No. 7 Georgia at Tennessee
WHERE: Neyland Stadium
WHEN: Saturday, 3:39 p.m.
RECORDS: Georgia 4-0, 1-0 in SEC East; Tennessee 3-1, 0-1 in SEC East
TV/RADIO: CBS (Brad Nessler, Gary Danielson, Allie LeForce); Georgia Bulldog Radio Network (Scott Howard, Eric Zeier, Chuck Dowdle); Sirius/XM (137/190).
It’s always a huge game for both Georgia and Tennessee and this year is obviously no exception. The Bulldogs have started to grab the attention of the college football world after last week’s thrashing of Mississippi State, while Tennessee, despite its 3-1 mark, have struggled offensively and, at 0-1 in the SEC, is in much need of a conference win.
There are tons of storylines. For Georgia, can the Bulldogs extract a measure of revenge from last year’s contest decided on that final-play Hail Mary? The game also marks the return of Bulldog running back Nick Chubb to Knoxville since tearing up his knee at Neyland Stadium two years ago.
As for the game, freshman Jake Fromm is expected to make his fourth consecutive start, although Jacob Eason is expected to be cleared to play. Defensively, the Bulldogs have been playing on a season-long roll, allowing just four touchdowns through five games. However, they are expected to be tested by a Volunteer run game featuring John Kelly, the leading rusher in the SEC with 450 yards and six touchdowns.
Players to Watch:
Georgia – QB Jake Fromm, RB Nick Chubb, RB Sony Michel, RB D’Andre Swift, LT Isaiah Wynn, TE Isaac Nauta, WR Terry Godwin, WR Javon Wims, DT Trenton Thompson, N John Atkins, LB Lorenzo Carter, LB Davin Bellamy, LB Roquan Smith, DB J.R. Reed, S Dominick Sanders, P Cameron Nizialek, K Rodrigo Blankenship.
Tennessee – QB Quentin Dormady, RB John Kelly, TE Ethan Wolf, WR Marquez Callaway, LB Kolton Jumper, LE Jonathan Kongbo, DT Reginal McKenzie, SS Nigel Warrior, FS Micah Abernathy.
Five keys to the game:
• Get off to a fast start: We mentioned this last week against Mississippi State, and this holds especially true for the game against the Volunteers.
Tennessee is struggling on offense right now, and any quick surge by the Bulldogs is going to put that much more pressure on quarterback Quentin Dormady, who has had his ups and downs.
The Bulldogs caught Mississippi State’s attention with a perfectly executed flea-flicker on the game’s first play. Georgia probably won’t resort to that against the Vols, but the Bulldogs can make just as big of a statement by taking their first possession and driving down for an early touchdown. Putting the onus on Tennessee’s offense right off the bat should make for another fun-filled afternoon.
• Control John Kelly: At this stage in the season, running back John Kelly is probably the Vols’ biggest offensive weapon.
Four games in, Kelly leads the SEC in rushing with 450 yards and six touchdowns, and truth be told, is probably the best running back the Bulldogs have faced to date.
At 5-9 and 205 pounds, Kelly is a hard-nosed runner with a low center of gravity who has proven to be very tough to tackle. No doubt the Bulldogs – who rank third in the SEC in rushing defense – will focus on the Tennessee junior. Slowing him down would obviously help Georgia’s cause.
• Don’t worry about the past: This holds true on a couple of fronts. Georgia can’t be so fired up about avenging last year’s Hail Mary that they forget to play with the kind of fundamentals that have gotten the team to this point.
For my perspective, I don’t believe that will happen. The Bulldogs talk about being “humble and hungry” and coaches seemed to have truly gotten through to the players when it comes to forgetting the past and focus only on the task of playing football the way Kirby Smart wants it played.
Just play fundamentally sound football. That needs to be Smart’s only message. Execute the game plan and don’t make silly mistakes – that’s it.
• Don’t worry about the crowd: This applies mainly to Jake Fromm, but after watching the freshman for four games now, it’s hard to see this being much of problem.
Yes, this will be Fromm’s first road SEC game and, quite frankly, his first true road test considering the 50-50 crowd split at Notre Dame.
Nevertheless, Fromm comes off as nearly unflappable and it’s hard to imagine him being so rattled by playing at Tennessee that it’s going to affect the way he plays.
Not saying it couldn’t, but if Fromm struggles, it’s going to be due to Tennessee’s defense, not his surroundings. We’ll see.
• Pressure Dormady: After four straight weeks of playing quarterbacks best described as dual-threat performers, Dormady is the first pocket quarterback the Bulldogs will have faced this year.
To Tennessee’s credit, the Vols have only allowed two sacks of Dormady through four games, while the Bulldogs come in eighth in the SEC with eight sacks for losses of 60 yards.
Due to the style of quarterbacks they’ve played, we haven’t seen defensive coordinator Mel Tucker call for a ton of blitzes, but that could change against the Volunteers.
With the secondary playing better in man coverage than many projected it would, Tucker may be a bit more aggressive than we’ve seen this year. Dormady has been picked off four times in four games, and some extra pressure just might be the ticket for one or two more, which would obviously be huge.
Georgia is expected to be without starting right guard Solomon Kindley who re-injured his right ankle against Mississippi State. Senior Dyshon Sims is expected to start in his place.
Otherwise, Georgia is relatively healthy. Quarterback Jacob Eason hasn't played since spraining his left knee in the opener against Appalachian State, but returned to practice two weeks ago, and took second-team reps all week. I suspect Eason will be cleared to play against the Vols. If so, don't be surprised to see him inserted into the game if Fromm was to struggle.
The Bulldogs are also expected to welcome cornerback Malkom Parrish back into the starting lineup. Parrish missed the first three games with a broken bone in his left foot, but returned to get some snaps last week against Mississippi State.
It’s been a tough week in Knoxville. Fans are up in arms after an ugly win over UMass. The offense is scuffling, and during his Monday's press conference, head coach Butch Jones ranted to the media regarding negativity and “fake news” surrounding his program.
Still, the Vols are 3-1, but with everything that’s going on, it’s no surprise that Tennessee is circling the proverbial wagons for this one.
UT plans to checkerboard Neyland Stadium, break out the Smokey Gray uniforms and bring back Peyton Manning for halftime.
The Vols are pulling out all the stops. I have no doubt they’ll be ready. The crowd will be popping. That said … Color me convinced about Georgia’s defense. Yes, it’s just four games in but this looks to be the best Bulldog defense in 10 years.
The key to this game is Tennessee’s offense. If the Vols score 20 points, they’ve got a chance to win. Perhaps a pretty good one. However, as I mentioned, I’m a big believer in what Georgia is doing defensively and for that reason … Prediction - Georgia 24, Tennessee 10.