The Georgia Bulldogs (4-1, 2-1 SEC) will travel to Knoxville to face the Tennessee Volunteers (2-3, 0-2 SEC) on Saturday afternoon. Georgia is coming off of a 38-10 throttling by Alabama in Athens last week, while the Volunteers season continues to implode following yet another blown lead which resulted in a 24-20 loss to Arkansas at home.
Georgia head coach Mark Richt and Tennessee head coach Butch Jones are feeling the pressure, and both coaches are in desperate need of a victory on Saturday in order to get back into the good graces of their respective fan bases. A loss for Georgia would put them behind the eight ball in terms of winning the SEC East. A loss for Tennessee will basically destroy any chance of salvaging a once promising season.
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This will mark the 45th meeting between Tennessee and Georgia with the series dating all the way back to 1899. It is a pivotal matchup with the all-time series tied at 21-21-2. Georgia has won the last five games in the series, culminating in a 35-32 victory for the Bulldogs in Athens last season. Georgia has narrowly won each of the last two games by just three points in spite of the Vols' best effort to conjure up an upset. Tennessee will debut their new Nike “Smokey Grey” uniforms for the matchup.
Georgia at Tennessee
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Georgia -2.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Tennessee's 2nd Half Woes
The Vols have become notorious for their second-half meltdowns thus far this season, especially in big matchups. After jumping out to solid first-half leads against Oklahoma, Florida, and Arkansas, Tennessee was outscored a combined 42-13 in the second half of those three games. The Vols failed to put up any points in the fourth quarter against both Oklahoma and Arkansas and managed just seven points in the final period against Florida.
If Tennessee has any chance of winning against the Bulldogs, they are going to have to put together four strong quarters of football on both sides of the football. The Tennessee coaching staff must play to win and make the necessary adjustments to do so. Simply sticking with a pre-scripted game plan will not get it done against a team like Georgia, especially if the script is failing to produce in the second half as it did in the Vols’ three losses this season.
2. The Georgia Rushing Attack vs. Tennessee’s Run Defense
It’s no secret that the strength of the Georgia offense lies with their veteran offensive line and a trio of star running backs, most notably Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. It’s also no secret that they plan to unleash that strength with full force against a struggling Volunteer run defense that currently ranks 11th in the SEC. The question is, will Tennessee be up for the challenge?
The Vols' run defense certainly wasn’t up for the challenge last week against Arkansas, giving up 275 yards on the ground to the Hogs. They were also not up to the challenge against the Bulldogs in 2014, as Georgia tallied 289 rushing yards and three scores. If there is a positive for the Volunteers, they did manage to limit Nick Chubb to just 32 yards on 11 carries in last year’s matchup.
Tennessee will likely stack the box in an attempt to slow down Georgia’s ground attack, forcing struggling Bulldog’s quarterback Greyson Lambert to beat them with his arm. It is a common sense strategy, but it will be a challenge of epic proportions for a Vols defense that seems to always be out of position to stop opposing runners and struggles with tackling.
3. The Passing Game
Georgia quarterback, Greyson Lambert, briefly found himself in the unenviable position of bench warmer last week, after what can best be described as an atrocious performance against Alabama. Fortunately for Lambert, backup Brice Ramsey proved to be even worse. Ramsey completed just one of his six pass attempts and tossed two interceptions.
Lambert has re-seized his starting role for the moment, but he now has the daunting task of going on the road to face one of the harshest environments in college football in Neyland Stadium. If Lambert can put last week behind him and keep his composure in front of 100,000 plus fans, he should be able to find success against a Tennessee pass defense that ranks 13th in the SEC. However, if he cracks under the pressure, the Vols defense will make him pay.
As for Tennessee, they continue to find little success through the air, especially in terms of their highly touted receiving corps. In the Vols' last two games against Florida and Arkansas, Tennessee wide receivers have only accounted for 14 catches for 107 yards combined. Tennessee has primarily relied on running backs, Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara, in their passing attack, opting for screens and short passes. Vols QB Joshua Dobbs has shown little in the way of accuracy getting the ball downfield. The offensive line has also struggled to provide Dobbs with ample time, and the receivers consistently struggle to get separation from defensive backs and make tough catches. Tennessee offensive coordinator, Mike DeBord, has the difficult task of finding a way for this lackluster passing game to break through against the Bulldogs.
For a Tennessee team that rode into the season with lofty expectations, this is a must-win game. In order to win, the Volunteer defense is tasked with stopping Georgia’s potent running game and trying to force Greyson Lambert into mistakes. On offense, the Vols must execute mistake free football and find a way to successfully open up their passing attack. They could also benefit from a solid return game that has already produced two kick returns for touchdowns thanks to Evan Berry, in addition to a punt return for a score by Alvin Kamara. The Vols must also take advantage of a Georgia team that may have had their spirit broken against Alabama last week.
Look for Georgia to employ a strategy similar to the one used by Arkansas against Tennessee last week. One which wears down the Volunteer defense with a potent rushing attack. This will also help chew up precious time on the clock, keeping Tennessee’s offense off of the field, and enabling the Bulldogs to put a dagger in the backs of a tired Tennessee defense in the second half. There is no doubt that last week’s beating at the hands of Alabama took a toll on this team, but if Georgia can execute in the run game, avoid costly turnovers, and control the clock, they should come out on top.
Prediction: Georgia 31, Tennessee 20
— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. McVey is a diehard Tennessee Volunteers' fan who loves singing "Rocky Top" every opportunity he gets. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.