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Prediction Panel: Tennessee at No. 2 Georgia

Photo by Anne Newman/RTI

The RTI team makes their picks for the Vols’ match-up with the Florida Gators this upcoming Saturday. Managing editor Nathanael Rutherford, staff writer Ben McKee, and contributor Charley Collier all share their predictions for this Saturday’s contest.

Nathanael’s Pick

Tennessee is coming off an embarrassing loss to Florida while Georgia is coming off a 14-point win that some players said during practice this week “felt like a loss.” That type of mentality sounds a lot like Alabama, and that has to be scary to Vol fans.

Georgia has very few weaknesses, and the ones they have aren’t necessarily ones I trust Tennessee to take advantage of. Georgia’s run defense has been average at best this season so far, and they’re actually last in the SEC in both total sacks and tackles for loss. But with the way the Vols’ offensive line has been playing to start this year, I don’t expect them to really exploit those weaknesses. Especially if Jahmir Johnson can’t go for Saturday and UT has to start either Riley Locklear or K’Rojhn Calbert in his place.

The Bulldogs have the most complete offense the Vols will face this season aside from Alabama. West Virginia had an elite passing game and a pretty good run game, but the Bulldogs have an efficient passing attack and a monstrous running game. Jake Fromm has only thrown two interceptions compared to nine touchdowns, and UGA as a team has had just over half of their 67 completions go for 10 yards or more. The Bulldogs are second in the SEC in rushing yards per game, and they have four different backs who can burn defenses.

Saturday is going to be rough for the Vols. Georgia doesn’t need help to beat Tennessee, and if they Vols are careless with the ball like they were against Florida, this could get ugly in a hurry.

The way the Vols can hang around in this game is by forcing turnovers, controlling the clock, and playing clean football. But that’s exactly the same way that Georgia tries to play each game as well. Tennessee averages a time of possession of 32 minutes, 44 seconds for each game while the Bulldogs average 30 minutes, 28 seconds.

Tennessee can make this closer than I’m expecting if they block better and don’t turn it over. Unfortunately, I don’t see the first of those happening, and that could lead to the second one being an issue too.

Pick: Georgia 41-10

MVP: Elijah Holyfield, Georgia RB

Tennessee’s run defense has been a bit better this year than they were last year, but this will be their first huge test of the season. I don’t expect them to be able to pass this test, and I think Holyfield will have the bigger day of Georgia’s two main running backs.

Ben’s Pick

This is going to be a rough one to stomach, folks. Simply put, Tennessee doesn’t have the talent or depth on either side of the ball to compete with Georgia.

Unfortunately, the best Tennessee can do is settle for a moral victory. Personally, I hate moral victories and participation trophies, but this weekend and the following two games call for a moral victory. After what Tennessee fans experienced last weekend against Florida, they need to see hope this weekend in any form or fashion.

Personally, I want to see Tennessee be as crisp as possible. Georgia will cause Tennessee to be sloppy at times, but I don’t want to see any unforced errors from the Vols. After turning it over six times against Florida — not including a safety which is a form of turnover — I don’t want to see any turnovers. I also don’t want to see any silly penalties from a lack of focus. Just play clean football and make Georgia beat you man-for-man. I need to see Tennessee compete.

Offensively, I think Tennessee struggles to run the football and protect Guarantano. Georgia’s defense is fast, tenacious, and aggressive. It’ll be too much for the Vols’ struggling offensive line to handle.

Defensively, Tennessee has struggled to put pressure on the quarterback this season, and that’ll really hurt the Vols on Saturday. Georgia’s strong running game, star quarterback, elite receivers, and beefed-up offensive line will be hard for Tennessee’s defense to slow down.

The match-ups just don’t favor Tennessee whatsoever. From a fan perspective, the Vols just need to show signs of life and hope.

