Jeremy Pruitt wasn’t ready to divulge his plans on Monday when asked how he’ll manage Tennessee’s quarterback situation when the Vols (1-3, 0-1 SEC) take on No. 3 Georgia (4-0, 1-0 SEC) this weekend. As coaches tend to be, though, Pruitt was effusive in his praise of the Bulldogs.
“It’s probably the best Georgia team that I can ever remember at this point in time in the season,” Pruitt said of this year’s Bulldog team. “Very complete on both sides of the ball and in the kicking game.”
Just like Tennessee, the Bulldogs had this past weekend off following an impressive win over then-No. 9 Notre Dame. Though Georgia squeaked out the win over the Fighting Irish, Kirby Smart’s squad was impressive on both sides of the ball.
Georgia entered the season ranked No. 3 in the country following a disappointing performance in last year’s SEC Championship Game. After a 30-6 win over Vanderbilt, a 63-17 win over Murray State, a 55-0 win over Arkansas State, and a 23-17 win over the Fighting Irish, the Bulldogs enter Week 6 still ranked as the third-best team in the country, receiving four first-place votes in the latest AP Poll this week.
“It starts with Jake Fromm,” Pruitt said of Georgia’s quarterback. “To me, he does as good a job as anybody in the country — and maybe as anybody I’ve ever coached against — as far as keeping their offense in positive situations. He takes care of the football, gets the ball out of his hand, controls protection, keeps them in positive run plays.
Fromm is completing 75.6 percent of his passes and has tossed the football for 788 yards and six touchdowns this season. The junior has yet to throw an interception this year, and one of the reasons he has been able to be so effective is because of the big uglies that keep him clean up front.
With six or seven players who are capable of starting, the Bulldogs have arguably the most talented offensive line in the country. That group hasn’t allowed Fromm to be sacked yet this season. Not only is offensive line coach Sam Pittman’s group able to keep Fromm clean, but they’ve helped Georgia’s stable of running backs rush for an SEC-best 253 yards per game.
“(D’Andre) Swift is as good as anybody in the country, a guy who can make you miss, catch a ball out of the backfield, got home-run ability,” Pruitt said. “Brian Herrien, he’s another guy that’s played a lot of football there.”
Then you look at Georgia’s wide receivers, a group that was the perceived weakness on the offensive side of the ball because of inexperience. But Miami transfer Lawrence Cager and Cal transfer Demetrius Robinson are tied for the team-lead in catches with 10. In addition, freshmen George Pickens and Dominick Blaylock have burst onto the scene.
“They’ve had to replace a lot of guys, but they’ve replaced them with a couple of transfers and some guys that they’ve kind of grown in their program there that are big, tall, athletic, and can create explosive plays,” Pruitt explained. “They’re balanced, so we’ve got to be able to stop the run, got to get off the field on third down, got to find a way to create some turnovers.”
Smart’s defense is just as talented as UGA’s offense on paper. It’s a defense that is allowing just 262.5 yards per game, the second-fewest in the SEC. Opponents are rushing for just 57 yards per game against the Bulldogs — the lowest total in the SEC — and scoring just 10 points per game — the second-fewest in the conference.
Despite losing key pieces off of a defense that led the Bulldogs to being a championship contender the past two seasons, Smart and his staff have simply reloaded with talented pass-rushers this past signing class.
“They’ve got lots of depth up front,” Pruitt stated. “They’re big, physical. They’ve done a nice job stopping the run — haven’t allowed a rushing touchdown this season. Creating much more negative plays probably than they have in the past. And they’ve had a few injuries in the secondary, but they have depth back there and have done a really nice job.”
Smart and Pruitt come from the same coaching tree — the Nick Saban tree. There are quite a few similarities between the two coaching staffs at Tennessee and Georgia because of that. For one, they’ve all coached together over the years. So whether it’s offensively or defensively, the schemes, checks, and game plans will be very familiar.
“I don’t think there’s a whole lot of difference in what either one of us do,” Pruitt said of himself and Smart. “Kirby’s probably been more of a 3-4 (defensive) guy. We’ve probably been more of a 4-2-5.
“I think a lot of that has to do with personnel. As a football coach, both of us, we have lots of things that we can do in our systems, so you figure out what’s best for your personnel. You look at them this year, they’ve added a lot of different wrinkles that I’ve not seen them do in the past, which makes sense.”
Smart is able to add those new wrinkles because he’s in his fourth year at Georgia. He has, and has had, players that have experience and talent in the Bulldogs program he’s helped build.
Pruitt doesn’t have that luxury, and he realizes he’s behind the eight-ball compared to where Smart started.
“The program that he took over won 20 games the previous two years,” Pruitt said when asked about how Smart was able to have so much success when he took over the job. “That helped. He had a very young football team that he inherited, you know, and he’s done a very nice job.
“All those guys that he has there, he’s recruited them there, and they’ve done a nice job evaluating talent and going and getting some of the best players in the country and coaching them up.”
At the end of the day, it comes down to blocking, tackling, executing, and taking care of the football according to Pruitt. That’s exactly what the Vols will look to do when the two programs square off on Saturday at 7 p.m. ET in Neyland Stadium.
“We’re familiar with them. They’re familiar with us,” Pruitt added. “So it’ll be about the details and intangibles of the plays.”