Georgia vs. Tennessee Preview: Murray vs. Bray and more


I’d like to start by pointing out that this touchdown was scored 15 feet in front of me during freshman year, and I swear Thomas Brown and I made eye contact just after he broke the last tackle.  He scored that TD for me.  I don’t even care if Georgia lost that game.

Rocky Top Talk – a Tennessee sports blog that is much more accomplished than the site you’re currently reading – described Saturday’s game in this way:

A Georgia team facing its toughest test, a Tennessee team looking to pass its first test, and two quarterbacks ready to ascend.  Who graduates on Saturday?

I’m not sure that I can whole-heartedly agree with all of those sentiments, simply because I don’t know what is true about Tennessee.  It certainly seems – at first glance particularly – that Tennessee would be Georgia’s toughest test to date, but is that accurate?  With all due respect to Tennessee, I’m just not sure how much respect is due to Tennessee.

I do respect the crap out of this guy though.

Tennessee as Georgia’s Toughest Test

I’m not sure, for instance, that hosting Tennessee is a tougher task than traveling to Missouri for the Tigers’ first ever SEC home game.  Is Tennessee better than Missouri?  Probably so.  But, there’s nothing to indicate that Tennessee is better than Missouri by a margin large enough to make up for the gap between Sanford Stadium in Athens and Columbia, Missouri.  In fact, Missouri’s “signature” win this season – a 24-20 victory over Arizona State – might be more significant than Tennessee’s win over the NC State Wolfpack.  (I think Arizona State could beat NC State any day.)  Missouri has lost two games (one at home, one on the road), both to teams ranked 7th in the country at the time and both by 21 points.  I’m not sure those losses are any worse than UT’s 17-point home loss to then 18th ranked Florida.

Tennessee moved into the top-25 earlier this year following the aforementioned win against NC State and a victory against FCS Georgia State.  Georgia State is the fourth best team in the state of Georgia (following UGA, Tech and GA Southern) if – and only if – we exclude some of the powerhouse high school teams in metro Atlanta.  Tennessee got beat down at home by Florida to promptly drop out of the top-25 before letting Akron hang around for a half in Knoxville last weekend.  From an accomplishment standpoint the only thing that separates Tennessee from Vanderbilt is a win over NC State, and the Commodores haven’t played NC State.

So, are the Volunteers really  Georgia’s toughest test so far this season?  If they are, I don’t think they are by an overwhelming margin.  What scares me about Tennessee is this: Georgia is a much, much better team than the Tennessee Volunteers, but a lot of time that doesn’t mean anything in this rivalry.  In 2007 the Bulldogs suffered a defeat to an inferior Tennessee team and that loss came back to haunt Matthew Stafford and company as it essentially eliminated the Dawgs from National Championship contention.  The next season 10th ranked Georgia played host to a Tennessee team that was outmatched and carrying a record of 2-3 (0-2 in the SEC).  Matthew Stafford had his first career 300-yard game that day and Knowshon Moreno ran for 100, but Georgia still was clinging to a fragile 6-point lead at the start of the fourth quarter.  And, to be fair but not waste time looking into it, I’m sure that Vol fans can spout off a number of times when a superior Tennessee team struggled against the Bulldogs.

Tennessee’s Need to Pass a Test

I certainly agree that Tennessee is, in fact, looking to pass its first “test.”  Derek Dooley’s squad is looking for its first “signature” (I hate that term) victory.  They’re looking for a win over a top-25 team.  They’re looking for an SEC win.  They’re looking for a win over a rival.  They’re looking for hope.  And, a win over Georgia gives them all of that.  That kind of motivation should scare Georgia a little bit.  A team scratching and clawing for respect can be a scary thing.

Fortunately for Georgia, Tennessee is very much entering the “unknown.”  When you lose 12-straight games against ranked opponents your players struggle to know how to win against good teams.  They struggle to maintain leads.  They struggle to rally from behind.  They struggle with confidence late in the game.  They struggle to execute.  Tennessee’s last win over a ranked opponent was on Halloween night of 2009. I was actually at that game as Tennessee wore their Jack-o-lantern black and puke orange uniforms.  No player that scored against South Carolina that night still plays for UT.

Like zoinks, scooby!

Tennessee’s last victory over a top-25 team on the road was against the Georgia Bulldogs.  On Octber 7, 2006.  Tyler Bray was 14 years old.  The Vols are a long way removed from that, and will need damn-near perfection to take down the Dawgs.  Or a disaster of a game from the Dawgs.

I don’t think Jarvis Jones and the (presumably) returning Alec Ogletree and Bacarri Rambo will let that happen defensively.  I know Aaron Murray won’t let that happen.

Murray vs. Bray

The latter point brings me to Rocky Top Talk’s expressed notion that this game features two quarterbacks who are “ready to ascend.”  Frankly, these two QBs are on two different levels.  Tyler “Fifty Shades of” Bray may have NFL scouts drooling with his 6-6 frame and his beer-bottle-toss, but if you’re looking for accomplishments on the collegiate level, Aaron Murray has already “ascended.”

