The Bulldogs and Volunteers will square off in the SEC on CBS Game of the Week
Georgia makes the trek to Rocky Top this weekend carrying its undefeated record into Neyland Stadium to play a Tennessee team that has steadily improved under first-year coach Josh Heupel. But let’s be real — this is about bragging rights more than anything else. Tennessee hasn’t topped Georgia since the “Dobbs Nail Boot” game in 2016, and the Bulldogs would love nothing more than to put an end to the little bit of momentum the Volunteers have gained over the last month-plus.
This game will feature big-time matchup between a Georgia defense that is, by far, the best in the country vs. a Tennessee offense that has evolved into one of the most dangerous big-play units in the SEC.
Let’s break down the matchup and make picks straight up and against the spread.
The biggest challenge yet: Make no mistake, Tennessee’s offense is the biggest threat to Georgia’s defense so far this season. The Volunteers lead the SEC in yards per play in conference games at 7.15, and they put up a whopping 9.81 last weekend in the win over Kentucky. Hendon Hooker is one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in the SEC, and coach Kirby Smart knows just how dangerous he can be when Heupel cranks up the tempo.
“It’s so fast you can’t really simulate it in your practices, so you have to try and find a creative way to practice for it,” Smart said on Monday. “It’s so different than the triple option, I’m not trying to compare it to that, but it’s so different that it’s hard to prepare for. You can’t simulate it with your team unless you do it. We don’t do that as well as they do it, so it makes it tough to prepare for.”
If Tennessee can continue to hit those big plays, Georgia might be tested for the first time this season.
It’s Stetson Bennett’s show: It’s clear at this point that the former walk-on is Georgia’s starting quarterback for the foreseeable future. He got the start, threw for 255 yards and two touchdowns and was the unquestioned No. 1 quarterback vs. Missouri until JT Daniels came in for mop-up duty. Sure, Daniels might not be 100%. But if he’s healthy enough to be a backup, he’s healthy enough to start.
Can Bennett win a College Football Playoff title? That remains to be seen. But he ranks No. 2 in the nation in yards per attempt at 11.8, which is too much for Smart to ignore.
Jordan Davis’ Heisman campaign: Is the massive nose guard for the Bulldogs a Heisman Trophy candidate? Yep, at least according to Caesars Sportsbook. He’s 11th in odds at +8000, and a dominating performance against this offense on the national stage will undoubtedly bring that buzz to a dull roar. Smart knows just how important he is clogging up the middle, but is going to leave the Heisman talk to voters.
“I love Jordan. What he has done for our defense is incredible,” he said on Monday. “I don’t think you could measure in statistics what he has done for our defense. I know analysts will be deciding who gets to go for the Heisman, and who is up for it is determined by the media and the talking heads.”
That’s a big “wink, wink, nod, nod” to voters to pay attention to Davis’ work even when he doesn’t make a tackle. Smart might not publicly care, but he knows what a Heisman campaign for Davis would mean for his program and for recruiting.
Tennessee will have enough success in the big-play department to put up more points on Georgia than any other team in the country. Granted, all it will take is 14 points to accomplish that feat, but Hooker will bust a few big ones and at least keep Georgia’s defense honest in the second half. Smart will gear things down late in the game simply to get out of Knoxville with a win as quickly as possible. Prediction: Tennessee (+20.5)