Tennessee football returns to Neyland Stadium on Saturday afternoon as they host No. 1 Georgia on Saturday afternoon. Georgia is 10-point favorites over the Vols according to ESPN Bet.
Each week, the RTI team will provide game predictions for Tennessee’s weekly matchup.
This game does not have the significance Tennessee fans would have hoped. It’s not for the East, it’s not for a 10-win season, it doesn’t even ensure Georgia won’t make the College Football Playoff if they lose.
But obviously, Josh Heupel and his players don’t care about that all too much. They care about bouncing back from a horrific showing last week in Missouri where they lost 36-7.
So much in college football is about playing with intensity and a sheer will to win. Often times, you’ll see teams struggle significantly following a big win because they are ‘hungover.’ Take Oklahoma State last week, who lost 45-3 to UCF after beating Oklahoma in Bedlam. No way that should’ve happened. They were hungover.
Additionally, when teams have nothing to lose, they play harder. That’s Tennessee this weekend against Georgia. They have nothing to lose and are going up against a team that just secured a big win.
The problem is, it doesn’t seem like Kirby Smart coached teams are ones that ever come out flat or have a hangover from the week prior.
BUT, with the line being what it is (10.5 in Georgia’s favor), it tells me Vegas is thinking similarly to how I am, and that the Vols will keep this one close in Neyland. After all, Tennessee hasn’t lost in Knoxville in two years.
Tennessee keeps this close and may even, dare I say, have the lead at halftime? But ultimately, Georgia adjusts, and I don’t know if Tennessee will be able to stop the Bulldogs’ passing attack.
Georgia pulls away in the end, and the score may not indicate how close the game was.
Prediction: Georgia 38, Tennessee 28
Alright, alright, I should have stuck to my guns and picked Missouri last weekend. I hear you. Maybe that’s impacting my decision this week, maybe not. But I do think that Georgia runs away with this one.
Let’s just cut straight to the chase. Tennessee struggled mightily against Missouri, fell apart in the second half against Alabama, and got ran over by Florida early in the game. The Vols aren’t necessarily losing close games, they’re losing one-sided games. When things start to spiral for Tennessee, it just seems like the Vols have a tough time bouncing back and mounting a comeback. Combine that with the fact that Georgia is fully healthy going into this game. Brock Bowers is back and looked perfectly effective last week. Ladd McConkey is back for the ‘Dawgs. Amarius Mims is back on the offensive line. This is a healthy Georgia team that A. hasn’t lost in 26 games, B. are peaking at the right time, and C. know how to win in November and December. Are you betting against that?
I don’t put much stock in the fact that Georgia struggled on the road against Auburn or let Vanderbilt hang around for a cup of coffee in Nashville. No, not in the slightest. This is November football, not September. Carson Beck understands what he needs to do after 10 games, as does everyone else on this team that is getting healthy for the first impactful time this season. I think Georgia gets out to a lead as Tennessee looks to do a better job of clawing their way back into the game and not letting things get out of hand.
I do think that Tennessee is certainly capable of playing a competitive game against the nation’s top-ranked team. Others have done it at times, so why not Tennessee? Joe Milton has looked better in the second half of the season than the first. Tennessee still has a pass rush that can make Carson Beck off-balanced throughout the game, possibly leading to turnovers in the Vols’ favor. The biggest thing here is that Tennessee needs a little luck and a little unconventional action to win this ball game. Winning the turnover battle, using Milton’s running ability, Dee Williams doing something major in the special team’s game, all that jazz. I also think Tennessee has the obvious added benefit of being at home with a Neyland Stadium crowd that is going to be fired up for this game. Tennessee will need every last fan to be making noise in the stadium, and with the new daylight savings time, plenty of it will be in the dark and under the lights.
Get Jaylen Wright involved, just like Squirrel White, though I’m sure both will be heavily gameplanned for by the Georgia defense. Joe Milton has to complete downfield passes and I really think the offense is more settled in when the quarterback can use his legs to his advantage. Get off the field on third down defensively, move the sticks on third down offensively. It’s the normal keys to an upset that you would expect.
Again, my biggest thing is this. Losses this season have gotten away from this Tennessee team at some point or the other. I’m not picking a win for Tennessee, but I want to see if the Vols can put together a four-quarter game, even in a loss, that’s not indicative of a one-sided game. Tennessee was close to doing that against Alabama, which was a really impressive first half showing, but fell short in the final 30 minutes of the contest. I’ve given Tennessee the benefit of the doubt several times this season but I just can’t go against the nation’s best team in November.
