Georgia native A.J. Johnson got burned by Chris Rainey in Gainesville, but forced a fumble on the next drive. Can he avoid mistakes and make more big plays against the Bulldogs?
It's long been true that Tennessee's success as a program is heavily reliant on their ability to recruit Georgia. From Jamal Lewis to Eric Berry, the Vols have taken elite talents from the Peach State and made them their own.
So yeah, we all know Tyler Bray is going to lead the way for the Vols. But here are four Georgians who can make a huge impact against the Bulldogs, making victory that much sweeter and defeat that much more bitter. The Vols will continue to place a heavy burden on the shoulders of players from our neighbors to the south - not all may have been won in recruiting battles directly against the Bulldogs, but hopefully tomorrow all four will make Georgia fans say, "Why isn't that guy playing for us?"
Tauren Poole - Toccoa, GA
The only way we'll be going back to the "Will Tennessee throw it 50 times per game?" conversation after Saturday will be if the Vols try to run and fail miserably.
What do we believe about Tauren Poole? He's put together eight 100+ yard games in seventeen starts, including big games against Oregon, LSU, and Alabama last season. But a nagging sense of inconsistency - real or imagined - seems to keep following him around. He's been overshadowed, and rightfully so, by Bray and the passing game. But most of us believe Tennessee really, really needs him to make the offense go; Bray will never be as good as he could be if the run game isn't a factor.
What do we believe about Georgia's run defense? Poole had 15 carries for 51 yards in Athens last year, but the game got out of hand too quickly for him to really be a factor. This time around, are they the defense that gave up 27 for 176 to Marcus Lattimore? Or are they the defense that smothered Mississippi State, 34 carries for 56 yards?
If Tennessee is going to have a real presence in the running game, the time is absolutely now. And Tauren Poole is absolutely the guy who needs to get it done against his home state.
Da'Rick Rogers - Calhoun, GA
The one most likely to make the Dawgs sorry on Saturday, because he's the one Derek Dooley stole from Georgia in the first three weeks of his employment at the University of Tennessee.
Rogers is a great player. We're about to find out just how great he can be: what can #21 do when a team with a good secondary makes it their business to take him away?
The fact that Georgia is second in the SEC in pass defense is partly a product of having played Coastal Carolina and the Mississippis the last three weeks. A potentially helpful comparison: Alshon Jeffery is by far the number one option for South Carolina, pulling in almost a third of their receptions and almost forty percent of their yards. He had 5 catches for 85 yards and a touchdown against the Dawgs in a game where the rest of the team combined for 6 catches for 57 yards. Thanks to some defensive and special teams magic, it was enough for Carolina.
I think Tyler Bray will make up some of the difference here, and find ways to hurt Georgia's secondary no matter how it chooses to play Da'Rick. Can the Vols beat Georgia if the Dawgs double Rogers all day and Bray has to rely on everyone else? Maybe. But Rogers will be a factor either way - maybe it'll just be by drawing attention with his presence. But we could see the most special performance yet from the Calhoun native - the Vols have never needed him to be bigger.
A.J. Johnson - Gainesville, GA
Gainesville is just northwest of Athens, and yet the Dawgs never really appeared to be in on Johnson; his final decision came down to Tennessee and the other Gainesville. He was too highly sought after to have any sort of anger toward the Bulldogs, I'd think...but you never know.
As you'd hope, Tennessee's top three tacklers are their three starting linebackers. Johnson and Curt Maggitt have been thrown into the fire since day one, but we're just now coming to the portion of the schedule where we get to see what they can do against a more normal offense.
Here's the number one thing they have to do on Saturday: tackle Isaiah Crowell.
Hopefully now into October and against a pro style offense, lining up correctly will come easier than it was against Cincinnati, Florida, and Buffalo, where miscues before the snap cost the Vols touchdowns. But even if you're in the right spot, Crowell is so good at changing pace and direction, many a more experienced linebacker has been left grasping for air already this year.
What could this Tennessee defense do if it didn't give up the one long touchdown every game? No better time to start getting the answer than Saturday. If you get your hands on Crowell, don't let him get away. Johnson should be good enough to atone for his mistake with Chris Rainey at Florida, and make some positive plays in big games for us going forward.
Brian Randolph - Marietta, GA
An early UT commitment in the class of 2011, Randolph is just one of several Georgia bodies the Vols could field in the secondary - Brent Brewer and Justin Coleman, among others - but Randolph is becoming the freshman that plays most in the defensive backfield. That's handy, because Georgia will rely on freshmen wide receivers heavily in the passing game.
Randolph had three tackles against Buffalo and continues to be part of the equation as UT tries to find its best combination in the secondary. Prentiss Waggner and Brent Brewer are going to play, and Marsalis Teague continues to hold down his corner role. But if Randolph can continue to come on at safety, the Vols may be able to get Waggner over the corner again. Can he lock down more playing time starting on Saturday...and join all the rest of these guys in helping the Vols beat Georgia?