Finally, SEC play has arrived. With the schedule changing from prior years it feels a little strange to start the season with Georgia instead of Florida, but that's how it goes.
Georgia's been the only good SEC East team this season (lest you think South Carolina counts, hear it from the man himself) and given the huge conference disparity this kinda counts as a big game.
Y'know, provided Bobo runs the dang ball.
RUN THE DANG BALL BOBO
So: has Georgia OC Mike Bobo run the dang ball? As it turns out, yes he has, and pretty consistently at that. I pulled Georgia's run/pass ratios for the last four years, leaving out the patsies for the most part. Here's the balance rates by year along with yards per carry and yards per pass attempt:
2011: 58% run, 4.0 YPC, 7.9 YPA
2012: 54% run, 4.9 YPC, 10.0 YPA
2013: 52% run, 4.6 YPA, 8.9 YPA
2014: 62% run, 7.7 YPC, 7.2 YPA (admittedly one of these games was Troy and small sample sizes apply)
So is Bobo running the dang ball enough? A quick glance at the passing premiums (yards per pass minus yards per carry) reveals at least reasonable premiums in the 2011-2013 range, but Georgia is all kinds of underwater this year. Some of that will change as they play more games (hopefully starting on Saturday, right?), but anecdotally this makes sense: the Bulldogs have a killer running game and a game manager QB.
So yes, Bobo should run the dang ball.
On Tennessee's side, this will be the deepest and best rushing attack the Vols have faced so far and likely will face this year (depending on your opinion of Alabama's RB stable). Their yards per carry allowed are solid enough so far, clocking in at 3.9 YPC, which is around NCAA average. Given that Tennessee's strengths lie in defending the pass (6.2 YPA, top third in the NCAA), that's another sign to run the dang ball.
So let's hope they don't run the dang ball.
TENNESSEE SUCCEEDS IF: Bobo vapor-locks and calls less than 30 runs in the game OR Tennessee keeps Georgia under 4 YPC.
TENNESSEE FAILS IF: Bobo does the smart thing and calls more than 45 runs OR Tennessee allows over 5 YPC.
THE PREDICTION: As much as I'd like for Bobo to forget what his offense is good at, it's not likely. Let's say 35ish run plays at 4.5 YPC.
BATTLE OF THE GAME MANAGER QBS
What about Huston Mason and his 7.2 YPA, though? Mason's basically a game manager, although his raw stats are still better than Justin Worley's, who clocks in with 6.0 YPA thanks to a horrendous second half at Oklahoma. Georgia's done a better job defending the run this year than the pass.
Georgia's defense has allowed 6.7 YPA, which in theory should mean free rein for Worley; the only competent passing offense the Bulldogs have faced this season is South Carolina's. So: can Worley outplay Mason in Athens?
It seems a tough task with questionable WRs on both sides (Georgia: Michael Bennett, Justin Scott-Wesley; Tennessee: Von Pearson, Josh Smith), but Tennessee's pass defense is in better shape than Georgia's. This might count for something, but Worley needs to outplay Mason for Tennessee to have any chance.
TENNESSEE SUCCEEDS IF: Well, you saw the previous paragraph right? Worley's YPA beats Mason's YPA by more than 0.8 YPA.
TENNESSEE FAILS IF: Mason's YPA beats Worley's by more than 0.5 YPA OR Worley's YPA is under 6.
THE PREDICTION: Mason's YPA beats Worley's by 0.1, 6.3 YPA to 6.2 YPA.
ANOTHER BRAND-NEW DEFENSE
On the defensive side of the ball, the theme is rebirth for both teams. Georgia picked up Jeremy Pruitt, last seen at Florida State helming a national-title-winning outfit, so pretty much nowhere to go but down, while the Hey That's Not Sal Sunseri defense at Tennessee is now two years removed from nuclear winter.
So far, Pruitt's D has been solid (2.8 YPC, 6.7 YPA, but with the usual early-season qualifiers involving strength of schedule and Clemson starting Matt Simms Cole Stoudt in game 1). This is way better than Season One Under Grantham (3.8 YPC, 7.4 YPA), but with Georgia still staring down the barrel of conference play, some of those numbers will likely backslide.
For Tennessee, it's less about avoiding 2012 (shield your eyes: 4.8 YPC, 7.6 YPA) and more about going further back in the calendar to 2011 (4.4 YPC, 6.9 YPA), then 2009 (4.2 YPC, 5.6 YPA) and eventually 2008 (2.8 YPC, 5.8 YPA, about 18,000 interceptions).
Fortunately-wait, this needs air quotes: "fortunately"-for Tennessee, their offensive composites aren't that much different than Georgia's defensive composites: 3.3 YPC, 5.9 YPA. As a result, it won't be hard for Tennessee to push Georgia's defense to their season averages, although that's ...probably not a good thing. They've got to do better.
TENNESSEE SUCCEEDS IF: Tennessee's D looks like 2009's version.
TENNESSEE FAILS IF: Tennessee's D looks like 2012's version.
THE PREDICTION: 2012's rush defense and 2008's passing defense. Nothing I see in Georgia's passing game gives me pause against Tennessee's secondary, but their running game scares me.
THE SCORE PREDICTION: 24-13 Georgia, in one of those sleepy-offense games because nobody figures out this is a 12 PM start until 1:15.