The No. 14 Tennessee Volunteers (2-0) will travel down to Athens, Georgia this week in hopes of beating the No. 3 Georgia Bulldogs (2-0) for the first time since 2016.
Tennessee’s eight-game win streak —which is tied for the nation’s longest win streak— is on the line. For Georgia, it’s about putting distance between itself and the rest of the teams in the SEC East. Both teams know what is at stake Saturday, which should make it a fun contest.
But until then, let’s dive into this week’s game preview.
- All-time series history: The Bulldogs barely lead the all-time series with a 24-23-2 record. They’ve been able to make up ground by winning eight of the last 10 meetings.
- Longest win streak: Tennessee won nine straight contests between 1989-1999.
- Interesting series fact: The Vols have scored 30+ points in 14 of the last 19 meetings.
- 2020 offensive and defensive rankings: The Vols currently own the SEC’s ninth-best offense (10th passing, 2nd rushing) and the third-best defense (4th passing, 8th rushing). The Bulldogs are seventh in total offense (7th passing, 3rd rushing) and first in total defense (first passing, first rushing).
What To Watch For
- Georgia’s defense: This unit is as nasty as they come and will certainly be Tennessee’s biggest challenge to date —if not all year. The Bulldogs are defensively sound on all three levels and have smothered their first two opponents to the tune of 16 combined points, or just eight points per game if you want to get fancy. Tennessee has shown the ability to move the ball, but that will be put to the ultimate test on Saturday.
- How each team runs the ball: The Vols are second in the SEC in rushing offense. The Bulldogs are third. They aren’t getting those yards from big chunk gains, either, as both teams are second (UGA) and third (UT) in terms of rushing attempts. The running game is a staple of both offenses and it will be needed in a big way for whichever team wants to win this game.
- Tennessee and third down: Last week was much better (6/13 on third down) than the 1 for 12 showing against South Carolina, but the Vols still need to be better if they want to win this game. Keeping Georgia’s defense on the field for as long as possible will be one of the key aspects of this matchup. Which segues perfectly into the next point...
- Tennessee’s up-tempo pace on offense: I honestly wouldn’t mind it if the Vols continued their up-tempo style of play on offense this weekend. They’ve shown to be more than capable of making plays and sustaining drives and a lot of those drives have ended in points. While the Vols need to score as many points as possible, shouldn’t they also attempt to wear down the Bulldog defense in order to be able to move the ball in the fourth quarter? I say go with whatever works, so if that means up-tempo, then let’s ride.
- Georgia’s quarterback situation: Will we see J.T. Daniels come in? He was cleared to play about 10 days ago, but per 247Sports, he was seen practicing with the scout team a couple of days ago. What happens if Stetson Bennett struggles? Would Kirby Smart put D’Wan Mathis in (who is 8/17 for 55 yards and a touchdown this year) or would he go straight to Daniels? I know this much: Let’s hope the Vols can force the Bulldogs into that situation, because that would mean the defense is doing its job.
- QB Jarrett Guarantano: He showed more growth last week against Missouri and will need to continue to improve if he wants to have a shot at winning this week.
- The offensive line: We’ve talked about them all week long and with good reason. Now, it’s time to go out and excel against a dominant defense like Georgia.
- RB Ty Chandler: The SEC’s leading rusher faces a really tough defensive front. It wouldn’t surprise me if Chandler is more effective in the passing game this week. Regardless, Tennessee has to keep putting the ball in his hands.
- OLB Deandre Johnson: Until the Vols find some consistency up front, they’ll have to rely on Johnson and the linebackers to make plays. Johnson leads the SEC in sacks and will look to stay on top of the mountain against the Bulldogs.
- MLB Henry To’o To’o: This front seven would be in major trouble without To’o To’o. He’s become a top-10 defensive player in the SEC.
- CB Bryce Thompson: Bulldogs receiver George Pickens is one of the SEC’s best receivers, even if Kearis Jackson currently leads the team in receptions and receiving yards.
- QB Stetson Bennett: The last thing Georgia needs is an inconsistent offensive performance, especially at quarterback. We saw in the Arkansas game what can happen when you don’t have the position nailed down.
- RB Zamir White: Is it really a surprise that Georgia has one of the best running backs in the nation? That’s been the case for a billion years, now.
- WR George Pickens: See the above comment. Don’t let his slow start to the season fool you. This dude can ball. You cannot sleep on him, whatsoever.
- DL Jordan Davis: There’s a reason why he was voted First Team All-SEC before the season began. He is a terror at the point of attack and you better believe Tennessee’s interior offensive line will have its hands full.
- CB Mark Webb: He’ll likely be on Jordan Palmer, who is Tennessee’s primary pass-catcher. Webb recorded an interception and forced a fumble last week, so he’s a playmaker the Vols will have to keep an eye on.
- S Richard LeCounte: Many wondered why he didn’t leave for the NFL last year, but that doesn’t matter now. All that matters are his SEC-leading two interceptions.
Injuries To Monitor (non-COVID related)
- DL Elijah Simmons: The defensive tackle went down with what appeared to be a leg injury against Missouri, but Jeremy Pruitt said earlier this week that he should be good to go for Saturday.
- OT Jahmir Johnson: Johnson went out early with a hammy against the Gamecocks. According to Pruitt, he should play this week, as well.
- CB Bryce Thompson: So far it’s good news for Tennessee’s injured players and the same goes for Thompson, who should play this week.
- TE Tre McKitty: The grad transfer should make his season debut Saturday and will help boost a tight end room that has five catches for 75 yards and a touchdown so far this year.
- RB James Cook: Kirby Smart has listed Dalvin Cook’s younger brother as “day-to-day”. The Bulldogs could really use his speed in this game.
- OLB Jermaine Johnson: His absence against Auburn was more of a precautionary deal and should play on Saturday.
- WR Dominick Blaylock: A knee issue will keep him out of this game.
- CB Kelee Ringo: The true freshman will miss this game because of an arm injury.
The biggest question concerning the Vols and this game is really just of whether or not they have enough to get it done on Saturday against a top-5 team. We know the Vols have improved, but how much have they improved in terms of becoming one of the SEC’s best teams?
The good news is that the Vols and the Bulldogs are healthy, for the most part. Neither team is really missing any key players, so we will get a very accurate gauge of where Tennessee stands on Saturday.
If Tennessee can avoid penalties and turnovers, then there’s no doubt this game will go into the fourth quarter and it’ll be anyone’s guess from that point on. But I’m not sure the Vols are ready for this type of defense, just yet. They will keep it close and cover the spread, however, I think they’ll walk out of Athens with their first loss of the year.