The classic Tennessee-Georgia rivalry is back for the 2017 season, and this year’s edition has plenty at stake. No. 7 Georgia (4-0, 1-0 SEC) is coming hot off a 31-3 thrashing of then-No. 17 Mississippi State between the hedges. Tennessee (3-1, 0-1 SEC) struggled last week against UMassand is hoping to have a bounce back game against a top 10 team..
Georgia, looking strong in Kirby Smart’s second year, is trying to make a run for the SEC Championship, but the Bulldogs have their early sights set on the College Football Playoffs, too. Tennessee is looking to improve its resume after losing to bitter rival Florida in heartbreaking Hail Mary fashion two weeks ago. Tennessee head coach Butch Jones is also looking to alleviate some job pressure with a huge victory that could spring the Vols back into the SEC East race.
The series isn’t without it’s excitement, though — since 2012, no game between the two has been decided by more than one score. While Georgia has looked like a championship caliber team so far, something indescribable happens when the Bulldogs march into Neyland Stadium. The home-field advantage will be a spectacle with up to 102,455 restless Vols fans hoping to witness the potential upset of the year. Tennessee, with an overall record of 13-9 against Georgia in Knoxville, really hopes to add another win to that column.
Both sides aren’t without questions for Saturday’s showdowns. In what capacity will Shy Tuttle, Tennessee’s up-and-coming defensive tackle, play? What is the significance of not having playmakers Jauan Jennings and Evan Berry?
With Eason returning from injury, will Kirby Smart stay with freshman Jake Fromm or go back to his starter from the beginning of the year? Will Tennessee step up and play to Georgia’s level, or will the Vols simply roll over and watch head coach Butch Jones presumably head towards his firing? There are plenty of questions and not enough answers for the Vols, but perhaps we’ll have some of them answered this weekend against Georgia.
What Georgia needs to do to win
The Bulldogs are as good this year as they have been since Aaron Murray left. That all starts in the backfield. The past few quarterbacks have had the luxury of superstar running backs taking pressure off of the passing game, and this year is no exception. Georgia’s way of winning is shoving Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and D’Andre Swift down your throat to set up Fromm or Eason’s play-action deep passes to Terry Godwin and others. Tennessee’s defense can’t defend both, so they’re going to have to give one up or the other.
Georgia needs to stay consistent in their gameplan on offense and get into quarterback Quinten Dormady’s head as quick as possible. The first-year starter has been rattled in weeks past and by getting him off pace, the Bulldogs can take away the passing portion of their offense. Much like Chubb, Tennessee running back John Kelly will get his fair share of looks, so the Bulldogs will need to contain him to limit the damage that he can do. Overall, as long as Georgia keeps Dormady from throwing the long ball, the Bulldogs will be able to come into Knoxville and cruise out with a big-time victory over the Vols.
What Tennessee needs to do to win
The Vols have their work cut out for them on Saturday, but don’t think they’ll go down without a fight. Aforementioned Kelly and receivers Marquez Callaway and Tyler Byrd need to step up for the Vols. Callaway and Kelly have been the main producers this year, but they need to stay consistent for Tennessee to have a chance late in the fourth quarter. Tight end Ethan Wolf needs to be Dormady’s main target at the sticks and for check-down throws to limit the chance of interceptions. The key to a Tennessee victory will come from whether Dormady can step up to his own potential as a gunslinger or not.
Tennessee’s defense, meanwhile, has just as difficult of a challenge. The past couple of years, Tennessee only had to stop one phase of Georgia’s game, but that won’t be enough this year. Tennessee’s front seven needs to figure out a way to contain Chubb and force either Fromm or Eason to throw the ball to win. That brings us to the second part of the keys on defense. Much like they did against Florida (save the last play), the Vols need to defend the deep ball. Godwin is a speedy deep threat that the Vols cannot allow to get behind them.
If the Vols are able to contain Georgia’s offense to settling for punts and field goals throughout the game, they have a real chance of winning. That being said, they need to score touchdowns and keep from turning the ball over. The Vols need to play like they have nothing to lose, but also be conscious that they can’t make dumb mistakes and give up big plays.
Neyland Stadium will be rowdy at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday. The Vols are hungry for a third-straight win over Georgia. Unfortunately for Tennessee, the Vols are 0-24 against top 10 opponents dating back to 2008.
Tennessee is facing a nearly impossible battle against Georgia. With Butch Jones’ job seemingly on the line, it’s hard to choose the Vols inthis matchup. Even with the rivalry’s history favoring Tennessee 23-21 overall, this year will be harder than recent close games. If the Vols are to win, then Jones needs to let Dormady and John Kelly loose, and let his defensive unit come out looking for blood. That isn’t Butch’s way, and that’s why Tennessee can’t and won’t get over the hump.
I expect a close score, but not a close game. By the time the fourth quarter falls around, Georgia will probably be up 31-17, Tennessee will grab a field goal, and in some desperation play will score a last-minute touchdown. Don’t expect the game to be close and don’t expect Neyland to be full by the time the game ends.
Georgia 31, Tennessee 27.