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Aaron Murray looks to keep Georgia in the national title mix.
The SEC never disappoints for intriguing matchups. Even though Week 5 isn’t the best slate of games, Georgia-Tennessee is a contest with national title and SEC Championship implications. The Bulldogs can keep their national title hopes alive with a victory over the Volunteers, but they can’t afford to take Derek Dooley’s team lightly. Georgia has a road date against South Carolina next week, so there’s always a look-ahead factor. The Volunteers are 3-1, but Dooley still has plenty of work to do. Tennessee struggled against Akron last week, while the defense is far from a dominating unit.
The Bulldogs have won three out of the last four games in this series, including a 41-14 blowout victory in 2010. Tennessee has struggled to find success in the SEC recently, winning only one game in conference play last season and three contests in 2010. This matchup won’t make-or-break Dooley’s future, but the Volunteers need to show that the gap between this team and the rest of the SEC is closing.
Four Storylines to Watch in Georgia vs. Tennessee
Georgia has allowed at least 20 points three times this season but held Vanderbilt to a field goal in last week’s victory. The Bulldogs should have one of college football’s top defenses, but this unit ranks 43rd nationally in yards allowed after four weeks. However, this defense should have a few reinforcements on the way, as linebacker Alec Ogletree and safety Bacarri Rambo are expected to return after missing the first four games due to a suspension. The return of Rambo is especially important for the Bulldogs’ secondary, as it looks to slow down Tennessee’s passing attack, which is ranked No. 1 in the SEC.
Tennessee’s passing offense against Georgia’s defense
While getting Rambo back in the mix is a key part of Georgia’s defensive plan to stop Tennessee, the Bulldogs will need a little extra help. The Volunteers have two dynamic playmakers at receiver – Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson – and a dependable tight end in Mychal Rivera. Bray is completing 63.5 percent of his throws and has tossed only three picks this year. Georgia needs to counter with pressure, especially from All-American linebacker Jarvis Jones. The Bulldogs are averaging two sacks per game but need to get more pressure on Bray to throw off the timing of the offense. If the Volunteers can protect the junior quarterback, they will have opportunities to hit big plays. However, if Georgia gets to Bray, it should force a few sacks and turnovers.
Aaron Murray against Tennessee’s secondary
Murray is off to a fast start this season, throwing for 1,092 yards and 10 touchdowns through the first four weeks. The junior has been one of the top quarterbacks in the nation, and Tennessee’s secondary will have its hands full trying to stop Georgia’s passing attack. The Volunteers rank 66th nationally against the pass, but Akron had some success moving the ball through the air last week. Not only will Tennessee’s secondary have to step up, the pass rush has to be more active. The Volunteers are averaging only 1.3 sacks per game, which won’t get it done on Saturday. If Murray has enough time, he will burn Tennessee’s secondary for 275-300 yards.
Can Tennessee establish its rushing attack?
In order to win games in the SEC, you have to be able to run the ball. So far, that’s been an issue for Tennessee. The Volunteers rank eighth nationally in passing offense but struggled to find any production on the ground against Florida. Putting up numbers against Akron and Georgia State is one thing, but it’s tough sledding to run the ball against Florida and Georgia in the SEC. Running back Rajion Neal is off to a good start, rushing for 356 yards on 80 carries. Neal doesn’t need 150 yards, but he has to help Tennessee’s offense find some balance.
With a huge game against South Carolina next week, Georgia has to be careful not to overlook Tennessee. However, all of the matchups in this game suggest the Bulldogs should win comfortably. Quarterback Aaron Murray is off to a great start, while freshmen running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall should pound away at the Volunteers’ defense. With Rambo and Ogletree likely returning for the defense, the Bulldogs should be able to cut their averages on points and yards allowed.
While Tennessee may be able to move the ball, the lack of a consistent running game and difference makers on defense will allow Georgia to pull away in the second half.
Prediction: Georgia 34, Tennessee 20
by Steven Lassan
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