No. 16/19 Georgia (4-1) at Tennessee (2-3)
Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET
Neyland Stadium (102,455) • Knoxville, Tennessee
Series Record: Tied 21-21-2
Setting the table
The Vols have lost three straight games against FBS teams and have led by two possessions in all of them. Saturday’s loss to Arkansas was arguably the most deflating on the bunch. The Razorbacks entered that contest winless in the SEC on the road and 0-10 in one possession games. When the Vols jumped out to a 14-0 lead, it looked like the Razorbacks were on the ropes – but they proved to be the better team in the second half. Georgia, on the other hand, never had a chance against Alabama in a 38-10 loss. The Bulldogs trailed 24-3 at the break and were not able to consistently mount sustainable drives against the Tide. The preseason favorite to win the SEC East, Georgia trails the surprising 5-0 Gators. They need a win to stay within striking distance. Tennessee, with a trip to Alabama looming, desperately needs a victory to galvanize the fanbase, avoid a 2-5 start and keep any long shot SEC East dreams alive.
Who has the edge
When Tennessee throws…
It’s tough to gauge Georgia’s passing defense since they haven’t played any truly effective passing offenses. Statistically, they rank near the top of the SEC in yards per game (2nd – 170.8 ypg), QB rating (3rd – 109.24), completion percentage (3rd – 55.7) and touchdowns allowed (2nd – four). They held South Carolina to 84 yards through the air but Alabama was able to gouge them for a few big plays last weekend. They have been effective at limiting big plays this season (ranking fourth in the conference in plays of 10+ yards allowed) and their passing defense is certainly much better than what Arkansas brought to Knoxville last weekend. The Vols will have their chances through the air – they moved the ball through the air against Georgia the last two seasons. That said, Tennessee hasn’t been able to consistently pass the ball against quality defenses this season. The passing game has, inexplicably, taken a step back. Until the Vols prove they can beat teams through the air, it’s safe to say their opponents will have an edge when the Vols throw it. Edge: Georgia
When Tennessee runs…
The Vols averaged just 4.0 yards per carry against Arkansas last week and Georgia has been better against the run than the Razorbacks. That said, Hurd rushed for 119 yards on 24 carries last year against Georgia and he should again be able to find some success. Georgia is allowing 3.3 ypc this year – 5th in the SEC. This is the first time they’ll face Joshua Dobbs but they have had some success against mobile QBs under Jeremy Pruitt. Lorenzo Nunez got things rolling against them earlier this season but not until the game was out of hand. Tennessee needs Dobbs’ legs to be a weapon to pick up the victory. This should be a very evenly matched battle. Edge: Slightly to Tennessee
When Georgia throws…
Georgia’s passing game has been inconsistent and Tennessee’s passing defense has been, well, inconsistent. The Vols rank 13th in the SEC in passing yards allowed per game, though the bulk of those have come late in games. Bulldogs rank 9th in the SEC in passing yards per game, 3rd in yards per attempt and 5th in passer rating. Greyson Lambert will start for Georgia and Brice Ramsey will get some snaps – they went 11-for-30 and threw three interceptions in Saturday’s 38-10 loss to Alabama. Tennessee’s defense simply doesn’t compare to Alabama’s – it’s been a mixed bag for Lambert against other opponents this year. He was 11-21 for 116 yards against Vanderbilt – the Dores, statistically, have performed better than Tennessee against the pass. They’re allowing just 5.9 yards per attempt (fourth in the SEC) to Tennessee’s 6.8 yards per attempt (11th). Lambert was on fire against South Carolina – throwing for 330 yards on 24 of 25 passing. Georgia’s passing attack isn’t as bad as it looked against Alabama, but it’s not as great at it looked against South Carolina. This one is a wash. Edge: Even
When Georgia runs…
The Vols are in the midst of a punishing span of games against the SEC’s best running backs. In a three game stretch, Tennessee will face three of the SEC’s top four running backs. Alex Collins shredded the Vols for 154 yards last week and Derrick Henry awaits Tennessee after the open date. This week, the Vols get Nick Chubb – he ranks second in the SEC in rushing yards per game (149.0) and second in yards per carry (8.2). Sonny Michel is a nice compliment to Chubb and they will be able to get their yards against a Tennessee defense ranked 11th in the SEC in opponent yards per carry (4.45). Edge: Georgia
On special teams…
Dynamic returner Isaiah McKenzie is doubtful for the game with a hamstring injury. That’s a big loss for Georgia. Evan Berry, Cam Sutton and Alvin Kamara should get some chances to make some game changing plays – Georgia has struggled to bottle up returners this year. Trevor Daniel has been better than Georgia punter Collin Barber. Georgia placekicker Marshall Morgan has been more consistent than Aaron Medley this year, but overall the Vols should have an advantage in every other area of the special teams game. Edge: Tennessee
What Georgia is thinking
Our backs are against the wall after getting drubbed by Alabama last weekend. We need a victory to take some pressure off our head coach and, fortunately, Tennessee isn’t anywhere near as good as Alabama. Lambert should be able to expose Tennessee’s passing defense especially after Chubb and Co. wear the Vols down on the ground. Defensively, we have the speed to bottle up Dobbs. We have to tackle Hurd in the open field and keep Tennessee’s passing game from gashing us in the middle of the field. If we do that, we’ll get the win.
What Tennessee is thinking
We’re good enough to be 5-0. We didn’t play very well against Arkansas but still had plenty of chances to win the game – there’s no reason we won’t have multiple opportunities to win this one. The last couple of years we’ve been so close to beating Georgia. Confidence against them isn’t lacking, we just have to execute better and stay aggressive for 60 minutes. If we do that, they’re beatable. A win would certainly help ease the pain of a disappointing start to the year.
What RTI is thinking
Can the Vols finally pick up a win over one of their biggest rivals? Tennessee is winless against Florida, Georgia and Alabama since 2009, but they’ve taken Georgia to the wire all but once since then. Even under Dooley, the Vols hung with the Bulldogs. For four straight seasons, this has been a one possession game. We expect another close one on Saturday.