Murray and Bray are both juniors.  Murray held a decisive advantage over Bray in passing yardage, touchdown passes and QB rating in each of those three seasons.  Bray missed significant time due to a wittle injuwy on his finga last season, but Murray has never missed a game – further evidence that Bray can ascend, but Murray has probably already made it.  Murray gets a bad rap for throwing interceptions, but are his 24 picks over 31 starts worse than Bray’s 17 INTs in 16 starts?  Mathematically, the answer is no – and I was captain of my high school math team.

Bray may boast a 300 yard per game passing, but his performance against the SEC has been much less impressive.  In his last five outing against conference foes (Florida this season and Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Florida and Georgia last season) Bray has posted the following statistics:

opp comp att yards td int rtg
UF

22

44

257

2

2

105

UK

15

38

215

1

2

85.2

Vandy

16

33

189

2

2

104.5

Georgia

18

33

251

0

0

118.4

Florida

26

48

288

3

2

116.9

 

In Murray’s last five SEC games he’s done the following:

opp comp att yards td int rtg
Vandy

18

24

250

2

0

190

Missouri

22

35

242

3

1

143.5

LSU

16

40

163

1

2

72.5

Kentucky

16

29

162

1

1

106.6

Auburn

14

18

224

4

0

255.6

 

Over that stretch an average game for Bray has the following stat line:

19.4 completions on 39.2 attempts (49.5%) for 240 yards, 1.6 TDs and 1.6 INTs.  That yields a QB rating of 106.2.

 A QB rating of 106 would currently rank 115th in the country.  No wonder Tennessee is 1-4 in those games scoring an average of 16.8 points per contest.

Murray’s average over the last five games looks like this:

17.2 of 29.2 (58.9 % completions) for 208.2 yards, 2.2 TDs and 0.8 INTs.  His QB rating is 138.2.

Georgia is 4-1 in those five games and has scored an average of 32.6 points in each game.

So, I don’t exactly buy the notion that Aaron Murray and Tyler Bray both have the opportunity to “ascend” in this game.  Murray is there, Bray is not.  And, to be clear, I’m not slighting Bray.  He may very well have a higher upside than Murray and he’s only had about half the playing time of Murray.  But let’s not compare apples to oranges here.

Bray only holds a lead on Murray in raw passing yard stats.  Why is that?  Murray just doesn’t get as many attempts as Bray with Georgia’s balanced offense.  Murray is currently hitting on 66.3% of his passes while throwing a TD every 10.4 attempts and throwing picks once every 52 attempts.  If he was given the chance to pass as often as Bray has this season, Murray’s current stat line would be:

98 of 148 for 1554 yards, 14 TDs and 3 INTs.

In other words Aaron Murray would be the nation’s leader in passing yards (by 73 yards) and in TDs (by two) if he got Tyler Bray’s reps.  He’d have thrown for 253 more yards than Bray and two more TD passes.

Prognosticationing 

Another writer for Rocky Top Talk offers a 38-31 win by Georgia prediction and the following:

Both teams figure to put up a lot of yards and a lot of points, although they probably won’t hit their high averages.

I might be naïve, but I don’t anticipate Tennessee putting up a lot of yards and a lot of points.  This will be the first game of a fully present defense for Georgia (presumably).  The Georgia defense’s only glaring hole this season has been long plays down the middle – the exact types of plays that an All-American Free Safety (Rambo) and an All-SEC middle linebacker (Ogletree) should stop.  If you take away those plays Georgia’s defense has been tremendous for a second consecutive year.

Rambo doesn’t take too kindly to fools trying to cross the middle.

Tennessee hasn’t produced over 300 yards of offense against an SEC defense since September 17th of last year when they rolled up 340 yards against Florida.  I mentioned that Bray’s offense has only scored 16.8 points per game in their last five SEC games.  Well, that’s going to happen a lot to teams who only rack up an average of 291 yards.

Georgia’s defense may not quite be at full-speed on Saturday (although I hope it is), but there’s no reason to think the Dawgs defense will ultimately (by November at the latest) end up being any less stifling than it was last year.  Last season the Vols scored 12 points against Georgia in Knoxville.  I could see a similar showing if Georgia’s defense shows up in peak form.

Is Tennessee’s offense better this year than last year?  Maybe so.  But, in the Vols first four games last season they averaged 37.75 points against an FCS opponent, a Big East squad, a MAC team and Florida.  This year the Vols are averaging 38.25 points against an eerily similar slate of an FCS opponent, an ACC squad, a MAC team and Florida.

For the first time in several years I actually fully expect Georgia to come in and take care of business this weekend against an SEC foe.  If I’m right Georgia will cover the 14-16 point spread.  If I’m wrong they’ll hold on for a close, ugly victory.  Either way, Georgia wins this game.

Editor’s Note: Please check out Rocky Top Talk.  Again, they do a phenomenal job and are probably much more knowledgeable than I am.  And, although I disagree with some of the points they made, I wouldn’t even mention them or debate them if I didn’t respect their work.

That’s all I got/

Andrew

PS: How about that Stanford upset?

About dudeyoucrazy

College Football Writer

Posted on September 28, 2012, in Blog, Georgia Bulldogs and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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