As SEC East clashes go, it doesn't get much better than a matchup between Tennessee and Georgia.
The fifth-ranked Bulldogs will be looking to prove they are one of the nation's elite teams when they host the Volunteers on Saturday. With games against No. 6 South Carolina and No. 11 Florida to come, the Bulldogs need to avoid losses in trap games such as this.
Meanwhile, Tennessee will be looking to crack the Top 25 once again this season and prove they are still a force to be reckoned with in the SEC East, even with a loss to Florida already this season.
Two SEC teams with a lot to lose and even more to gain will do battle on Saturday. Let's take a closer look at the matchup.
Where: Sanford Stadium, Athens, Ga.
When: Saturday, September 29 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Betting Line: Georgia (-14), according to Bet Online
It may be a traditional rivalry, but this one has "trap game" written all over it for Georgia. With South Carolina looming a week later, might the Bulldogs be looking ahead to the showdown with the Gamecocks and overlook the Volunteers?
If they do, this one could get very, very interesting.
Tennessee Injuries (via USA Today)
None to report.
Georgia Injuries (via USA Today)
None to report.
Top 25 Implications
For Georgia, a loss here would surely drop them out of the Top 10 and put a huge dent in the team's national championship aspirations. For the Volunteers, a win would propel them back to the Top-25 ranking they lost when they fell to Florida.
What They're Saying
For as good as Georgia has been this year, Bill King of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is worried about special teams:
But punt returns remain too much of an adventure. [Malcolm] Mitchell’s decision-making has been sketchy, with the worst case Saturday night being the punt he elected to catch deep in his own territory rather than letting it go into the end zone for a touchback. Yes, Georgia’s offense proceeded to rip off a 96-yard scoring drive, but that’s not generally where you want to start.
The other troubling aspect of the kicking game is in an area that should be automatic: PATs. Saturday saw one missed because of a high snap (which then was completely mishandled by kicker Marshall Morgan in a typical case of freshman-itis), and another kick went in, but only after banging into the goal post. I get the feeling everyone involved is thinking too much about PATs and needs to relax a bit.
Meanwhile, Tennessee is struggling to sack the quarterback—it has just four on the season—which is a recurring problem, according to Steve Megargee of the Associated Press (via The Tennessean):
Although the Vols say they’re rushing the passer better, switching schemes and coordinators hasn’t changed Tennessee’s sack total much at all. The Vols are on the exact same pace as last season, when they recorded 16 sacks in 12 games to rank 11th out of 12 SEC teams.
“It’s not where I want to be,” defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri said. “The thing is, we have to get better at that. People are delivering the ball fast. You’ve got to get your hands up, and we’ve got to have tighter coverage, but we’ve got to get that (pass rush) going too.”
Tennessee Player to Watch: Tyler Bray, QB
There's no question Tennessee has the receivers and quarterback to throw the ball around. Bray has already thrown for 1,301 yards and 12 touchdowns (to just three interceptions) in four games.
But two of those interceptions came in the Vols loss to Florida, easily Bray's worst performance of the season. He also threw for season lows in yards (257) and completion percentage (50.0) in that contest.
Now, Tennessee can't simply become one-dimensional against a solid Georgia defense. If it can't establish any running game at all, it won't beat the Bulldogs. But Bray has to be the best player on the field if Tennessee is to pull off the upset. If there is an area on defense that Georgia is a bit susceptible, it's in coverage, so Bray should be able to move the ball.
However, if he has a down game against Georgia—or the offensive line can't protect him—it will be a long afternoon for the Vols.
Georgia Players to Watch: Michael Bennett, Tavarres King and Marlon Brown
We know Georgia can run the ball (18th in the nation) and play solid defense. We also know that Florida gashed Tennessee in the running game, rushing for 336 yards in the Vols' lone loss this season, so Georgia will want to establish the ground game early.
What makes Georgia so scary is the team's balance, and the play of quarterback Aaron Murray and his trio of dangerous wide receivers.
After four games, the three have combined for 49 receptions, 1,108 yards and eight touchdowns. Given the threat they pose out wide, Tennessee won't be able to stack the box and focus on stopping the run, meaning Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall could be in line for a big day on the ground.
Key Matchup: Tennessee Front Seven vs. Georgia Running Game
This is a carry-over from the previous section, and for good reason—Georgia is excellent at running the ball, and as we learned in the Florida loss, Tennessee can be beaten by a good ground game.
The formula for winning SEC games is generally pretty simple—the team that runs the ball and stops the run generally wins. SEC games may feature a smattering of elite athletes on the outside, but the games are almost always determined in the trenches.
If Georgia dominates time of possession by running the ball efficiently, executing on third down and protecting the rock, it will win, plain and simple. But if Tennessee can stymie the running attack and force Georgia to become a passing team, it will stand a chance.
Tennessee will fight, and I believe this will be a close, competitive contest. However, expecting the Vols to travel into Athens and upset a more talented team is too much to ask. The Bulldogs win, 27-17.
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