3 best bets for Georgia vs Tennessee
This Saturday, #1 Tennessee (8-0, 4-0 SEC) heads to Athens to square off with #3 Georgia (8-0, 5-0 SEC) at Sanford Stadium (3:30 pm ET kickoff).
While both would be among the College Football Playoff field if the season ended today, it doesn’t, and the loser of Saturday’s tilt will be in a precarious position moving forward. The stakes could scarcely be higher.
Despite holding the #1 ranking, the Vols aren’t getting a lot of love from oddsmakers. Not only are they a +1100 longshot in the National Championship odds (behind Georgia, Ohio State, Michigan, and an Alabama team they already beat), but the top-ranked team in the country is an 8.5-point road underdog against UGA.
It’s plenty easy to find pundits screaming that’s too many points and equally easy to find ones screaming too few. Only time will reveal the truth. Here are the plays I’m making on this heavyweight matchup. (The odds below come from FanDuel Sportsbook Tennessee.)
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Pick #1: First Half Under 33.5 Points
The overall game script I foresee is considerably slower and more methodical than Tennessee fans have become accustomed to this season. Kirby Smart knows the strength of the Volunteers lies on offense, particularly the passing game. He doesn’t want this to turn into a shootout. He’ll do what he can to keep his own offense on the field and the Tennessee offense out of rhythm.
That begs the question: is it even possible to keep this Tennessee offense out of rhythm? The Vols have put up at least 34 points on every team they’ve played so far, including 52 against Alabama, arguably the best defense they’ve faced.
But Georgia’s defense – with or without Nolan Smith – is a different animal than anything Hendon Hooker and company have seen so far. It’s the top-ranked unit in Defensive Efficiency per Football Outsiders and sits second in scoring (10.5 PPG). The Bulldogs won’t let this one get away from them early. On top of that, I doubt Smart will have his foot slammed on the throttle from the jump. If he tries to establish the run early on, Tennessee’s rock-solid rush defense has a great shot at forcing some 3rd-and-longs.
The teams would need to average 17 points per quarter in the first half to hit the 1H over (33.5). Based on the game script I’m forecasting, that’s too many points for the first 30 minutes.
Pick #2: Stetson Bennett Under 293.5 Passing Yards
This number is bang-on Bennett’s average passing yards per game for the season. As discussed above, I think UGA will come out with a somewhat measured approach on offense, trying to establish the run and keep Hooker, the new favorite in the Heisman odds, standing on the sideline.
Yes, Tennessee’s defense is considerably stronger against the run than it is against the pass, and UGA’s tight-end tandem of Brock Bowers and Darnell Washington are going to be matchup nightmares. But if Georgia gets a lead and is having any success on the ground, Bennett won’t get enough attempts to hit three bills.
Pick #3: Tennessee +8.5 (-110)
The overall picture I’m trying to paint is a slower-paced game (slower than many are expecting, anyway) between fairly even teams. If that’s how it pans out, then taking the points with UT is the safer play.
Georgia has certainly boat-raced its share of opponents this season. Seven of its eight wins have come by at least 17 points. Only Missouri (26-22) was able to buck that trend.
But let’s keep in mind who the Dawgs have played: Oregon, Missouri, and South Carolina are their three best wins so far. The Oregon win (49-3) looks better and better by the week as the Ducks continue to run the table in the Pac-12. But that game came in Week 1, and Oregon had to fly across the country. I’m not sure the final score provides an accurate depiction of the teams’ relative strength.
Georgia hasn’t had to face Alabama, Ole Miss, LSU, or Kentucky yet in SEC play. Tennessee represents by far its stiffest test to date, perhaps by several factors.
I will be surprised if UGA out-gains Tennessee by a wide margin. There are other ways to run away with a game – and takeaways by the Georgia defense is one very plausible possibility – but I will reiterate that I see this as a slower game between two excellent teams. I think it remains competitive throughout and Tennessee covers the 8.5.
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