Record: 4-0 (2-0 SEC)
Head Coach: Kirby Smart, 3rd year (25-7 overall)
Location: Athens, GA
Leading Passer: Jake Fromm (So.) — 50-of-69, 739 yards, 9 TD, 2 INT
Leading Rusher: Elijah Holyfield (Jr.) — 36 carries, 290 yards, 2 TD
Leading Receiver: Mecole Hardman (Jr.) — 14 catches, 247 yards, 4 TD
Leading Tackler: Richard Lecounte III (So.) — 23 tackles, .5 TFL, I FR, 2 PD
When Tennessee faces the No. 2 Georgia Bulldogs this weekend, not only will they be facing off against their first top-5 opponent of the year, but they’ll also be making their first true road trip of the season as well. Tennessee started off the season in Charlotte for a neutral-site contest against No. 17 West Virginia, but this is the first time the Vols will be in a truly hostile road environment.
And hostile it surely will be.
The last time the Vols made the trip to Athens, Georgia, they left Bulldog fans stunned when Josh Dobbs connected with Jauan Jennings on a Hail Mary as time expired to pull out a 34-31 victory. This year, Georgia comes in as heavy favorites for this match-up, and UGA fans will be thirsty for revenge.
Georgia came into Knoxville last year and handed the Vols their worst loss in Neyland Stadium history when they beat down the hapless Volunteers 41-0. A lot of fans on both sides are expecting a somewhat similar blowout this upcoming weekend.
The Bulldogs opened up as 32.5-point favorites over Tennessee, and that line has only slightly dropped as the week has progressed. Tennessee is coming off an embarrassing 47-21 loss to Florida at home while Georgia played sloppy but still found a way to defeat Missouri 43-29 last weekend.
Tennessee’s run defense has been better this year than last season, but this game will easily be their biggest test. The Bulldogs feature a four-man rushing attack that has earned them the second-best rushing offense in the SEC. Georgia has four running backs who have totaled 100 yards on the season, and their run game is spearheaded by the combo of D’Andre Swift and Elijah Holyfield. The duo has combined to run for 480 yards and four scores on just 76 carries.
As a team, the Bulldogs are averaging 250.3 rushing yards per game, and their 6.3 yard per carry average is also second-best in the conference. Last weekend against Missouri marked the first time this season the Bulldogs failed to eclipse the 200-yard mark on the ground as a team, but they still ran for 185 yards total.
But Georgia isn’t one-dimensional on offense. They have an efficient and effective passing game too.
Sophomore Jake Fromm has looked in command in his second year at the helm of UGA’s offense. He’s completed 72.5 percent of his passes for 739 yards, nine touchdowns, and only two interceptions. As a team, the Bulldogs have the highest completion percentage in the SEC and have the second-highest team QB rating in the conference, trailing only Alabama.
Georgia hasn’t passed it much this season — only 90 times — but they’ve been very effective when they have. Of the team’s 67 completions, 34 have gone for 10 or more yards. That means over half of UGA’s completions have gone for first downs.
No matter how you look at it, Georgia’s offense will be the most complete and dangerous that UT has faced so far this season. But they aren’t just a team built on offensive firepower.
The Bulldogs’ defense has been able to disrupt opposing offenses and limit big plays. On the season, Georgia has only allowed three total plays of over 20 yards to opponents.
You read that correctly. Of the 271 plays that opponents have run on Georgia, only three have gone for over 20 yards. That’s easily the best total in the SEC and is tied for the best in all of college football. Utah has also only given up three plays of 20 or more yards this season.
Tennessee, meanwhile, has only been able to earn 20 or more yards on a play 18 times this season, good for eighth in the SEC. But only eight of those have come against the two Power Five opponents the Vols have played this season.
Not only does Georgia limit big plays, but they also have forced teams into making mistakes quite often. The Bulldogs are tied with three other SEC schools for the fourth-most turnovers forced in the conference this year with eight. Georgia came away with two takeaways against South Carolina and had a season-high three takeaways against Missouri last weekend.
But there’s one area that Georgia has been surprisingly weak in this year, and that’s been getting behind the line of scrimmage and forcing teams to move backwards.
Last year, the Bulldogs were third in the SEC in tackles for loss with 93 and sixth in sacks with 34 total. But this year, Georgia is dead last in both those categories so far. Through four games, Georgia only has three sacks and 13 tackles for loss. Senior linebacker D’Andre Walker has all three of Georgia’s sacks on the year, and he’s the only player on their roster with more than one tackle for loss so far this season.
That all could change when the Bulldogs take on Tennessee, however. The Vols have allowed six sacks and 32 tackles for loss through four games this year. The 32 tackles for loss allowed are the most in the SEC.
Georgia has more of a “bend but don’t break” defense this year rather than a “impose our will” defense like last season, though it’s been plenty effective through four games so far this season. The Bulldogs are tied for third in the conference in points allowed per game (13.3) and are third in the SEC in yards allowed per game (292.3).
In short, Georgia is just as much of a juggernaut this year as they were last season when these two teams faced-off. And the Vols will have their hands full no matter when they’re on the field on Saturday.