No. 1 Tennessee vs. No. 3 Georgia — what more can you ask for? The best offense in the country will face the most talented defense in the country, creating quite the battle of strengths on Saturday afternoon.
Also a battle of strengths? The coaching matchup. Josh Heupel’s spread-tempo attack faces Kirby Smart’s loaded defense with the SEC East on the line.
Smart isn’t a stranger to Heupel’s attack, seeing it at two previous stops (Missouri and Oklahoma). He also successfully halted the Tennessee attack last year in Knoxville. However, as we’ve seen, another year together in the system has done wonders for this entire team, and the Vols are banging on all cylinders coming into this one.
“Speed, space, scheme, talented arm,” Smart said on Thursday. “You know, you can have the best receivers in the world, and they get open all the time, if you don’t have somebody that can get it to them — they have somebody that can protect them and get it to him. They do a good job of that. Again, that’s the challenge for us this week.”
Hendon Hooker has gone from Virginia Tech outcast to the Heisman favorite. He’s gone toe to toe with Bryce Young, and absolutely smashed Kentucky and LSU. Next up? The best defense he’s seen all year long, perhaps the best in the country.
Heupel and Hooker will keep on keeping on, utilizing those wide splits and tempo to strain the Georgia defense.
“It pulls you away from the box,” Smart said of the receiver splits. “There’s no half in, half out. You’re either all in or you’re all out. It doesn’t allow you to hide or disguise things. It makes you play. It’s been that way for a long time now. He did some of the same things while at Missouri when he was there.”
That width opens things up for the rushing attack — and if you key in on that Hooker can beat you on the perimeter with Jalin Hyatt, Cedric Tillman or Bru McCoy. It’s been an impossible offense to defend at this point.
“It’s very unique and they have a plan of attack based on how you’re going to play them,” Smart said. “It’s not like they haven’t seen — you’re not going to trick them. You’re not going to show them something they haven’t seen. You got to do what you do better than they do. And they’re really good at what they do.”
Tennessee is averaging nearly 50 points per game, putting up 553 yards of offense per game. Interestingly enough, Georgia is actually the second ranked offense in the country, doing it in a completely different way. The Bulldogs’ pro-style attack will test what has proved to be a very strong Tennessee front seven.
Similar to Kentucky last week, the Bulldogs like to control the ball and rack up first downs. Georgia ranks fourth in the nation in time of possession, while Tennessee obviously ranks near the bottom because of tempo.
Both styles are working, and those styles will clash in a big way on Saturday.
“We’re going to find out on Saturday if we’re in shape or not,” Smart said. “I can promise you that because they’re going to try and get a lot of snaps in.”
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