Pick: Georgia, 48-6

MVP: Mecole Hardman, Georgia WR

Mecole Hardman has gotten off to a phenomenal start this season, playing his way into the Heisman conversation. Against Tennessee, he’ll have the opportunity to pad the stats in hopes of really kick-starting his Heisman campaign. The Vols’ pass-rush has been non-existent this season, and as a result, Tennessee’s young defensive backs have been left on an island. Against an electric athlete like Hardman, the last thing you want is Alontae Taylor or Bryce Thompson having to cover him for four-to-five seconds. It’s a disaster waiting to happen. I expect for Hardman to get loose a couple of times on Saturday.

Charley’s Pick

The Tennessee football team and their fans alike certainly can’t wait for this one to start, as everyone is trying to move past an embarrassing loss to Florida. Unfortunately, going on the road to face one of the top teams in the country is no easy task. However, I expect this one to actually be closer than the one against Florida.  

Offensively, Tennessee has a lot of work to do, and there is no easy fix for the offensive line that, quite frankly, just isn’t very good right now. The Vols have to find a way to get the ball in the hands of their play-makers and give them a chance despite sub-par blocking. This is no easy task for offensive coordinator Tyson Helton. He will have to get creative to find space against an athletic Georgia defense. Tennessee wants to have an identity as a physical, running football team, but they currently just don’t have the personnel to accomplish that. They may need to make the decision to abandon this gameplan for the time being in order to find success.

The Vols need to utilize the quick passing game and get the ball in the hands of a talented group of receivers. It also helps to get the ball out of Guarantano’s hands quicker in order for him to avoid taking an abundance of hits. In the run game, it could help to run a good bit of misdirection to try and challenge the eye discipline of the Georgia defense. It probably wouldn’t hurt to implement some designed runs with Gurantano as well. Whether Helton actually decides to do any of this will remain to be seen, but that is how I think Tennessee can best attack Georgia.

On the bright side for Tennessee, a highly regarded Bulldog pass rush has been quietly underwhelming to this point in the season. After games against Austin Peay, MTSU, and South Carolina, Georgia had recorded just one sack. Last week, they sacked Missouri twice, but the Tigers also dropped back to pass over 50 times. It’s fair to assume that the Vols may have some time to throw the ball despite their horrendous offensive line. More importantly, they have to protect the football. Georgia was able to capitalize last week off of several turnovers in a game they could have fairly easily lost. Tennessee can’t afford to give them extra possessions.

Defensively, Tennessee really didn’t play a bad game against Florida. They fought hard, and eventually they just ran out of effort. It didn’t help that Florida seemed to take over in plus territory all night. They will need that same effort this Saturday to compete with Georgia. The Bulldogs have a pretty balanced attack, and they can beat you on the ground or through the air. Jake Fromm is an overrated quarterback, in my opinion. He is a smart and efficient player, but he benefits a lot from the scheme and the talent around him. Last week, Missouri was able to apply pressure and make him uncomfortable, and he ended up a pedestrian 13-23 for 260 yards. Tennessee needs to try and do the same thing, and their pass rush did look a little better last week. The Vols are going to have to play a lot of snaps, and it will be a very physical game. They have to find a way to force a turnover or two in this one.

Tennessee’s special teams has to be on their game on Saturday. Georgia has one of the best special teams units in the country, highlighted by return man Mecole Hardman. Hardman is averaging an insane 29.5 yards per punt return and 30 yards per kick return. They will have to limit him Saturday as they can’t afford to give up any field position.

Let’s be honest, the Vols’ chances at winning this thing can best be described as “unlikely.” I do, however, expect this team to come out with some fire early to play a good football team. They have had a good week of practice and will be eager to make up for a poor performance Saturday. This one could be close for a quarter, and it won’t really feel like a blowout at any point.

Pick: Georgia 38-17

MVP: Alexis Johnson, Tennessee DT

I really feel like he has been playing well lately, and he has a chance to have a big game on Saturday. He is going to rack up a pair of sacks and six total tackles in a loss this weekend. Hopefully he can continue to be a bright spot this season. 

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