No. 1 in the College Football Playoff rankings. No. 1 in the Associated Press poll. The Tennessee Volunteers versus the Georgia Bulldogs in Athens. What else is there to say? One of the biggest SEC regular season games of the past decade is on tap this Saturday. Can you believe that Tennessee is one of the teams featured?
You’ve probably already consumed an enormous amount of content dedicated to breaking down this game. I’m going to keep this intro short and just get to the numbers. Georgia is possibly the best team in the country. Tennessee has looked like the best team in the country, albeit with some faults. Will Georgia be able to take advantage of those faults? Or does Tennessee’s lightning fast offense have the ability to put the Bulldogs in a bind?
FEI (Fremeau Efficiency Index)
Overall: 5th (Last Week: 6th)
Offense: 2nd (Last Week: 5th)
Defense: 33rd (Last Week: 42nd)
Astute college football fans will remember that Georgia had a difficult time putting away the Kent State Golden Flashes. In fact, the score was 32-22 with under six minutes left in the game. Georgia was never really in danger of losing the contest...but they certainly didn’t dominate Kent State like everyone thought they would. In fact, the Golden Flashes offense racked up almost 300 yards that day. How?
That’s because Kent State head coach Sean Lewis is from the Art Briles coaching tree, and runs the same type of offense that relies on tempo and spacing. Do you see what I’m getting at here?
I don’t think Tennessee will have the same level of success against Georgia that they did Alabama. I think Georgia’s defense is simply too talented and clearly much better than Alabama’s in many facets. But there is a formula for beating this Georgia defense, and Tennessee might just have it.
Georgia’s offense bucked the trend in 2021, and was somehow able to capture them a championship despite a clearly outdated way of moving the ball.
Well, they’re still at it, wearing down opposing teams with a strong group of running backs. They are led by Daijun Edwards (440 rushing yards, 6.2 yards per carry, seven touchdowns) and Kenny McIntosh (332 yards, 4.8 yards per carry, six touchdowns).
Quarterback Stetson Bennett is still there, and still as decent as ever. His main draw is knowing the system and limiting mistakes. He’s not bad at all. But he’s just not great. In fact, two of Bennett’s interceptions came in the Florida game, and one of them helped keep the Gators in the contest longer than they should have been. He also did not do well against Missouri—a game where Georgia escaped 26-22. The new and improved Tennessee defensive line can make a statement in this one.
What is great is the collection of receiving options Georgia has at its disposal. Most concerning for Tennessee’s defense is tight end Brock Bowers. He is—to put it lightly—a stud. He is by far their leading receiver, with 31 receptions for 547 yards and three touchdowns (kind of shows you how much of their scoring relies on the ground game). If Bowers could have declared after last year, he would’ve been selected in the draft as a true freshman. He is that good. Tennessee has not faced a weapon like him, and you’d imagine that a bulk of the planning for this weekend revolves around how to limit his effectiveness. Some other notable names are Ladd McConkey, a wide receiver who acts as a safety valve of sorts for Bennett; and Darnell Washington, another tight end who actually has a similar yards per catch average as Bowers, although he is targeted much less.
FPI (Football Power Index)
Overall: 5th (Last Week: 5th)
Offensive Efficiency: 3rd (Last Week: 3rd)
Defensive Efficiency: 37th (Last Week: 40th)
Special Teams Efficiency: 15th (Last Week: 12th)
I thought that Tennessee might jump a bit higher in the defensive rankings after the Kentucky performance. While it’s not huge, they still did rise. The Volunteers really came out with a fire in the second half, and I think that’s more of what you’ll see as the season goes on. They are figuring some things out in the secondary as well. Doneiko Slaughter actually found his footing as a cornerback, and that might carry over into the end of the season.
A small note here, but having Dee Williams at returner has seriously improved Tennessee’s special teams rankings. He is dynamite when he gets the ball in his hands. It seems like almost every game he has a return that gives the offense an insane field position advantage.
Offensive Efficiency: 7th
Defensive Efficiency: 1st
Special Teams Efficiency: 122nd
I don’t have the same skepticism towards Georgia’s defense that I did towards Alabama‘s. I think that Georgia has an all around great defensive squad. Notably, their secondary is much tougher, with star safeties Chris Smith and Malaki Starks anchoring their pass defense. Remember the multiple busted plays against Kentucky, when their safeties got frozen by Tennessee’s receivers? Probably not going to be that easy this week.
The only thing missing from this Georgia defense? A quality pass rush option. Since Travon Walker left for the NFL after last season, the Bulldogs really don’t have an elite pass rusher. You’ll see in the line stats below that the Bulldogs are actually one of the worst teams in the nation when it comes to sack rates. But I would caution against thinking that Georgia will not get pressure on Hooker. Kirby Smart is much more willing to “send the house” than Nick Saban. If he can’t get pressure with the front, he’s going to call blitzes until he gets what he wants.
Football Outsiders Line Stats
One game against a deplorable Kentucky offensive line has benefited the Tennessee defensive sack rates. The Volunteers crushed Levis a few times as the game went on.
The offensive numbers taking a small step back might surprise people. I would just say that it’s not enough to really cause concern. If you really wanted to dive deep into it, Kentucky did have a few quality stops on their side of the field. Tennessee had to settle for field goals more than usual.
Wow. Think that’s our first instance of a completely green column. Georgia’s offensive line talent has been consistently elite, and the results on the field prove it. It’s the sole reason their offense even works! Tennessee’s defensive line will have their hands full. No team has broke through the front so far...will Georgia be the first to find consistent success?
On the defensive line, some very fascinating numbers with the sack rates. I mentioned above that Georgia is shockingly bad here. They’ve got a lot of run stuffers and edge setters, but pass rushers? They could use help. Next season I’m sure one of their ultra-talented recruits will step up. But that’s not going to help this Saturday.
The Bulldogs were also dealt a blow earlier this week, when edge rusher Nolan Smith was ruled out for the rest of the season. He was arguably their best option.
FPI: Georgia, 74.9%
FEI: Georgia, 70.9% — Projected Score (40.1-32.0, Georgia)
SP+: Georgia, 70% — Projected Score (34-25, Georgia)