Tennessee at Georgia
When: Saturday, Oct. 1, Time TBA
Where: Athens, GA (Sanford Stadium)
Georgia at a glance
Head coach: Kirby Smart (0-0)
All-time record: 787–413–54
2015 results: 10-3 (5-3); Beat Penn State 24-17 in TaxSlayer Bowl
Record against Tennessee: 21-22-2; Last meeting was a 38-31 victory for UT in 2015
One might think a 10-3 overall record with losses to the divisional champions, the national champion, and a solid Tennessee team would be a pretty good season, right? Apparently not.
Now, obviously a lot more than just season record went in to the firing of former head coach Mark Richt, but it’s still weird to look at on paper. Georgia lost star running back Nick Chubb for the season against Tennessee last year and was forced to rely solely on Sony Michel – who proved to be perfectly capable of holding down the fort with over 1,100 rushing yards and 11 total touchdowns on the year.
The Bulldogs struggled heavily at the quarterback position last season as none of the options ever really seemed to find consistency. Even with future NFL draft pick Malcolm Mitchell at wide receiver, the offense never gained full steam. And although the team finished the year with a nice win over Penn State in the Tax Slayer Bowl, the two-time SEC Champion and Coach of the Year Mark Richt was let go, to be replaced by then Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart.
Three questions for this game:
1. Who will be the starting quarterback?
This question will be asked every week for Georgia until they settle on one guy. Greyson Lambert had moments of success last season for the Bulldogs, but was overall inconsistent. And incoming freshman Jacob Eason was rated the number-one quarterback in the country by multiple recruiting services, and will definitely challenge Lambert for the job. My gut tells me that Lambert will at least start the season at quarterback because of his experience alone. But if he starts to slip, Eason will be anxiously waiting for his number to be called.
2. Will Tennessee be able to slow down Georgia’s running attack?
If there is one thing Georgia has been able to do very well in recent years, it’s run the ball. And with Nick Chubb returning from injury and Sony Michel still at his side, they make up one of the best running back duos in the country. Bob Shoop has already said no one will be able to run the football on them, and this game will be their first real test of that in 2016. If Tennessee can find a way to slow down Chubb and Michel, forcing the Bulldogs to rely more on their quarterback, it could be a good sign for the Vols. Otherwise this game will be a lot tougher than Tennessee fans hope for.
3. Who will have the better defense?
Just as much as Bob Shoop is a defensive mastermind, Kirby Smart is every bit as intelligent on that side of the ball. After all, his defenses at Alabama never lost to Tennessee in his eight years as defensive coordinator there. In fact, the Vols put up more than 10 points just three times against Kirby Smart-led defenses. Obviously one thing to factor in is the sheer amount of talent and depth Smart had at Alabama which takes a little bit of a hit moving to Athens. It will be a true battle of the defensive masterminds in this one, and the better defense could determine the outcome of this game.
How do we expect it to play out?
I see this game as very similar to the Florida game in that, both teams’ strength will be their defense and both will likely have inexperience at quarterback – especially if Eason earns the starting job for Georgia. The biggest difference here is the Bulldogs’ running game. Sony Michel and Nick Chubb are for real. Even if Chubb returns from his injury at just some of what he used to be, he is still better than most of the running backs in college football.
As for trap games, if Tennessee comes out of the Florida game with a win, the Vols would likely be 4-0 going in to Athens with sky-high confidence – which could be a good thing, or a bad thing. Obviously you want your team to finally “learn how to win” as Butch Jones says, but you also don’t want them to lose their edge or get too cocky. Make no mistake about it, this Georgia team is good. And Kirby Smart has all the makings to be a very successful head coach. After all, he just spent nearly the last decade winning championships with Nick Saban.
Home-field advantage will definitely play a part in this game and should keep it closer than Vol fans might like it to be. And even though Bob Shoop says no one will run the football on them, I think Chubb and Michel will combine for around 150-200 total rushing yards.
The X-factor for this game to me is Georgia’s quarterback situation. Whether it’s Eason or Lambert, the truth is, one is a true freshman and the other is an inconsistent transfer from Virginia. I see this one playing down to the wire like last season, but ultimately the confidence of beating Florida the week before will help Tennessee get the victory in the end, moving to 5-0. Vols win 34-30.