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Preview: No. 11 Tennessee at No. 25 Georgia

Georgia Game-46

No. 11 Tennessee (4-0, 1-0 SEC) at No. 25 Georgia (3-1, 1-1 SEC)

Saturday, 3:30 pm ET

Sanford Stadium (92,746) • Athens, Ga.


Series Record: Tennessee leads 22-21-2

 Setting the table

The Vols head to Athens with a win over Florida in their pocket and a great start in the SEC East – something they haven’t experienced since 2004.

Georgia, meanwhile, got absolutely rolled by Ole Miss on Saturday, falling down 42-0 to the Rebels before ultimately losing 42-14 in the Bulldogs’ worst loss since 2011. They also may have lost star running back Nick Chubb (ankle) for this weekend’s matchup in the process.

On paper, there’s a lot to like about UT in this matchup. But Vegas has UT as just a 3.5-point favorite as of Friday morning, so don’t expect Georgia to let UT come in and have its way in this game. The Vols must prove they can handle the role of favorite, and do it on the road coming off an emotional win. If they do, they’ll be in great shape in the SEC East. If not, it could be anybody’s division.

 Who has the edge

When Tennessee throws…

Joshua Dobbs proved in the second half against Florida that he can move the ball through the air against anybody – including the Gators’ celebrated secondary. He would’ve had an even bigger game with some more help from the receivers in the first half. The Vols might not have quite the aerial attack that Ole Miss does, but the Rebels easily sliced up a mediocre Georgia secondary to the tune of 330 yards last week. That dropped UGA to 10th in the league in passing defense (243.3 ypg). Dobbs must stay consistent, and it would be helpful to not have five drops in one half, but if those things happen, UT should be able to move the ball through the air in Athens. Edge: Slightly to Tennessee

When Tennessee runs…

Both teams have been in the middle of the pack statistically in this area. Georgia does have a talented and athletic defensive front seven that works out of the Alabama-inspired 3-4 base, but consistency has been an issue for that group. The Bulldogs are seventh in the league, giving up 139 yards per game in this area. Tennessee hasn’t been nearly as dominant in the run game so far this year. Dobbs, Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara remain a formidable trio, however, that can break a big play in this area at any time. Since the Vols put up a respectable 179 yards on the ground against Florida, you have to go into this game assuming that they can move the ball via the run game against Georgia as well. Edge: Slightly to Tennessee 

When Georgia throws…

Freshman Jacob Eason could end up being an all-time great for the Bulldogs. He checks all the boxes physically, can make all the throws, and his arm must be respected. He is still a freshman, however, and the Bulldogs have really struggled to protect him as well. That can be a bad combination. The Bulldogs have given up a dozen sacks on the year, and while UT’s sack totals (5) hasn’t been impressive, the Vols did seem to find a new gear on the defensive line against the Gators. If they get that kind of pressure on Eason, he’ll have no shot. But if he gets some time, UT has also shown it is susceptible to the deep ball.  Edge: Slightly to Tennessee 

When Georgia runs…

A lot of this is contingent on if Nick Chubb plays, and if so, how effective he is. Georgia coach Kirby Smart said on Thursday night that he remans hopeful that the star back will be able to give it a go, but some that cover the program on a day-to-day basis are skeptical. Even if he doesn’t go, the Bulldogs do have  several quality options in Sony Michel, Brian Herrian and Eli Holyfield. The offensive line again comes into play here. Ever since the opener against North Carolina, that group hasn’t been able to create much space for any of the backs. Tennessee will again be without Darrin Kirkland Jr. and the status of Jalen Reeves-Maybin seems a bit shaky, so there are some concerns there too. This particular matchup could go either way. Edge: Even 

On special teams…

You have to respect Isaiah McKenzie anytime he touches the ball for the Bulldogs. But outside of that, the Bulldogs don’t have a lot going on special teams. Kicker William Ham is last in the league in field-goal accuracy (42.9%), while punter Marshall Long is second to last in punting average (39.6). The Bulldogs also can’t regularly put it through the end zone on kickoffs, so they will likely either have to sky kick it or take their chances with Evan Berry. Overall, this area sets up nicely for the Vols as long as they don’t let McKenzie make a play in the return game. Edge: Tennessee

 Best-case scenario for UT 

The Florida win propels them to a complete performance in Athens where the Vols dismantle Georgia in a similar fashion to what Ole Miss did last week. Tennessee takes a two-game edge (plus the tiebreaker) against the Bulldogs and puts itself in great position to return to Georgia in December for the SEC title game.

 Worst-case scenario for UT

The Vols, still a bit caught up on finally beating Florida, don’t come to Athens with the same mentality, while Georgia bounces back well from the Ole Miss loss. Tennessee falls down early again, but isn’t able to climb out of the hole this time, putting a ton of pressure on the Vols to win in College Station next week to keep pace in the standings.

 How we think it’ll play out

The RTI team seems to largely be in agreement that this is a game that Tennessee should win. Georgia’s struggles to protect Eason, combined with its tendency to give up big plays certainly both bode well for the Vols. But it is a week-to-week season, and it would be foolish to get too caught up in the results from last week. Both squads have played good and bad football at times this year, so it’s tough to make any assumptions in a series that has featured plenty of down-to-the-wire games the past few years.

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