Coming into the season, Tennessee and Georgia were, by most accounts, the favorites to win the SEC East. Now in week five, both have had some ups and downs, but their seasons are looking far different. Georgia hit rock bottom last Saturday, while Tennessee was named the national team of the week by the FWAA. Both teams will have a chance to take control of the division on Saturday in a series that has been decided by one possession each of the past five seasons.
Georgia is coming off a physical and emotional beatdown from Ole Miss. The Bulldogs' defense never had a chance against Chad Kelly and the Rebels last week, getting gouged for more than 500 yards. And the offense didn't fare much better. Georgia trailed 45-0 at one point in the game but scored a couple of late touchdowns to make it appear a little bit less terrible. The loss was a real eye-opener for head coach Kirby Smart and the 'Dawgs. They've got issues.
Tennessee, on the other hand, finally got the gator off its back. The Volunteers snapped an 11-year losing streak to Florida that many Tennessee fans thought would never end. It wasn't easy — UT had to get down 21-0 first — but it happened, and all of Vol Nation was finally able to breathe a sigh of relief. Quite frankly, Tennessee dominated the second half, at one point scoring 38 unanswered points. The Vols looked like a national contender based on that sample size.
Last year, Tennessee knocked off Georgia 38-31 in Knoxville after getting down 24-3 in the first half. Comebacks seem to be a popular theme for Butch Jones-coached teams. However, Georgia has dominated this series in recent memory, having won five in a row before last year. Tennessee has a slight advantage in the series all-time, 22-21-2.
Tennessee at Georgia
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 1 at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Tennessee -3
Three Things to Watch
1. Nick Chubb(?) vs. Tennessee's Front Seven
Chubb sprained an ankle in the loss to Ole Miss but Georgia is hoping to have him back this week. It's still day-to-day so it doesn't really appear that Chubb will be at 100 percent regardless of if he plays. Of course, last year, Chubb went down with a gruesome leg injury on Georgia's first drive against Tennessee. This is a running back who has a ton of potential when healthy, but he hasn't been able to do a whole lot since rushing for more than 200 yards against North Carolina in week one. Chubb would no doubt love to make a statement against Tennessee, but the Vols' front seven is still pretty stout even with linebackers Darrin Kirkland and Jalen Reeves-Maybin being banged up. Hopefully, Chubb will be ready to go. If not, Georgia will have to again rely on Sony Michel and Brian Herrien to pick up yards on the ground.
2. Joshua Dobbs vs. Georgia's Secondary
This matchup will be the key to the game. Last year against Georgia, Dobbs was impressive. He racked up 312 yards through the air, in addition to rushing for more than 100 and accounting for five touchdowns (three passing, two rushing). In the second half against Florida last week, Dobbs torched the Gators, throwing four touchdown passes to four different receivers. That's not a good sign for Georgia. This is a secondary that gave up 376 passing yards to Missouri's Drew Lock two weeks ago and 330 last Saturday to Chad Kelly from Ole Miss. Typically, Dobbs isn't the kind of guy who's going to shred your defense through the air but he's playing well right now, and Georgia's defense is not. The Bulldogs need to have some kind of plan to get pressure against Tennessee's offensive line because if Dobbs has time to throw, it could get ugly.
3. Can Tennessee Play Four Quarters?
Every time someone says something good about Tennessee it usually ends with "in the second half." That's the total opposite of last year, when Tennessee couldn't finish off games — the Vols led Oklahoma, Florida and Alabama in the fourth quarter but lost to all three. So maybe it's better to be a second-half team, but the Vols have to learn how to play four quarters under Butch Jones. I would imagine that's being emphasized heavily in practice this week. In some of Tennessee's biggest wins under Jones (2014 vs. South Carolina, ‘15 vs. Georgia and ‘16 vs. Virginia Tech and Florida) the Vols trailed by at least 14 points. This week is Tennessee's first true road test. You don't want to get down two or three scores between the hedges in Athens.
Tennessee's offense has the potential to be dangerous. We've seen glimpses of it, particularly in the second half against Georgia last year and in the second half against Florida last week. When used effectively, Dobbs and running back Jalen Hurd are nearly unstoppable. Georgia hasn't had much success stopping anybody this year. While Dobbs' passing isn't his strongest attribute, he's going up against an inferior secondary. That makes this a really good matchup for Tennessee. The Volunteers get it done and essentially lock up the SEC East in week five.