Familiarity abounds as No. 2 Georgia hosts Tennessee

Tennessee Volunteers quarterback Jarrett Guarantano (2) hurt his shoulder in last week's loss to Florida.Photo Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

ATHENS, Ga. — There’s no shortage of familiarity between the staffs of Tennessee and No. 2 Georgia.

It’s everywhere you look.

Volunteers head coach Jeremy Pruitt coached with Bulldogs boss Kirby Smart for six years at Alabama before moving, ultimately landing in Athens where he served for two years (2014-2015) as the defensive coordinator for former Georgia head coach Mark Richt.

“Kirby is a really good football coach. He is a very hard worker and focuses on the detail. He is a good coach on the field,” Pruitt said. “He is a good scheme guy, and it’s not just defensively. He is involved in special teams, and he’s involved in offense. You can see all of that in their football program.”

That’s not all.

Tennessee co-defensive coordinator Kevin Sherrer was Georgia’s outside linebackers coach for four seasons (2014-2017), while Vols defensive tackle coach Tracy Rocker worked in the same capacity at Georgia for three years (2014-2016).

You’ve also got former Georgia tight ends coach John Lilly serving as the “executive assistant” to Pruitt, with Bulldogs co-offensive coordinator Jim Chaney having worked in the same capacity at Tennessee and serving as the team’s interim head coach in the 2012 season finale.

Georgia offensive line coach Sam Pittman was the Volunteers’ offensive line coach in 2012, while Tennessee offensive line coach Will Friends served in the same capacity in Athens for four years under Richt.

Smart, however, isn’t focused on reunions when undefeated Georgia (4-0, 2-0 SEC) hosts Tennessee (2-2, 0-1) on Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET).

“We’re really concerned about us. We’ve got enough issues and holes and things we got to fix,” said Smart. “We didn’t play with the right kind of physicality in the last game and we’re certainly concerned with us.”

Georgia needed a strip and subsequent score by cornerback Tyson Campbell and a blocked punt by Eric Stokes to beat Missouri 43-29 last week in Columbia. After allowing the Tigers 172 yards rushing and four touchdowns — all on the ground — Smart’s more concerned about correcting the mistakes.

Ditto for Pruitt.

Tennessee turned the football over six times in last week’s 47-21 loss to Florida, a game that saw quarterback Jarrett Guarantano take a hit to his shoulder, forcing him from the contest in the third quarter.

“Jarrett got banged up a little bit, but I said when I first took the job that Jarrett is a tough guy. I saw him yesterday throwing balls and dropping in the indoor facility,” Pruitt said. “I think a lot of our guys are itching to get going again, which is a good thing. You always wonder how people are going to respond when you don’t play at your best. Everybody associated with Tennessee has got to be disappointed in how things turned out Saturday.

“Nobody is more disappointed than the men in this building. I think everybody involved is trying to find a way to get it right.”

Meanwhile, Smart feels his Bulldogs got away from the physical brand of ball they played in previous weeks and wants to see them get back on track against the Vols.

“Yeah, I see the physicality they’re trying to run the ball with and stop the run,” said Smart. “There’s no question they’re creating identity, and you can tell the way they’re committed to the run, and each game they’ve gone up with the number of runs they’ve had. I think that’s an important part of football. You got to be able to do that.

“We didn’t exactly do what we needed to do to stop the run last week or run the ball. Our concern is us. My concern is not Tennessee’s identity.”

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