The neverending gauntlet of the SEC schedule reaches its apex on Saturday. For Tennessee, at least. The Volunteers host the No. 1 Georgia Bulldogs, who are eyeing their first national championship since 1980. They’re 9-0 on the season and will be the toughest team yet.
Suffice to say, Tennessee isn’t favored in this one. Advanced analytics love the Bulldogs in a way that they didn’t even love Alabama earlier this year. Tennessee has some really encouraging numbers—they just don’t compare with Georgia.
That being said, there are some nuggets here which say Tennessee has a way to strike at Georgia. We go into that and more in our numbers dive.
FEI (Fremeau Efficiency Index)
Overall: 32nd (Last Week: 32nd)
Offense: 21st (Last Week: 34th)
Defense: 63rd (Last Week: 48th)
Tennessee’s defense sustained a major hit in these rankings. For good reason—they took a major step back in the Kentucky game. The defensive line had arguably their worst performance of the season, and their safeties were exposed by a largely average quarterback. Much of the focus will be on Tennessee’s 3rd down defense—which was poor—but a majority of those 3rd downs were short yardage situations. Meaning they were not getting it done on the first two Downs either.
Georgia will be a good test to see if last week was just a bump in the road. While the Bulldogs are expected to win by a good amount, Tennessee has the tools to keep this under control for at least a couple of quarters. If the defense comes out and just lets Georgia ram through them from the opening kickoff—some concerns may be had.
Yeesh. There are some metrics out there claiming that Georgia’s defense is reaching a historically great level. We saw glimpses of it last season, before they ultimately faded a bit down the stretch. But so far this year, they’ve gotten through their toughest tests and kept it up. Georgia is elite at defending...basically everything.
But I will note: The Bulldogs have yet to be tested by a team that can throw deep. None of their opponents to this point have been exceptional in this category. If you look at explosive passing measurements, Georgia’s defense doesn’t necessarily grade out well in the numbers. Tennessee is the first team they’ll face who can actually get the ball to their playmakers down the field with any sort of consistency.
Will this be enough for Tennessee to have a great day on offense? Probably not. Will it add a wrinkle and potentially make this game a competitive one for longer than Georgia wants? I think so.
FPI (Football Power Index)
Overall: 26th (Last Week: 27th)
Offensive Efficiency: 22nd (Last Week: 33rd)
Defensive Efficiency: 35th (Last Week: 22nd)
Special Teams Efficiency: 35th (Last Week: 44th)
On the bright side, everyone agrees that Tennessee’s offensive performance against Kentucky was exceptional. There’s a lot of insane numbers that the Kentucky game produced, but one of my favorites is that the Volunteers had four scoring drives that consisted of less than five plays. 28 points on eight plays in those drives. That’s insane!
Offensive Efficiency: 3rd
Defensive Efficiency: 1st
Special Teams Efficiency: 48th
We have an ultra-rare occurrence here. Georgia’s rankings in both the FEI and the FPI are the exact same. That’s how you know they’re an elite squad.
Despite the good ranking, the offense is once again the lone hold up with anyone wishing to declare Georgia as the shoe-in national champion. Starter JT Daniels has been injury prone all season, and has not even started the last six games for Georgia. He finally got back in against Missouri, but is apparently still banged up. Stetson Bennett has done well in his absence, even if he has pretty obvious limitations.
All this means Georgia has gone back to the rushing game for production. They largely rely on Zamir White, and they get it to James Cook as a change of pace option. It’s clearly worked—the Bulldogs still maintain a Top-5 offensive ranking, and have scored over 30 points in all of their contests besides the opener against Clemson. They are averaging 3.2 line yards per play (extremely good mark), although their rushing explosiveness isn’t all that great.
But there are still concerns over what will happen when they face tougher teams. They might be able to wear down teams like Kentucky or Florida…will they be able to do the same against teams like Alabama or Ohio State?
Football Outsiders Line Stats
Tennessee’s defensive line is heading in the wrong direction. Coming off a Kentucky game where the defense allowed over 600 yards, no unit is going to look great—but there are some pressing questions in particular with the line. Teams are getting more and more comfortable with going right up the gut in short yardage situations, and they are largely succeeding. It seems they may have found an exploit in the middle of Tennessee’s defensive front. To top it off, the Volunteers still aren’t getting to the quarterback at a good clip.
My one note for the offensive line numbers: The sack rates allowed by Tennessee vs. the sack rates Georgia is accomplishing...a little bit scary!
The run down: Georgia doesn’t allow sacks, but they sure do get them. The only shock here is that Georgia’s offense is not as good in obvious run situations. But they make up for it in other areas, so their run game never suffers. I’d also imagine that every quarterback in the nation envies those sack numbers. You can just stand in the pocket for four seconds guaranteed every play.
FPI: Georgia, 88.5%
FEI: Georgia, 88.1% — Projected Score (38.6-18.4, Georgia)
SP+: Georgia, 80% — Projected Score (34-20, Georgia)