AP Sports Writer
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee's defense has a knack for creating big plays, both for itself and the opposition.
One week after allowing four gains of over 30 yards in the final 18 1/2 minutes of a 37-20 loss to Florida, Tennessee gave up a 70-yard touchdown run to Quentin Hines that briefly caused the Volunteers to fall behind Akron. Yet the Vols also picked off three Akron passes to pull away for a 47-26 victory.
Tennessee's susceptibility to the big play could prove fatal Saturday at No. 5 Georgia, which has scored 40-plus points in four straight games for the first time in school history.
"That's one thing we stress in the defensive meeting room every day, preventing the big play," Tennessee cornerback Prentiss Waggner said. "That's one thing we work on."
All that work hasn't paid off the last couple of weeks.
Florida broke away from Tennessee by scoring on Trey Burton's 80-yard touchdown run and Jeff Driskel's 75-yard touchdown pass to Frankie Hammond. Tennessee also gave up runs of 45 and 33 yards to Mike Gillislee. The trend continued last week with Hines' breakaway.
The long runs are particularly troublesome for Tennessee heading into this game. Georgia's average of 6 yards per carry leads the SEC, while Tennessee has given up 4.6 yards per rush. The only SEC team yielding more yards per rush than Tennessee is Auburn, which has allowed 4.8 yards per carry.
"None of them are excusable," Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said of the long runs. "You just can't give up plays like that running the ball and expect to win."
Georgia, a two-touchdown favorite, has feasted on big plays.
The Bulldogs' offense has produced five touchdowns from at least 29 yards away in its last two games. Keith Marshall scored on a 52-yard breakaway and SEC rushing leader Todd Gurley added a 29-yard touchdown run last week in a 48-3 blowout of Vanderbilt. Gurley provided a 38-yard touchdown run in a 56-20 rout of Florida Atlantic, while Aaron Murray's two touchdown passes included a 67-yard connection with Michael Bennett and a 36-yard completion to Arthur Lynch.
Georgia set a school single-game record Sept. 15 by gaining 713 total yards against Florida Atlantic. Murray averages 10 ½ yards per pass attempt and ranks eighth nationally in passing efficiency. Gurley has rushed for 406 yards on 44 carries for an average of 9.2 yards per attempt, a figure that's caught the attention of Tennessee linebacker A.J. Johnson.
"We're going to try to stop that, so there won't be any nine yards per carry by him," Johnson said
Those numbers aren't necessarily an accurate measure of how Georgia will fare against Tennessee. Most of the big plays the Vols allowed recently came when running backs headed outside and beat the defense to the edge. Georgia generally takes a different approach.
"We haven't played a team up to now that really wants to run the ball between the tackles," Tennessee defensive end Maurice Couch said. "With Georgia, that's pretty much their offense. They want to run the ball north and south. They're not too much of a team that likes to run the ball on the outside like Florida or N.C. State. It's going to be a tough and very physical game."
Tennessee's players have emphasized that they must avoid biting on Georgia's play-action fakes, which could allow Murray to throw for a long gain. The Vols would rather showcase their own big-play ability when Georgia passes.
Akron quarterback Dalton Williams arrived at Neyland Stadium last week tied for second in the nation with 10 touchdown passes, but he threw for no touchdowns and three interceptions against the Vols. Two of his interceptions led to 10 Tennessee points.
"That's something we expect to do, get turnovers," said Tennessee safety Byron Moore, who contributed two interceptions last week. "It's nothing we're surprised about."
Tennessee has picked off eight passes this season and is one interception away from matching its total from last year. Mississippi State is the lone SEC team with more interceptions.
"We dropped three Saturday," Waggner said. "We should probably be in double digits right now."
The Vols may need to get that season total to double digits Saturday to have a shot at pulling the upset.
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