it.”
On the defensive side of the ball, Richt noted that being able to make stops on third down will be critical to the success of this group as the season continues. While he was pleased with the play of the defense on first and second downs against the Tigers yesterday, Richt acknowledges that room for improvement remains on third down sets.
“We played very well on first and second down (yesterday),” said Richt. “I thought we stopped the run extremely well, or at least slowed it down. We got ourselves into really good situations on third down as far as the distance of what had to be gotten for a first down, but we just didn’t get the stops. A lot of their biggest plays were on third down, so we have to keep trying to get everybody in those situations, but then we’ve got to get off the field.”
Richt complimented the play of freshman outside linebacker Leonard Floyd in the game, as Floyd notched eight tackles to go along with a sack and two tackles for loss against LSU. He now owns a team-leading three sacks on the season and ranks second on the team with four tackles for loss.
“He’s done a very good job,” said Richt. “He’s very quick and has a great pass rush. He can come around the edge well, and he does a good job of showing an outside rush and slipping underneath. He’s not super strong right now. I don’t know if he’s a big bull-rushing guy right now, but if he can add some strength to his repertoire of rushes, he’s going to be even more effective. But to come in as a freshman like he is and to make some of the plays he’s made so far, it’s been great.”
Saturday’s matchup in Knoxville is set for a 3:30 p.m. kickoff and will be broadcast by CBS. Georgia claimed a 51-44 victory in Athens last season in the most recent matchup between the two teams.