On Saturday, the winner will control SEC East and have an easier path back into the College Football Playoff; for Tennessee, it could mean finally claiming its conference crown after 22 years of trying!
On third down, Georgia faces what should have been a manageable 3rd and 12 due to an unfortunate penalty that turns it into 3rd and 20 for them.
1. Hendon Hooker and the Vols’ offense
Hendon Hooker has been one of the standout players on Tennessee football all season. On Saturday, he’ll face his most significant test yet as one of college football’s iconic stadiums plays host to one of its premier contests – something Hendon is more than ready for!
Hooker has flourished since being thrust into his current starting role after quarterback Joe Milton was injured against Pittsburgh. Since then, he has established himself as an exceptional leader for Tennessee in Athens’ big matchups.
Hooker has emerged as a critical member of Tennessee’s offense due to his speed and precision in finding open receivers and making intelligent reads. His completion percentage is near 70%, and his passer rating is almost 158; moreover, he’s already eclipsed last season’s touchdown mark!
Hendon Hooker has proven that he can also run the ball in addition to his prolific passing skills. The senior has rushed for at least 100 yards in every game this season – scoring some big plays along the way! Hooker can turn any game on its head if left alone on offense; Georgia must remain alert if it wants to stop him!
Georgia is giving Tennessee room to move the ball downfield, but when they approach their red zone, they tighten up and force Tennessee into bad situations. This effective strategy has helped Georgia win four out of their last five meetings with Tennessee.
However, Tennessee has found itself out of tight spots by taking advantage of its deep receiving corps. Their playmakers can beat defenders on one play so that depth could prove key in this matchup against Kentucky. Furthermore, having sustained drives despite defense fatigue is crucial because Tennessee only has a short week to prepare for such an important matchup against them; without that strong performance on offense, navigating successfully in that matchup would prove much more challenging.
2. The Dawgs’ defense
Kirby Smart’s unit has exceeded all expectations this season by not allowing a single 100-yard rusher and ranking fourth nationally in that category.
Smart has successfully built his defense around its front seven. After losing five players to the 2021 draft in Round 1, Jordan Davis, Devonte Wyatt, Warren Ericson and Jalen Carter contribute as excellent inside linebackers. Nazir Stackhouse and Warren Brinson provide invaluable depth at end positions.
This group effectively shut down Tennessee’s running game and forced them to pass to keep pace. Furthermore, Georgia boasts a talented secondary unit that has yet to allow a single touchdown during any of their wins this season.
Georgia has had some difficulty in the passing game this season, but its talent should make this team difficult to beat. Along with Byron Logue and Lewis Cine, UGA boasts three talented cornerbacks, Amarius Mims, Jalen Mills, and Bear Alexander, who could all prove pivotal players against any opponent.
This veteran group can handle even the most demanding quarterback in the league. That is especially true when the Dawgs play their run-oriented, cover-nine scheme capable of shutting down even top offenses.
The best part of Georgia’s defense is its no-shortcuts approach. This team demands perfect execution of fundamental skills and elite decision-making from its defenders, which may not always work. However, it still boasts one of the most impressive units in college football this year. On Saturday against Tennessee’s potency offense, their ability to hold their ground against such formidable competition would be an enormous step towards winning back-to-back SEC East titles – not easy but not impossible with this strong unit ready for anything that comes their way!
3. The Vols’ special teams
Tennessee was competitive throughout the first half, thanks to their special teams’ particular play. Isaiah McKenzie returned the opening punt for a touchdown, and Aaron Medley kicked field goals of 37, 40, and 36 yards, plus two of the 20 punts from him and an effective fake field goal attempt from Aaron. Their defense prevented Georgia running back Nick Chubb from making impactful runs on the ground.
Run defense has been consistent in all games, though Georgia wore down Tennessee’s front seven in the second half. Georgia is yet another rushing team capable of reaching quarterback Jonathan Swift quickly; their defense features blitzes, linebackers, and safeties who attack soon toward the ball. This can confuse opponents, especially during pass coverage.
If they hope to succeed, Tennessee must adjust its defensive strategy in Athens. Tennessee could add Trevon Flowers or another safety to the box dedicated to Bowers and McIntosh; otherwise, Georgia wideouts might exploit the opening in Tennessee’s defense.
Josh Heupel’s offense is one of Georgia’s more lethal ones and will pose an interesting test to see how well their secondary can hold up against an attack like theirs.
The Vols must find a way to stop Georgia Bulldogs’ running attack, which ranks second nationally, while also taking advantage of their short fields with efficient punting.
4. The crowd
On Saturday night at Sanford Stadium in Georgia, Georgia fans were the loudest college football crowd ever. According to their scoreboard’s decibel count, they sometimes reached 130dB – which played a significant role in Tennessee losing this matchup.
Tennessee entered this matchup averaging 49.4 points per game and boasted the nation’s leading scoring offense, but they struggled against Georgia’s aggressive Bulldog defense. Only two touchdown passes were thrown by Tennessee while they had to punt on three out of their first five drives before Georgia’s Hendon Hooker sacked the opposing quarterback seven times, including once on their very first play of the game.
Tennessee and Georgia had a significant mismatch on Saturday. Tennessee’s offensive line struggled mightily against Georgia’s speedy, physical defensive front, while their running backs could do nothing against their run defense, which held Tennessee to only 2.2 yards per carry.
On top of all this, the crowd noise was so jarring that Tennessee suffered numerous pre-snap penalties, effectively ending their drives. Furthermore, the loud crowd noise made it difficult for their players to hear their coaches; wide receiver Jalin Hyatt often found himself shouting instructions during plays for them!
Kirby Smart challenged Georgia fans to have an impactful impact on the game by being loud. And they certainly delivered, leading their Bulldogs throughout the second half and earning a great road win against the No. 1 team in the country – marking a fifth straight road victory against ranked opponents for Georgia! Georgia outshined Tennessee on Saturday night, and its perfect start to the season was ended, though they will look to rebound against Missouri next weekend. Georgia won by an overwhelming margin but still lost No.1 status in both significant polls; nevertheless, their win will have an immense effect on College Football Playoff rankings. These two teams will meet again next Saturday for what promises to be another highly memorable matchup!