Coach Mark Richt expected his defense to endure growing pains this season.
Fortunately for the Bulldogs, the offense has more than picked up the slack. After passing another big test with a 44-41 win over LSU, Georgia (3-1, 2-0 SEC) will try to make progress defensively Saturday at Tennessee.
“Every game’s gonna be a barnburner ‘til we really get more stout on defense and continue to get our special teams in order,” Richt said.
Georgia ranks last in the SEC in scoring defense, giving up 32.5 points per game.
“Somewhere down the line, it’s gonna catch up to us if we continue to give up big points like that,” Georgia freshman cornerback Brendan Langley said.
Don’t expect that to come Saturday at Tennessee. The Volunteers (3-2, 0-1 SEC) are rebuilding under first-year coach Butch Jones. Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray should be able to feast on Tennessee’s defense, which gives up 249.8 yards per game.
Richt is concerned about Tennessee’s deep, experienced line.
“This offensive line is the best I’ve seen this year,” Richt said. “I do think they’re the class of the league and maybe the country.”
After a loss to start the season at Clemson, Georgia can’t afford any more letdowns in order to reach its goal of returning to the SEC title game. Murray doesn’t expect a letdown to happen against the Vols.
“We have a lot of momentum,” Murray said. “I think the biggest thing is that we have great leadership, and our leaders are really going to have to step up right now and make sure guys are staying focused. We’ve been practicing our tails off, just getting after it, working and training hard, staying very focused in meetings and on the field. I think that’s why we’ve been successful, because we are putting the work in right now.”
Beating the Bulldogs would be huge for Tennessee who are dealing with some loud grumbles from the fan base after escaping with a 31-24 win over South Alabama last week in a game in which the Jaguars scored 17 unanswered points in the second half.
The Vols’ quarterback position has been under particular scrutiny. With Justin Worley battling some inconsistency, many fans are clamoring for Tennessee to give one of its two freshmen — Riley Ferguson or Josh Dobbs — a shot.
Although the Vols already have played 14 true freshmen this season, don’t expect to see a rookie under center as long as Worley remains healthy.
“As much as everyone wants to see them, it’s my job and it’s my responsibility to them and to their parents and to our football program to not put them, if given that luxury, until they’re ready,” Jones said. “In our professional opinion right now they haven’t been ready. Will that change this week? It may change based on how they handle practice.”
That has been one constant, very old-school facet of the Jones administration — and one that will continue.
“Every player has an opportunity to perform on Saturday based on their performance in practice,” Jones said. “There is absolutely zero entitlement. If you don’t practice well, you are not going to play on Saturday.”