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Staff Picks: Tennessee Vols vs Georgia Bulldogs

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After three straight FBS losses, is the Rocky Top Talk staff brave enough to pick the Vols to triumph over Georgia Saturday?

Nathan Peterman is not walking through that door.
Nathan Peterman is not walking through that door.
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

It was another bad week for the Rocky Top Talk staff, as six of the seven staff members picked the Vols against Arkansas in a game Tennessee would lose 24-20, although four of the seven correctly picked Arkansas to cover the 6.5-point spread. Closest to the Pin goes to Nathanael, whose 20-14 Arkansas prediction was the only one to correctly peg the winner, coming in just two points off the final margin and ten off the total. Oddly enough, the RTT staff average was dead on the final score, but it had the teams reversed, picking the Vols to win a 24-20 game.

Yet again, the staff is looking to bounce back with a tough opponent coming into Neyland. What do they think about the Vols chances against Georgia? Let's find out:

Incipient (3-2 straight up, 3-2 against the spread): Like against Florida, I see two potential stories vying for most likely to occur on Saturday. One is the one we've seen before. Tennessee brings a good plan of attack and starts strong, building an early lead. Let's call it 17 first half points, to match the total against South Carolina (2013), Georgia (2014), Oklahoma (2015), Florida (2015), and Arkansas (2015). Tradition and all. So after a 17-7 second quarter lead for Tennessee, Georgia starts chipping away. Their run game is too much for the Vols defense, and Tennessee struggles to move the ball in the second half. Georgia takes a lead, and Tennessee stays within one possession but can't come back to win.

The second one. . . well, in the last week we've seen resignation from the fans at Neyland, plenty of message board angst about the coaching, rumors about player mistreatment, and a senior playmaker dismissed from the program. It's not hard to see how this could all go spiraling out of control, especially with a talented Georgia team on the opposing sideline, smarting from a loss to Alabama.

In his 2.5 seasons at Tennessee so far, Butch Jones has done an exemplary job at keeping the team focused and ready to play. That said, he hasn't faced a week as wild as this one. But I'll tentatively go with history. So with the caveat that this could easily turn into 2009 Ole Miss or 2012 Vanderbilt, I'm going with Georgia 31 Tennessee 24.

Hunter (2-3 straight up, 2-3 against the spread): Why aren't we talking about Georgia's mental state? The Bulldogs were just pounded at home in a game that wasn't anywhere as close as the final score, and starting quarterback "Grayson Lambert" (aka, has anyone seen Justin Worley) was completely unable to move the ball against the Alabama defense. That's why it won't be a Georgia blowout.

Why aren't we talking about Tennessee's young defense? In the fourth quarter against Arkansas, the Vols finally looked like they'd figured things out, forcing a turnover on downs and blocking a field goal. That's why I don't think Georgia covers the three point spread.

Why aren't we talking about Butch Jones' preparation for this game? The Coachspeak Machine may be frustratingly conservative, but he's not deaf or blind to the criticism that's been leveled at him over the last few weeks. I'd expect the coaching staff to come out with their hair on fire.

That's why I'm picking Tennessee in a close one. Tennessee 24 Georgia 23

Chris (4-1 straight up, 4-1 against the spread): Man, I_S goes first and takes all the narrative. Since he's done that, all I'm left with is more or less a plea: cheer stupid on Saturday. The last few home losses have had the aural strains normally reserved for an execution. Tennessee has lost two games at home by a touchdown or less, which is pretty much the definition of a close game. If (and/or when) Georgia takes a lead, that does not mean the sky is falling, that does not mean doom has come, that does not mean garments should be rent in blood and fire, and seriously that doesn't mean it's time to stop cheering and go home

I live eight hours from Knoxville so that kind of excursion is pretty difficult for me, and I get that it's hard. So: cheer stupid. Just go for it, whatever. Half y'all think we're doomed anyway, may as well go out fighting. Right now, it's a pretty open secret that teams can walk into Knoxville, punch the Vols in the mouth once, and the crowd's out for the game. Only way to change that narrative is to not do that. So: get up and get loud. Y'all can do it. I have faith. [Ed.: This man is wise, listen to him.]

