The Rocky Top Insider team makes their picks for No. 14 Tennessee’s matchup with the third-ranked Georgia Bulldogs this Saturday. Managing editor Ben McKee, as well as RTI contributors Blake Von Hagen and Noah Taylor share their predictions for the Vols’ first game of 2020.
Saturday is a golden opportunity for Tennessee’s football program. Several key recruits will have a watchful eye on No. 14 Tennessee vs. No. 3 Georgia. The game allows the Vols the opportunity to potentially do some damage on the recruiting trail, and potentially announce the program’s arrival under Jeremy Pruitt to the SEC.
I expect for the Vols to have a good showing in what looks to be a game that will be impacted by weather. There’s an 80% chance of rain in Athens on Saturday which will place a premium on the line of scrimmage. Whoever wins the battle in the trenches will win this football game. On paper, Georgia has the edge.
Tennessee’s offensive line is tremendous, but this may be the only game on the schedule this season in which the unit is considered the underdog in its respective matchup. The Vols o-line is plenty capable of wearing down Georgia’s defensive front, but the Bulldogs have been elite against the running game going on two years now.
When you look at the other side of the line of scrimmage for the Vols, it presents a major concern. Tennessee’s defensive front has allowed 4.3 yards per carry to opposing running backs this season. Georgia’s backs, on the other hand, is averaging 4.8 yards through two games behind a very talented offensive line.
Tennessee is close to catching up to Georgia, but it needs another strong recruiting class or two in the trenches to completely catch up. Particularly on the defensive side of the ball.
Pick: Georgia, 27-20
MVP: Georgia’s offensive line
Tennessee’s defensive line has struggled to generate a push this season, both against the run and against the pass. Georgia has a talented offensive line and two premier backs in Zamir White and James Cook. This matchup will be the difference in the game.
I have Georgia winning this game by multiple scores. Tennessee is off to a fantastic start this season and has built on its momentum from last year, but this is a huge step up in competition. The Vols are going to have to prove they can compete with the big boys before I am ready to predict a close game.
Last year’s spread had Georgia as a 24.5-point road favorite, which means this line has been adjusted by close to 18 points once home field advantage is accounted for. That is quite simply too large of a move. The Bulldogs are going to slow down Tennessee’s rushing attack and apply some pressure on Jarrett Guarantano. He did not do well under duress against South Carolina and this Georgia defense is much better. The Vols absolutely cannot afford to turn the ball over if they want to stay in this game. Their defensive line is going to struggle against the Bulldogs, which will be one of the key factors.
Pick: Georgia, 31-10
MVP: Georgia RB Zamir White
White is off to a fantastic start this season, averaging five yards per carry. Georgia is going to establish the run early in this game and White is the bell cow back. He had 57 yards on seven attempts against the Vols last season, which was his second-highest mark of the year.
I think Tennessee will give Georgia a better fight than Auburn did last Saturday night, but I don’t think the Vols are there yet to beat the SEC’s elite. Hang with them for more than a half? Sure, and I think this will be one of those games before the Bulldogs run game and defense wears down Tennessee in the fourth quarter.
Bulldogs quarterback Stetson Bennett could also come up with momentum-changing throws, which he flashed the ability to do so in Georgia’s 27-6 over Auburn and could be a factor against the Vols, but the potential weather may force both teams to lean heavy on their ground game. I give the Bulldogs the edge there, although Tennessee’s has proven to be a strong suit for the offense through the first two games of the season.
This will also be the Vols offense biggest test. Georgia’s defense has forced six turnovers in two games, four of which have come in the form of interceptions. Tennessee has yet to turn the ball over on offense, so hopefully for the Vols sake, those wet ball drills pay off and don’t take any momentum away in what I expect to be a low scoring game.
Pick: Georgia, 24-13
MVP: Georgia RB Zamir White