Vols At Georgia: Three Things To Look For

Vols At Georgia

For only the third time in SEC history, there will be a regular season conference matchup between the Number One and Number Two ranked teams in the nation. Tennessee travels to Georgia with, in the immortal words of the great John Ward, “everything, everything riding on this football game.”

As with the 1998 Arkansas game, where Ward uttered those words, both Tennessee and Georgia enter the game 8-0. The winner makes claim to the top ranking in the nation, with both teams having fairly clear paths for the remainder of the regular season. The winner controls their own destiny in the SEC East race, with Tennessee looking to claim the East Division crown for the first time since 2007. And, most importantly, the winner has the inside track to a spot in the College Football Playoff.

These two teams are on a collision course. Tennessee embarrassed Kentucky and Georgia dominated Florida last week. It’s a matchup of Tennessee’s high-powered, up-tempo offense against Georgia’s dominant defense. A game between the defending national champion and a program returning to prominence after 15 years of football purgatory.

It is, at its essence, everything we love about college football.

Vols At Georgia: Three Things To Look For

Kentucky has disappointed fans during the first half of the season, with back-to-back losses to Mississippi and South Carolina dampening the expectations in Lexington. But the Wildcats come into this game healthier than at any point this season. That includes All-SEC running back Chris Rodriguez and potential NFL first-rounder Will Levis‘ shoulder. Tennessee will face a stiff test against Kentucky, that’s for sure.

Georgia’s Intermediate Passing Attack

Brock Bowers and Darnell Washington make up the nation’s best tight end position grouping. Add in Kenny McIntosh out of the backfield, and Georgia’s intermediate passing attack is absolutely deadly. This is a matchup nightmare for Tennessee. The Vols linebackers — Jeremy Banks, Aaron Beasley, and Juwan Mitchell — are aggressive and very good against the run but continue to struggle against in pass coverage. Additionally, the Tennessee defense relies heavily on pressuring the quarterback, and Bowers and crew provide Georgia signal caller Stetson Bennett with quick options to get rid of the ball.

Tennessee will have to choose: relent on the pressure and add a linebacker in coverage or take risks on the back end and move a safety, likely Trevon Flowers, into the box dedicated to Bowers and/or McIntosh. Look for defensive coordinator Tim Banks to go with the latter — let the front four go after Bennett and take chances that the Georgia wideouts can’t beat man coverage deep. It might be feast or famine, but it’s worked so far.

What to Look For: Bowers, Washington, and McIntosh < 6 receptions (2 first down receptions) combined

Push From the Offensive Front

Without a doubt, the most underappreciated position group in college football is Tennessee’s offensive line. Even with injuries, the Vols front five has won the line of scrimmage against every opponent this season. While Hendon Hooker and the bevy of talented receivers get all the credit, Tennessee is quietly averaging 212 rushing yards per conference game this season, fourth-best in the SEC. In the key moments — third and fourth downs, the Vols have gained 40 first downs on rushing plays in conference games against only 25 through the air.  Tennessee averages 42 rushes per conference game, against only 28 passing attempts.

The numbers seem counterintuitive, but they check out. The key to this high-powered Josh Heupel offense? It’s the offensive line’s ability to push the rushing attack forward.

What to Look For: Vols > 170 yards rushing. 

Put It All Together

There’s no doubt about it: Georgia is deserving of last year’s title and of the accolades they continue to get. They are well-balanced, second nationally in total offense and fourth nationally in total defense, they have tremendous athletes across the board, they are seasoned and experienced across the board, and are well coached.

If you are looking for a measuring stick, the Bulldogs are it. For Tennessee to exorcise yet another demon from their decade of purgatory (five straight losses and ten out of the last twelve), they’ll need to put their best performance together on Saturday. The Vols’ defense looked great last week, and against lesser opponents. Tennessee’s offense has impressed all season but still hasn’t played to its potential. The Vols had two turnovers against Alabama, stalled at times against Kentucky and Florida, were slow to get going against Pitt, and settled for field goals on several drives against both Kentucky and LSU.

Tennessee must have their best game of the season on offense, defense, and special teams to leave Athens as the Zeus of college football.

What to Look For: Vols + margin in turnovers and fewer penalties. 

Vols at Georgia: The Last Word

It’s hard to bet against Georgia. The Dawgs are experienced in these games. They’ve seen Bryce Young and Bo Nix and other uber-talented quarterbacks. They’re at home with a roster full of five-star talent.

But the earlier comparison to the 1998 Arkansas game might be more than appropriate than some realize. There just seems to be something about this Tennessee team — one of those stories in college football that comes around every now and then. A story that only sports can write; and one only crafted by the wickedly gifted and emotionally tormented mind of college football.

It’s hard to bet against experience and talent. But it’s even harder to bet against destiny.

Tennessee: 41
Georgia: 38

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