In this Sept. 7 photo, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray rolls out of the pocket during the Bulldogs’ game against South Carolina in Athens, Ga. (AP Photo/Atlanta Journal Constitution)
KNOXVILLE — Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray likely will become the Southeastern Conference’s all-time leader in career yards passing Saturday at Tennessee.
Tennessee will try to make sure he remembers this game for an entirely different reason.
Now that the sixth-ranked Bulldogs (3-1, 2-0) have survived a brutal September schedule with their national title hopes intact, they must avoid a letdown against a Tennessee (3-2, 0-1) team that feasts on turnovers.
Murray is 99 yards away from matching former Georgia quarterback David Greene’s SEC record of 11,528 career yards passing. He faces a Tennessee defense that has picked off 11 passes to match Virginia Tech for the most among all Football Bowl Subdivision programs.
“They’re like every SEC team we’re going to face all year,” Murray said. “Big. Fast. Big plays. They’ve shown that with 11 picks. If I’m not on my game or as accurate as I need to be, they’re going to make plays on the ball.”
Murray leads an offense that has scored at least 35 points in each of its first four games. Georgia balances Murray’s passing prowess with a rushing attack that features Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, though Gurley has a sprained left ankle that leaves his status for Saturday in doubt.
“They’re very good, one of the best offenses I’ve ever seen,” Tennessee safety Brian Randolph said. “It’s going to be a big challenge for us out there.”
The Volunteers are treating this big challenge as a big opportunity. Tennessee’s defense, with six of its starters on that side of the ball coming from Georgia high schools, should have plenty of motivation. That figure doesn’t include starting tackle Daniel McCullers, who attended Georgia Military College after going to Southeast Raleigh (N.C.) High School.
“It’s a great challenge to show what this defense (is), how far we’ve come,” Tennessee linebacker Dontavis Sapp said.
While Georgia finished the toughest portion of its schedule last week with a 44-41 victory over No. 10 LSU, Tennessee is in the midst of its own grueling stretch. The Vols have next week off before hosting No. 13 South Carolina on Oct. 19 and playing at top-ranked Alabama on Oct. 26.
Tennessee has lost 18 consecutive games against ranked opponents and is 1-24 against Top 25 teams since 2008. The Vols also have lost 11 of their last 12 October games.
But the Vols’ tradition still has the attention of Georgia coach Mark Richt, who doesn’t expect his team to overlook Tennessee after facing the likes of Clemson, South Carolina and LSU over the last month.
“You don’t ever want to let down, but we’re playing Tennessee so I don’t foresee a letdown,” Richt said. “If we were playing somebody else, you might start talking that way, but not when you play Tennessee.”
Here are five things to watch when No. 6 Georgia faces Tennessee:
RUNNING BACK CONCERNS: Both teams have health issues at running back. While Gurley is nursing a sprained ankle, Tennessee’s Marlin Lane has what has been described as a lower extremity injury. Each team could run effectively even if Gurley and Lane can’t play. Georgia’s Keith Marshall rushed for 164 yards and two touchdowns in the Bulldogs' 51-44 victory over Tennessee last year. Tennessee’s Rajion Neal is coming off a 169-yard performance in a 31-24 triumph over South Alabama.
WORRIES ABOUT WORLEY: Vols quarterback Justin Worley has thrown five interceptions in his last two games. Tennessee, a 10 ½-point underdog, won’t have a chance of pulling the upset unless Worley can avoid turnovers.
CROSSING STATE LINES: Tennessee defensive coordinator John Jancek and secondary coach Willie Martinez worked on Richt’s staff at Georgia before getting fired in December 2009. Tennessee has six defensive starters who played for Georgia high schools.
BIG-PLAY POTENTIAL: Georgia’s offense has produced 20 plays of 25-plus yards through its first four games of the season. Georgia beat Tennessee last year by capitalizing on numerous big plays. Marshall ran for touchdowns of 75 and 72 yards, and Gurley scored on a 51-yard run.
UNIQUE UNIFORMS: Tennessee will be wearing its “Smokey gray” uniforms for this game. It marks the first time UT has used an alternate uniform since it wore black jerseys for a 31-13 victory over No. 21 South Carolina on Halloween 2009. That game also marks the last time the Vols defeated a ranked opponent.
AP Sports Writer Charles Odum in Athens, Ga., contributed to this report.
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