How Tennessee can beat Georgia on Saturday
When the Georgia Bulldogs roll into Knoxville on Saturday for a 3:30 p.m. ET kickoff on CBS, they will be a considerable favorite to advance their season record to 5-0.
As of this article’s publish time, the Dawgs are a 7.5-point favorite. That number could climb as we get closer to Saturday.
Georgia garnered a ton of hype coming into the season, but many wondered if it was warranted. Sure, the talent was there, as the Bulldogs returned their quarterback, stable of running backs and nearly every starter from last year’s defense.
But could this team live up to its expectations of winning the SEC East and challenging Alabama for a potential College Football Playoff bid? Former head coach Mark Richt’s teams were notorious for falling just short of being a national contender. Second-year head coach Kirby Smart has yet to show signs of his team falling short.
Just four weeks into the season, Georgia is ranked No. 7 in the country. The Bulldogs knocked off a ranked Notre Dame team 20-19 on the road in Week 2 and are fresh off a punishing 31-3 defeat of ranked Mississippi State.
All signs point to Georgia being the heavy favorite to represent the SEC East in Atlanta. No other team in the division has appeared to be anywhere near the level of the Dawgs — especially Tennessee, which is coming off an embarrassing 17-13 win over UMass — but SEC football is weird.
That’s really the most accurate way to describe it. It’s weird, and it’s hard to run through a full slate of games without a slip-up here or there, regardless of how talented a team is. This game could be a tricky one for Georgia, especially because Volunteers head coach Butch Jones may be coaching for his job. Tennessee won’t be holding anything back, and you can bet its level of effort will be much higher this week.
The Tennessee-Georgia series has been closely contested over the past few years. Since 2011, the game has been decided by eight points or less in every meeting.
Here are three things the Vols will need to take down the Bulldogs:
First- and second-down defense
This is the first key for Tennessee to have a chance. The Vols’ defense has to be efficient on first and second down, i.e. the downs on which Georgia likely will be running the ball. Tennessee must force third-and-long situations.
If the Vols get gashed for eight yards on every first down, it’s going to be a long day. But if Tennessee’s defense can slow down Georgia running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel and force those obvious passing situations on third down, it could have success. Tennessee ranks No. 4 in the SEC against the pass, while the Bulldogs are last in the conference in passing offense. The game plan should be to make Jake Fromm/Jacob Eason beat you.
Solid quarterback play
Making the quarterback beat you also will likely be Georgia’s game plan. Running back John Kelly, who leads the SEC in rushing, is undoubtedly Tennessee’s most versatile player on offense, so the Bulldogs should be seeking to key on him and force the Vols’ offense to throw. If that’s the case, it means Tennessee quarterback Quinten Dormady will have to play better than he has all season.
Dormady is talented enough — he’s currently the SEC’s No. 4 passer in terms of yards per game with a 215.8 average — however, he’s only averaging 7 yards per attempt. Also, his efficiency rating of 128.2 ranks 12th in the conference. In this game, Dormady will need to be better at stretching the field and keeping Georgia’s defense honest. The receivers have been there, but Dormady has consistently overthrown them. The Vols’ QB also must limit turnovers against a nasty Georgia defense.
This one may seem like an obvious blanket statement. The crowd always needs to be a factor, right? Sure, but this week it is going to be even more prevalent.
First of all, this will be the first real raucous environment Fromm has been in. He played well at Notre Dame, but with all due respect to the Fighting Irish, it’s not the SEC. It doesn’t compare to 102,455 screaming fans in orange. Plus, Georgia fans will not be able to overtake the stadium the way they did in South Bend.
For Tennessee, this is a key because crowd support has been known to will the defense on. It was a significant factor in the Vols’ second-half win over Florida last season, as well as the 2015 comeback against the Dawgs. Tennessee needs all the advantages it can get in this game. Luckily, it will have Neyland.