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2015 Opponent Look Ahead: Georgia

Georgia Game-39

Tennessee vs. Georgia

When: Saturday, Oct. 10, 2015

Where: Knoxville, Tenn. (Neyland Stadium)

Early line: Pick’em (per Golden Nugget)

Georgia at a glance:

Head coach: Mark Richt (136-48 in 14 years at Georgia)

Conference: SEC

All-time record: 778–410–54

2014 results: 10-3 (6-2 SEC); Beat Louisville 37-14 in the Belk Bowl

Returning starters: 12: 6 (offense), 6 (defense)

2014 overview: 

The 2014 season was a little bit like Mark Richt’s career at Georgia. It was impressive overall, but there were a few, “What was that?” moments thrown in as well.

The Bulldogs started out strong, throttling Clemson in the opener, looking like one of the best teams in the nation in the process. But after a week off, the Bulldogs didn’t fare as well in their SEC opener, falling 38-35 to South Carolina in what was thought to be a critical SEC East matchup, but really what turned out to be a pretty unexplainable loss, given SC’s struggles the rest of the season.

After a tight win over Tennessee in Athens a couple weeks later, the Bulldogs seemed to hit their stride with convincing wins over Vanderbilt, Missouri and Arkansas. That 34-0 thumping at Mizzou might’ve been their best performance of the season, especially considering the Bulldogs lost star running back Todd Gurley to suspension shortly before making the trip.

Nick Chubb (1,594, 14 TDs) emerged as one of the best freshmen backs in the nation after Gurley’s suspension, and his work would prove critical, especially once Gurley returned, but then quickly had his season, and his UGA career, ended with a knee injury.

The second head-scratching loss came against a struggling Florida squad on Nov. 1 in a game the Gators really controlled throughout on their way to a surprising 38-20 win. UGA, despite blowing out Missouri in the prior game, loss control of its own destiny in the East, and though the Bulldogs rallied for conference wins over Kentucky and Auburn to finish with a 6-2 SEC mark, the 7-1 Missouri Tigers claimed the East title and the trip to Atlanta that many thought the Bulldogs would ultimately secure.

A convincing win over Louisville in the Belk Bowl helped ease the sting of a surprising regular-season finale loss to in-state rival Georgia Tech, but the season, overall, left many Georgia fans thinking about what could’ve been.

Three early questions for the 2015 matchup:

1. Can Tennessee contain Nick Chubb and the UGA rushing attack?

Georgia has other talented backs, but this game ultimately could come down to if the Vols can contain Chubb, who might be the most talented player on UT’s schedule. Tennessee did a pretty good job containing him in his more limited capacity last year (11 carries, 32 yards), but that was before he hit his stride as UGA’s featured back and one of the best players in the country. Georgia, overall, gashed Tennessee on the ground last year with 289 yards and three touchdowns. If anything like that happens again, it will be tough for UT to pull out this crucial East matchup.

2. Whose pass rush affects the game the most?

Both teams have players who can really get after the quarterback and be disruptive. Georgia, which should be more comfortable in year two of defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt’s 3-4 scheme, has at least three potentially elite pass rushers in Leonard Floyd, Jordan Jenkins and Lorenzo Carter. Tennessee gave up three sacks last year in this matchup, and though Joshua Dobbs should help in evading the pass rush, the Vols need to do a better job protecting the QB. Tennessee, however, has an elite duo itself in Derek Barnett and Curt Maggitt. Georgia is strong at offensive tackle, but Barnett and Maggitt showed that they can get to the QB against virtually anybody in 2014.

3. Is this the game that decides the East? 

It’s overly-simplistic to say that one game decides the East. In 2014, for example, UGA beat Missouri in what looked like a battle for the East, but falling to Florida in the next game essentially erased that. So it doesn’t come down to one game. But, if the East goes as many expects, this could be a critical matchup in determining who represents the division in Atlanta. Georgia has crossover games against Auburn and Alabama, so a loss in Knoxville could mean at least three SEC losses for the Bulldogs – and a very open East for the Vols, or somebody else, to step in and claim the crown from the favorites.

How do we expect it to play out?

Georgia’s won five straight in this one, but ever since the 41-14 waxing in 2010, every game in this series since has been decided by one score, with a couple games coming down to the very final seconds.

The Bulldogs clearly have the upper hand right now, but aren’t at the point of owning this series yet.

We’ve discussed how many of Tennessee’s games this year are toss-ups, and this one literally is, according to Vegas, with it opening as a pick’em. It’s hard to say anything too definitive about this matchup other than to expect another tight, one-possession game in a contest that could have huge implications in the East.

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