Pass defense faces stiff test

ATHENS, Ga. -- One side will relent this weekend when Georgia's stout pass defense faces Tennessee's dynamic aerial attack.

The teams' first significant test against top-tier opposition makes it difficult to predict which side will give.

"They're going to fling it around the house, and we've got to put some pressure on him," Georgia coach Mark Richt said, referring to Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray. "Make him throw it sooner than he wants to."

Thanks to an improving pass rush, Georgia (3-2 overall, 2-1 SEC) ranks fourth in the nation and second in the SEC against the pass, allowing 151.6 yards per game. Meanwhile, Tennessee has the nation's 11th-best passing attack -- second in the SEC -- at 336.5 yards per game.

But Kellen Moore and Boise State's pass-based offense picked apart the Bulldogs' secondary in the second half of a season-opening 35-14 victory, and since then Georgia hasn't faced a strong passing team.

Likewise, Bray put up huge numbers against Tennessee's easier early opponents but was not as impressive in the Vols' 33-23 loss to Florida, which is ranked 12th nationally against the pass.

The sophomore's final line against the Gators -- 26-of-48 for 288 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions -- doesn't look too shabby, but it's a bit deceptive. Florida led 30-7 in the third quarter before it eased off the accelerator, and Bray passed for 131 of his yards and two of his touchdowns.

Before that, he had directed one touchdown drive but had three three-and-outs and two unproductive four-play drives while the Gators steamrolled to a big lead.

Tennessee (3-1, 0-1) has only that game to use as a true measuring stick, as it otherwise earned easy wins against Montana, Cincinnati and Buffalo entering this weekend's game at Neyland Stadium.

Volunteers coach Derek Dooley isn't taking anything away from his quarterback, however, complimenting Bray on his accuracy in recent performances.

"You look at his numbers -- I know we always want to find the bad in people, but he's playing good football," Dooley said at his Monday press conference.

Bray ranks seventh in the nation with 332 passing yards per game and has thrown for 14 touchdowns and two interceptions. He's also seventh nationally with a 174.44 passer rating.

Richt said the impressive statistics tell only part of the story concerning Bray.

"You can look at statistics and learn a little bit about a player, but if you watch the film, you can really tell if he's the real deal or not. And this guy is fantastic," Richt said. "He drops back, very good fundamentals, he throws the ball extremely well. It's kind of an effortless throw, very accurate throw."

Georgia has dominated against the pass in SEC play, allowing 149.3 yards per game, thanks in no small part to a productive pass rush.

Last weekend, Mississippi State's quarterbacks were a combined 19-of-33 for 157 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. Georgia also totaled a season-high five sacks in the 24-10 win.

"When they passed, they pressured the quarterback," said Georgia safety Sanders Commings, who intercepted one pass and had two more graze off his fingertips against Mississippi State. "We didn't have to cover our guys as long, because Cornelius [Washington] and Jarvis [Jones], all those guys up front, got great pressure on the quarterback."

The Bulldogs, however, will be without one of the key figures in that pass rush this weekend. Washington, the junior outside linebacker who had 3.5 sacks in Georgia's last two games, was arrested for speeding and DUI early Sunday and is suspended for the next two games.

Without him, Georgia likely will rely more heavily on tight coverage from its secondary on the Vols' receivers -- particularly Georgia native Da'Rick Rogers, the heavily recruited wideout who switched his commitment from the Bulldogs to Tennessee just before signing day in 2010.

Rogers is averaging 110.5 receiving yards per game and is tied for second in the nation with six touchdown catches.

Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham's strategy last weekend was to take away what Mississippi State did best -- run the football -- and force State to try to move the ball through the air. That's Football 101 strategy that is easier said than done, but Grantham's defenders pulled it off, holding State to 56 rushing yards after it came in averaging 218 per game.

His philosophy will no doubt be the same this weekend, but this time it will be up to Grantham's players to slow down a prolific passing game.

"It's been so impressive to see our defensive line play the way they have against the run, and now we have begun to put some pressure on people," Richt said. "We're getting some sacks and pressures and interceptions and balls that should be intercepted. If we keep that up, it's going to be tough to beat us."

David Ching covers University of Georgia sports for DawgNation. He can be reached at davidchingespn@gmail.com.