Prediction: Georgia 35, Tennessee 20
This week has been a constant battle of fighting the belief that the last thing we saw is not exactly who either of these teams are. Georgia throttled Ole Miss 52-17 last Saturday. Tennessee completely laid an egg at Missouri. Is Georgia the best team in the country? I think so. Is Tennessee a very flawed team? Undoubtedly. But Georgia likely isn’t going to play as well as they did a week ago and I have a very hard time seeing Tennessee playing as poorly as they did last week in Columbia.
However, there isn’t much to like about Tennessee’s chances in this one. Georgia’s passing offense has improved radically over the course of the season and with all its pass catchers healthy, looks like one of the best in the SEC. Tennessee’s pass defense has struggled the last month of the season and has been bad all season when the pass rush hasn’t gotten home. Georgia boasts the SEC’s best offensive line and they’ve protected Carson Beck well all season. On the other end, Georgia’s front seven isn’t as stout as it has been in recent seasons. But the Bulldogs have been much more vulnerable to perimeter runs than inside runs. Tennessee leans on its interior running game to move the football. With Tennessee’s passing limitations and Georgia’s stout secondary, I’m hard pressed to see how the Vols are going to move the ball through the air.
So yeah, there’s not much I like about the on field matchup for Tennessee. But the exterior factors in this game all play to Tennessee’s advantage. The Vols have been much better at home this season than on the road. Georgia’s played just two road games and didn’t play particularly well in either. Georgia has already locked up the SEC East and win-or-lose against Tennessee, the Bulldogs’ College Football Playoff hopes depend on the SEC Championship game. The Bulldogs are also coming off their two most challenging games of the season— home matchups against top 15 foes Missouri and Ole Miss. Tennessee, on the other hand, has had a disappointing season. A win over No. 1 Georgia is its last chance to save its season. I expect Tennessee to be very emotionally geared up for this game and while I doubt Georgia will be sleepwalking, I doubt they’re as locked in as they were a year ago against Tennessee.
All of that isn’t enough for me to pick Tennessee against the Bulldogs. But I’ll pick them to keep it closer than most expect.
Prediction: Georgia 35, Tennessee 27
I can certainly plot a path to victory on Saturday. It seems a lot more difficult after last weekend, but a path is there. The reality is it doesn’t get much lower than getting dunked on by Eli Drinkwitz during the post-game handshake. The Vols are playing at home though, and Tennessee is a different team at home. It is no coincidence that Tennessee has won 14 straight home games, but is 1-3 on the road this year. If you are looking for glimmers of hope then it is worth noting how little Georgia has played on the road this season. We obviously can’t count the Vanderbilt game, so the Bulldogs’ only real road game this season has been at Auburn. If Tennessee can start hot, then the crowd inside Neyland Stadium can be a factor in this game. Georgia still boasts a very solid run defense, but it is allowing over 100 yards per game and over 3.0 yards per carry for the first time since 2018. If Tennessee can stay balanced offensively, don’t be surprised to see the Vols jump out in front in this one. How would Georgia handle playing from behind on the road? Can the Vols’ stellar special teams play help in the upset bid? I am going to stop there though, because I am veering into the realm of fan fiction. Again, Tennessee can win this game on Saturday. However, for every reason to find optimism for the Vols, I can counter with multiple reasons that Georgia will simply be too much for Tennessee.
I can see Tennessee having moments of success with its ground game, but I don’t expect it to be sustained. Georgia has the speed and talent on defense to stifle Tennessee on the perimeter. The Bulldogs’ front seven may have taken a step back this season, but its secondary remains elite. That is not good news for a banged-up receiver corps who have struggled to create separation this season. All of those factors will make it very difficult for Tennessee to move the football. Joe Milton is who he is at this point. The reality is you don’t pull off an upset like this without dynamic playmaking from your quarterback. Look at Tony Robinson in 1985. Milton has nearly 20 starts across six seasons of college football. The overall results have been mixed. However, he’s never truly taken a game over for four quarters. I think that is what would have to happen on Saturday for Tennessee to win, and it is tough to imagine. The best case would be Milton replicating his first-half play in Tuscaloosa but over four quarters. I would bet Tennessee has to hit that magic number “30” to win this game. As much as we want to focus on Kirby Smart’s defense, Georgia is scoring nearly 38 points per game in conference play. The Dawgs have their best receiving corps in years, and run the ball very well with Edwards and Milton. This Tennessee defense feels like it is running low on both confidence and healthy bodies. I struggle seeing Tennessee’s back seven on defense rising to the level needed on Saturday.
I have been wrong plenty of times, including last week, but I don’t see the Vols making this a four-quarter game. I can see a late touchdown threatening the spread, but the game itself will feel out of reach by the end of the third quarter. The Vols will be ready to turn the page to 2024 after this one.
Prediction: Georgia 34, Tennessee 17