Tennessee fans will witness a quarterback controversy all too familiar this weekend as Georgia continues to search for a top dog on Saturday. Except this season, the offensive frustration is on Georgia’s sideline instead of the Volunteers’.
Senior quarterback Joe Tereshinski was penciled in as DJ Shockley’s replacement this season. However, his injury during the Bulldogs’ second game against South Carolina forced coach Mark Richt to play two inexperienced and young quarterbacks, true freshman Matthew Stafford and redshirt freshman Joe Cox.
Stafford took the offensive reins from Tereshinski in the South Carolina game, but his poor start against Colorado sent him to the bench. Stafford has rebounded since then and seems to be a leg ahead of Cox. Stafford has seen the most action this season, but he has failed to find consistency. He has launched three interceptions compared to just one touchdown in only 75 attempts.
Cox’s strong second half brought Georgia back from a 13-0 deficit. His 154 passing yards and two touchdowns salvaged Georgia from losing to a Colorado team that lost earlier this season to Division I-AA Montana Sate.
However, Cox played inconsistently in Georgia’s next game against Ole Miss, only throwing 24 total yards after splitting time with Stafford.
Richt has come out and said that Tereshinski will be his starter against the Vols, with Stafford being the backup, but Richt may have Tereshinski on a short leash.
“Who knows what can happen by the end of the game? I am going to try and stop figuring everything out, but I am very comfortable and confident with Joe,” Richt said.
Coach Phillip Fulmer does not believe that preparing for three potential Bulldog quarterbacks will be as challenging as Georgia’s quarterback preparations have been in the past.
“The upside for us is that they’re all dropback kind of pocket guys. They aren’t extremely different,” Fulmer said. “With guys like Shockley and Greene, there was a lot of difference and created problems defending them. They all have their unique styles and abilities, but they’re not different. One isn’t running around everywhere causing problems.”
Georgia’s offense has struggled in its last two games accounting for only 28 points against Colorado and Ole Miss, but in both games, the defense came up big.
Combined, all three quarterbacks have thrown four touchdown passes and have only completed 50.4 percent of their passes. To put it in perspective, Georgia has averaged 163.6 yards a game through the air which ranks them 90th in Division I-A football behind the likes of Duke who has only scored 13 total points this season.
Fulmer admitted that his defense may see a heavy dose of Georgia’s running game to take pressure off of the unproven quarterbacks.
“They have (had) outstanding running backs for a long time. It seems like the same guys have been there for a long time,” Fulmer said.
Regardless of who is under center for the Bulldogs, they will be facing a staunch Tennessee defense coming off a near shut-out performance against Memphis. Tennessee has collected 10 quarterback sacks and five interceptions in the season.
The Vols have no room for error as they travel “between the hedges” because a loss will surely knock them out of the SEC East race. The winner of this game for the past four years has gone on to play in the SEC Championship. Also, the road team has won the last three showdowns in stunning fashion, as both Tennessee and Georgia fans can attest to.
Tennessee travels south with more fire power than General Sherman when they look to scorch the Bulldogs’ defense. So far this season, Erik Ainge has been everything he was not in 2005. Continuing to throw the ball with confidence and consistency will be crucial. Ainge currently has the fifth overall passer rating in Division I-A at 179.91 as he averaged 278 yards per game.
A huge reason for Ainge’s success has been his ability to connect with the nation’s top receiving duo. Wide receivers Robert Meachem and Jayson Swain have combined for 955 yards and 10 touchdowns this season. Meachem leads the SEC in receiving yards per game and ranks third in the nation, with 115 yards a game.
“Tennessee is very impressive. Their quarterback (Ainge) is very smart with the ball in his hands, and their receivers do a good job of picking up yards after the catch,” Georgia cornerback Phil Oliver said.
The Vols will have to play smart on both sides of the ball to beat Georgia. The Bulldogs’ slumps in the past two weeks resemble a team more similar to a ticking time bomb than a dud. Tennessee just hopes that they do not blow up this weekend.