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Tennessee Football Opponent Preview: Georgia Bulldogs

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Tennessee begins the most brutal stretch of its schedule by heading to Athens to take on the Dawgs.

Georgia v Tennessee Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

After a deflating 47-21 home loss to a less-than-stellar Florida team, Tennessee heads on the road this week to take on the No. 2 Georgia Bulldogs.

This week marks the beginning of a brutal stretch for Tennessee, as the Volunteers have No. 10 Auburn and No. 1 Alabama lurking after the Bulldogs. Tennessee’s many flaws were on full display against Florida and the stretch in which the Vols now find themselves is not exactly a cure for their ailments.

Georgia opened as a 31.5-point favorite over Tennessee — the same amount the Bulldogs were favored over Middle Tennessee State two weeks ago.

Overview

In just his third year, Kirby Smart has turned Georgia into the national power everyone always knew it could be but of which it perennially fell short. Well, it’s not falling short anymore.

Georgia lost in overtime of the College Football Playoff National Championship last season and it looks primed to get right back there with a chance to win it this year. Smart appears to have created an Alabama Lite in Athens.

In just Smart’s third year, Georgia seems to have four- and five-star players ready to step in whenever the players ahead of them are selected in the first ten picks of the NFL Draft or suffer an injury. The parallels between Smart’s and Saban’s programs are apparent.

I called Florida a “beatable” team. I don’t think the same can be said about Georgia — at least not for Tennessee.

Last Week

Georgia traveled to Columbia, Missouri to take on the Missouri Tigers for its second SEC road game of the year, already having defeated South Carolina. The Dawgs came away with a 43-29 victory over the Tigers, but the game was closer than the final score might indicate.

Georgia was awarded a fumble recovery which it retuned for a touchdown, but it certainly appeared the Missouri ball carrier had not only had his forward progress stopped, but was being driven backwards. UGA scored another touchdown after starting a drive at the Missouri 7-yard line thanks to an interception which went off a Missouri receiver’s hands and into the hands of a Georgia defender.

Jake Fromm finished the game 13-23 for 260 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. Georgia top two running backs, D’Andre Swift and Elijah Holyfield, combined for 161 yards on 30 carries.

Impact Players

QB Jake Fromm — It has been surmised that Georgia may have had the first two picks in the 2020 NFL Draft last season in quarterbacks Jacob Eason and Jake Fromm. Eason was injured in the season opener against Appalachian State and Fromm stepped in and didn’t look back. Fromm led the Bulldogs to the precipice of a national title and looks poised to do the same this season.

So far in 2018, Fromm has completed 50 of 69 pass attempts for 739 yards, nine touchdowns and two interceptions.

WR Mecole HardmanHardman is the most dynamic athlete on a team full of them. Whatever attributes he may lack are more than made up for with his blazing speed. Hardman has 14 catches for 247 yards and four touchdowns this season — and a punt return touchdown for good measure.

While certainly an offensive weapon, his value cannot be understated on special teams, either. Hardman averages 29.5 yards per punt return and 30.3 yards per kickoff return in 2018.

DB Deandre Baker Georgia’s secondary is anchored by senior Deandre Baker, who is on pace to have the best season of his career. Baker has recorded 16 tackles, two interceptions and a forced fumble through UGA’s first three games. Look for Baker to be around the ball on most plays on Saturday.

Game Outlook

Would “not good” be sufficient here?

Tennessee is going on the road to square off with the best team in the country outside of the machine that is Alabama. It’s probably not going to go very well.

Georgia is just in another class than Tennessee right now and will be for the foreseeable future. This is the program that didn’t exist in 2015 and 2016 when the SEC East was on a silver platter begging for someone to take control of it. Well now someone has.

The next three games probably won’t reveal much more about Tennessee than the Vols’ games against ETSU and UTEP did. In all five of those matchups, one team was just clearly on another plane — in these next three, Tennessee is the team just trying to keep it close.