Tennessee football might have right offense, quarterback to give No. 1 Georgia some trouble | Adams

John Adams
Knoxville News Sentinel

Georgia’s defense needed just one game to make a statement this season. That statement was made loud and clear in a 10-3 victory over Clemson.

Of course, we had a different view of Clemson then. Its offense had been so good for so long, you naturally would have assumed that another offensive juggernaut was about to be unleashed.

Not exactly.

Since then, five other teams have held the Tigers to 21 points or fewer. So, if you’re looking for testaments to Georgia dominant defense, Clemson isn’t worth mentioning.

Georgia’s shutout of Arkansas was more noteworthy. Holding Auburn to 10 points and Florida to seven also are more impressive than not allowing Clemson to cross your goal line. Arkansas, Auburn and Florida all were rendered helpless by the Bulldogs defense, which ranks No. 1 nationally in points allowed per game.

Tennessee, which ranks in the top 20 nationally in total offense, also might find points and yardage hard to come by Saturday against Georgia. But it will present a different type of challenge to a defense that has been wrecking opposing offenses every week.

No one should expect UT to beat Georgia. But its offense could prove more troublesome than any the Bulldogs have faced. If it does, Tennessee fans will have another reason to believe in its first-year coach Josh Heupel.

Conventional offenses have made little headway against the Bulldogs. But there’s nothing conventional about Heupel’s offense. His up-tempo attack has tormented weaker SEC opponents like Missouri, South Carolina and Kentucky. It also has created difficulty for more talented teams.

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Take Alabama, for example. I can’t remember the last time I saw coach Nick Saban as angry on the sideline as he was after Tennessee capitalized on pass-coverage breakdowns for two early touchdowns.

The Tide overcame those mishaps and eventually won going away, 52-28. But Heupel’s offense made an impression. Perhaps, it can do the same against Georgia.

The Bulldogs have better safeties than Alabama. That doesn’t mean they’re infallible, though, when facing a fast-break offense like Tennessee’s.

I’m also curious as to how effective UT quarterback Hendon Hooker can be against Georgia. He's one of the nation's most efficient passers and is a running threat as well.

Georgia hasn’t played against a better quarterback this season.

Auburn’s Bo Nix, another dual-threat quarterback, struggled terribly against the Bulldogs. He completed 21 of 38 passes for 217 yards and threw an interception. And although Nix can scramble as well as just about anyone in college football, he often couldn’t get back to the line of scrimmage against Georgia. He finished with minus-16 yards rushing.

Arkansas’ K. J. Jefferson, another quarterback who has had success running and throwing, couldn’t make a dent in Georgia’s defense. He completed 8 of 13 passes for only 65 yards. He also carried the ball eight times for a mere 5 yards.

Contrast that with his play in victories over Texas and Texas A&M. He had a combined 123 yards rushing on 18 carries and completed 21 of 34 passes for 350 yards.

However, Hooker has been more efficient and consistent than either Nix or Jefferson. He was never more efficient than in last week's 45-42 victory against Kentucky when he completed 15 of 20 passes for 316 yards and four touchdowns.

And he might be surprisingly successful against the nation’s No. 1 defense.

John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached at 865-342-6284 or john.adams@knoxnews.com. Follow him at: twitter.com/johnadamskns.