Tennessee Stat Book
Georgia stat book
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Matt Simms considers himself a pro when it comes to taking a sack. The Tennessee quarterback has a little experience having been hit with 18 of them in five games.
"I know it sounds weird, but I really think I've kind of mastered how to take a sack and just protect my body and protect the football," he said. "Really, most people would think you try to tense up and kind of ball up your muscle, but really you kind of relax and let your body go, really to be honest, and not try to brace yourself by putting your hand out or bracing the fall."
Simms knows that when your starting offensive line includes only one senior playing next to two true freshmen and two sophomores, sacks will just be a part of the game. The Volunteers (2-3, 0-2 Southeastern Conference) are giving up an average 3.8 sacks per game, ranking them 117th out of 120 FBS teams.
The young line has begun to improve lately as the freshmen and sophomores get more time on the field. The current starting lineup has started two consecutive games together, though sophomore Dallas Thomas may be out against Georgia after hurting his ankle.
Georgia's defense has struggled in its first season of a 3-4 scheme, but coach Mark Richt thinks the Bulldogs, who are averaging two sacks per game, are improving.
"We're at least to the point where they are comfortable doing it where they can really play with the speed that you need to play with," Richt said. "As you learn something, you just can't cut it loose like you do once it's yours."
Even if the Bulldogs (1-4, 0-3) can reach Simms before he releases the ball, the junior quarterback won't let it affect him or his offense too much. Sure, the Vols have given up 128 yards with 19 total sacks — an average of 6.7 yards per sack — but Simms has shown no problems popping up off the field and getting into position for the next play. He hasn't even taken an ice bath this year to soothe aches and pains.
"I kind of just believe in the natural healing process, I guess," Simms said. "This is SEC football. You're gonna get hit. Bad thing is that I'm going be on a lot of highlight reels, and I don't want to be on their highlight reels. But that's the reason why I came here, to compete against the best."
He also isn't mentally affected. One LSU defensive lineman quipped after pinning Simms to the ground early in the Tigers' 16-14 win last week that he'd be there all day. Simms quickly retorted that he'd be around all day too.
"I've never seen a quarterback be talking to a defensive lineman like that," sophomore center Darin Gooch said. "Most quarterbacks just kind of shy away like, 'I don't want to get hit by him again,' but Matt's going to take it head-on and be a tough guy about it."
Tennessee coach Derek Dooley is always worried when his quarterback is sacked. He's done the math and has found when the quarterback is sacked the chance of the team scoring during the same drive is about 13 percent.
Dooley also was encouraged by what he saw from the offensive line against LSU's defense, the best in the conference. The Vols had a few three-and-outs but put together a 71-yard scoring drive and 49-yard drive in the fourth quarter without giving up a sack.
"They didn't get affected. They didn't start screaming. They just stayed poised and they kept playing," Dooley said. "I think that's awesome. To get about 120 yards in the last two drives against the best defense in the country, it means we're staying with it. We're staying together. We're communicating. We're trying to work through it, and it just shows if you do that, over time it's going to come."
Simms statistics aren't horrible considering how much time he's spent on the ground. He's completing 56 percent of his pass attempts for an average 191.4 yards per game and has thrown six touchdowns and only three interceptions.
Still, senior wide receiver Gerald Jones knows that if the offensive line can protect Simms just a little bit longer on each passing play, the Vols passing game will become a far more serious threat.
"I said, 'If you can hold on this long, we'll do the rest,'" Jones said, holding his thumb and forefinger close together. "I think day by day they get better and better."