It’s finally here. The battle of the two remaining undefeated teams in the Southeastern Conference, Georgia vs. Tennessee, kicks off this Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET on CBS.
With both teams 8-0, the winner can punch its ticket to the SEC championship. Georgia is an 8.5-point favorite to beat the Vols, per BetMGM. The over/under is set at 66.5.
All of the talk has been about Tennessee’s offense, which is certainly fair. Look at the numbers; you’ll see the Vols either lead or almost lead the nation in the major categories. And Georgia’s defense is no joke, but it’s not on the same level as last year’s squad.
Defensively, Tennessee ranks very low practically everywhere, most notably in passing defense. Stetson Bennett could be due for a big day, but he needs to be perfect, which he has not been lately. Can he do enough to keep up?
Here are five reasons Tennessee can beat Georgia on Saturday…
Georgia's passing defense is good, but it's also suspicious at times
Georgia’s defense is statistically good everywhere. But the stats do not tell the whole story. The passing defense looked sloppy in the second half against Florida, allowing multiple long plays. Georgia has been lucky at times this season as well, with the opposing quarterback overthrowing an open man.
UGA is not getting sacks; it has only 10, but it is applying pressure. But pressure against a quarterback who can evade it can lead to open receivers. Also, outside linebacker Nolan Smith is doubtful this week after suffering an injury vs. Florida.
Cornerback Kelee Ringo has played well, but he’s had some mistakes. Freshman Malaki Starks is a future superstar, but he’s had plays that make you remember he’s a freshman.
But really, this is more about Tennessee’s offense than it is Georgia’s defense. Hooker will move the ball … that’s inevitable. Tennessee’s passing offense is No. 2 in America, wide receiver Jalin Hyatt is on an absolute tear and Cedric Tillman is back.
Georgia's banged up
Outside linebacker Nolan Smith is done
Offensive lineman Amarius Mims is questionable with a knee injury.
Running back Kendall Milton did not play vs. Florida with a quad injury. He’s questionable.
Defensive tackle Jalen Carter is back, but maybe not at 100%. He’s probable.
Wide receiver AD Mitchell is questionable with an ankle injury. He did not play on Saturday.
Defensive back Dan Jackson is done for the year.
Tennessee's run defense ranks No. 9 in America
Georgia is going to have to be able to move the ball really, really well if it wants to win this game. That means it needs a PERFECT outing from quarterback Stetson Bennett. The good news is, I think that’s possible. But it’s definitely not a given. Tennessee’s passing defense has been bad this season, allowing 300.8 passing yards per game. That ranks No. 127 out of 131.
But what if Bennett is not quite on his A-game? Can Georgia run the ball well enough on the Vols? Tennessee’s rushing defense ranks No. 9 in the nation, allowing only 2.9 yards per carry.
Georgia will need to run the ball and chew up clock. But if Tennessee can slow the run, Georgia could be in trouble.
Georgia CANNOT turn the ball over
One turnover may make the difference. Georgia had three last week against Florida. Luckily, the Florida offense is nowhere near as good as Tennessee’s.
Bennett threw two picks and McIntosh lost a fumble vs. Florida. Against Auburn, Bennett lost a fumble, and McConkey also fumbled the ball. Against Mizzou, both Bennett and Milton lost a fumble.
Georgia cannot turn the ball over against Tennessee, because the Vols will make UGA pay. Tennessee has a plus-8 turnover margin this season while Georgia is even at plus-0.
Could this just be Tennessee's year?
I know, not the best reason here. But sometimes, the college football heavens are looking down on one team. That 52-49 win over Alabama was so magical it would not seem right that Tennessee loses this game.
It reminds me of the 2013 Auburn Tigers team that used “The Prayer at Jordan-Hare” and the “Kick-Six” to make it to the national title.
Georgia’s won 10 of the last 12 against Tennessee, but something just feels different here.
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