Will it matter? Eh, maybe not this week. Georgia's still a pretty good team, so the biggest chances lie in Brian Schottenheimer at his NFL-iest best and a bit more aggression from Butch Jones (yeah, haven't heard that line from anyone yet this week!). Weirdly, he's seemed to be loosest when it doesn't matter, so maybe it works in his favor if everyone thinks this is a loss? Whatever, I'll roll with that if it works. Georgia 27, Tennessee 23

Charlie (3-2 straight up, 4-1 against the spread): This game comes down to whether or not Tennessee is in the right headspace. If the team is motivated and wants to win for their coach, the Vols will probably keep it close and give themselves at least a chance to win in the fourth quarter. If they have phoned it in mentally and they're no longer buying what Butch Jones is selling, it will be a long day for UT. From what I saw at practice on Tuesday, the team is at least partially checked out and the whole Mack Crowder incident doesn't help at all. I hope I'm wrong, but I don't think this is going to go well for Tennessee. The Vols have what it takes to keep this game close and even win but I think their heads just won't be fully in the game because of the last three crushing losses and outside circumstances. Georgia 31 Tennessee 20

Nathanael (3-2 straight up, 3-2 against the spread): Boy, this week has been one for the ages. And not in a good way. The Vols are dealing not only with their third meltdown loss of the season in the first five games, but rumors of Butch Jones and offensive lineman Mack Crowder getting into a physical confrontation before the season started leaked this week, and it just seems like a black cloud has been over the team and fan base all week. The fact that it was Georgia Week was almost forgotten.

I say almost because, of course, that was never forgotten, and as the week went on fans and media alike began to focus more and more on the Dawgs. But all this distraction and the fact that the Vols looked less energetic during practice this week is a concern, and it makes me wonder where the team is mentally right now. It's completely understandable if the team is worn down after back-to-back disheartening losses and after all the negative media attention from this week, but it doesn't bode well for the Georgia game if that's the case.

Georgia has a potent rushing attack, but their passing game has been inconsistent this season. Sound familiar?

These two teams are very similar on offense, but Tennessee has the edge in special teams play, and that may be enough to give the Vols the edge in this one. However, given what we've seen so far from the Vols this year, I don't feel comfortable enough to pick them in a big game, especially not one against another SEC rival.

Tennessee may have the better team, but they have in all five of their games so far this season and are 2-3. I don't see this one playing out much differently than their other "big games." Georgia 33 Tennessee 30

Joel (3-2 straight up, 4-1 against the spread): Georgia 31 Tennessee 23

Will (3-2 straight up, 3-2 against the spread): Butch Jones has been at his best against Georgia the last two years, games you can argue the Vols could have won without Pig Howard at the pylon and the sudden appearance of Nathan Peterman.  I think Tennessee's players believe they can beat Georgia.  But I don't know what else Tennessee's players believe at the end of a long, strange week and with three disappointing losses already under their belts.  We're still learning about the Dawgs, who have played four bad teams and one Alabama.  What we know about the Vols includes several minutes of good football and several more important minutes of giving games away.  But I'm nervous about where this team is and think Georgia will be able to do enough of what they want offensively to win.  There's just very little confidence in Tennessee's ability to respond to adversity, which sooner or later is going to strike earlier than the third quarter.  The Vols are capable of winning this one, but I think Georgia is the safer pick on almost every level. Georgia 27 Tennessee 13

Rocky Top Talk Staff Average (2-3 straight up, 3-2 against the spread): Georgia 29 Tennessee 22

Vegas (for reference): Georgia -3. Over/under 59.5. Georgia 31 Tennessee 28