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Staff Picks: Tennessee-Georgia

Syndication: The Knoxville News-Sentinel Caitie McMekin/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK

Here we are — the (latest) biggest game of the year for Tennessee. It’s pretty much the SEC East title game, with the winner owning a crystal clear path to both Atlanta and the College Football Playoff.

Tennessee has already gotten over the Florida and Alabama hump this year, can they get past Georgia too? As a staff, all of us think they do.

Terry: Tennessee 35, Georgia 30

I’m not sure if I’m just drunk on the kool-aid or what, but I’ve talked myself into this one. In fact, I thought Tennessee had a better shot against Georgia than I thought they did against Alabama.

For me, it comes down to the Georgia offense. The Bulldogs are going to try and keep things on the ground, control the ball and keep the Tennessee offense off of the field. So far, that formula hasn’t worked. It’s a similar gameplan that Kentucky tried, only with much more talent on the roster.

I think the Tennessee offense gets to 35 points. The question becomes then, can Georgia get there too? I think the Tennessee front is good enough to force Stetson Bennett to the air, and I’m just not sold that he’s good enough to beat Hendon Hooker and company. All of this assumes that we get another superb performance out of No. 5, but he’s given us no reason to think otherwise to this point.

Those Kent State and Missouri performances stand out in my head when thinking about these Bulldogs. Tennessee is playing their best ball right now, and I think it continues on Saturday.

Clint: Tennessee 28, Georgia 27

A few weeks ago, I predicted that Tennessee would lose to Alabama by multiple scores. My prediction ended with these words: “The Volunteers are getting there. They’re almost at the point where they’ve got enough high level talent to match up with the powers of the sport. But not yet.”

After the Alabama game, I had to change my analysis. Whatever I thought of this roster’s talent and the program’s progress under Heupel, I had to adjust to the new reality. As it turns out, Tennessee is there.

Whether or not they beat Georgia, that’s going to remain true. After thrashing the likes of LSU in Baton Rouge, and dethroning the Crimson Tide, there’s really only one obstacle left. That’s the Georgia Bulldogs.

I’ve rambled on enough, so here’s my analysis.

I think that Georgia has yet to face an offense with the mix of tempo and talent that Tennessee possesses. The one time they faced this style of offense, that team—a mid level MAC team—scored over 20 points and was within striking distance for four quarters. Georgia has certainly learned from that game, and there is no doubt in my mind that Georgia’s safeties and cornerbacks are better than anything Tennessee has faced as well. But after what we have seen this year, are you really going to bet on Tennessee being stifled on offense?

On the other side of the ball, it is going to be a strength versus strength matchup. The Volunteers pride themselves on stonewalling opposing running games and forcing offenses to play behind the chains. Meanwhile, Georgia’s offensive line has bullied their way to a 8-0 record, and made life very easy for their talented running backs and veteran quarterback. I will go ahead and take Tennessee’s defense in the run game matchup. It’s going to come down to Stetson Bennett limiting mistakes and taking advantage of an erratic Tennessee secondary.

I know what the ratings systems say. I know that they all favor Georgia by a decent amount. It is a home game for the Bulldogs as well.

But I’m not picking them. Give me Tennessee by a razor thin margin. A duel that will go down to the wire.

Nick: Tennessee 45, Georgia 38

UGA has maybe the best player in college football in tight end Brock Bowers, and Tennessee isn’t alone in that it has nobody on the roster who can cover him.

But the Volunteer offense has its full complement of wide receivers back, all healthy, for the first time in several weeks.

So each offense has a specific advantage over the opposing defense. Those factors may or may not offset.

Georgia also has the advantage of seeing how Alabama tried to play defense against Tennessee, and it will probably opt to try and blitz often to get the offense off its game rather than let Hooker sit back, get comfortable and find guys running wide open down the field.

If Tennessee’s offensive line can continue its strong play, and the Vols can please dear god cut down on the penalties, UT gets the win.

But if the OL has a bad day, and UGA knocks the Vols’ offense off its tracks, then a seven-to-14 point win for Georgia wouldn’t surprise me.

Matthew: Tennessee 38, Georgia 34

In a season full of the biggest games the Vols have played in years, this is the biggest. Win, and you’re in Atlanta all things considered. I think they’re up for the task.

This game is strength on strength across the board. Tennessee’s top offense in America will face the best group of defensive backs they’ll see this season on the best schemed defense.

As for Georgia, Tennessee is hard to run on, and not just in a “we can still gash them when we need to” way. This is a legit great unit, but Georgia’s ground attack is as formidable as it is unrelenting. Tennessee’s key will be getting the secondary play it’s been getting of late. Put the pressure on Stetson Bennett.

It’s not easy winning between the hedges, but we’ve seen this team defy every challenge put in front of them. Go ahead and add another.