DOG FIGHT: Top-ranked Vols v. third-ranked Dawgs between the hedges (Staff predictions)
By: The All Vol Call in Show Staff
For the first time since 1998, the Tennessee Volunteers are 8-0 and hold the top spot in college football. Following the release of the first College Football Playoff rankings this season, the Vols moved to number-one in the country, followed by Ohio State, Georgia, and Clemson to round out the top-four.
With a titanic clash set for Saturday against the third-ranked Bulldogs, Tennessee is seeking to secure victory what is the most threatening game remaining on its schedule for the regular season. There is a very real chance that if the Vols win this game, they finish the regular season 12-0, and will undoubtedly play for a shot at the college football championship.
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I'm looking forward to making the trip to Georgia this weekend for the game. For the first time since I was a little boy, the Vols are absolutely ripping through everyone. After assuming the top spot, following the dismantling of Kentucky, it truly began to set in for me; this team can actually win the whole thing this season. It's not just me, being a die-hard fan, everyone else sees it too. However, Georgia is the defending national champion. This game will not be easy for Tennessee by any stretch of the imagination.
Georgia is down two defensive starters, including standout Nolan Smith. If there is one area of your team you want to be at full strength against Tennessee, it's the defense. Stetson Bennett IV has only thrown nine touchdowns on the season but takes care of the ball fairly well with only three interceptions as well. His top target, who is arguably the best tight end in college football, Brock Bowers, has been on the receiving end of three of those touchdown passes. The Bulldogs run the ball fairly well as well.
However, Tennessee does all of these things just as well, if not better than Georgia. Hendon Hooker, current Heisman front-runner, has thrown 21 touchdowns and just one interception this season. Jalin Hyatt has emerged as the best wide receiver in college football, leading the league with 14 touchdown receptions and nearly 1,000 yards through eight games, en route to setting multiple Tennessee receiving records. Jaylen Wright and Jabari Small have been running loose like wild stallions this season as well.
The Tennessee defense stepped up big last week against Kentucky, showing flashes of what potential they possess. This Tennessee team isn't the same team that Georgia is used to seeing, and this Georgia team isn't the same the Tennessee has seen the last few years either. Everything seems to be falling into place for the Vols this season. I can't believe I'm even making predictions like this, but I think Tennessee wins this game, and finishes the season 12-0 for the first time since 1998.
Prediction: Tennessee - 52 | Georgia - 42
Junior Staff Writer
1998. I was five years old; power T stick-on tattoos on both cheeks, orange and white pom poms were a staple in our home for Saturday games. Tennessee was 8-0, and Knoxville was alive. Fast forward 24 years. My son is 5 years old. He wears his Smokey gray “98” jersey every Saturday. Tennessee (1) is 8-0. Knoxville is alive again. Boy, it sure feels like ‘98.
Georgia (3), the reigning CFP Champions are holding onto a perfect season thus far. Notable wins over Oregon and Florida, Georgia has shown spurts of the team we know from last year. Dominant defense, explosive plays, and quarterback play led the Bulldogs to their first title in decades. Do they have enough of that left to overcome a steamrolling Tennessee team?
Let me say, I think Georgia is good... really good. I think they have one of the best playmakers in the country in Brock Bowers, a tight end talent that I’m not sure I have ever witnessed. Their defense is stout, a Kirby Smart staple. With Nolan Smith out for this matchup, and big man Jalen Carter battling an MCL injury, the Bulldogs will miss their presence up front. Tennessee’s offensive line has been stellar, and with these two sidelined or not 100%, their job just became a lot less difficult for Saturday.
Tennessee comes in as the #1 ranked team in the nation, and they have earned that title this season. However, nothing is given, and they have a big hurdle to overcome this Saturday. Tennessee looked pristine last week against Kentucky, handing them a 44-6 loss. Hooker and Hyatt have continued to make big plays, leaving opposing coaches scratching their heads. Tennessee has averaged over 50 points per game this season and over 40 points per game against power 5 foes. Everyone talks about the passing attack, but Tennessee has scored 26 TD rushing and 26 TD passing on the year. Also of note, Georgia has relied heavily on the run-in scoring situations with 68% of their touchdowns being on the ground.
I think Tennessee’s defense will be the difference maker in this game. Showing up big time and limiting a good Kentucky team to 6 points was a major step in the right direction. I think Georgia is a very good football team, but they have had moments of inconsistencies this season. If these inconsistencies show up and Tennessee’s defense continues to make big plays, watch out.
Prediction: Tennessee - 45 | Georgia - 35
Senior Staff Writer
This year's edition of the Tennessee/Georgia game has postseason implications. Both teams are undefeated, Georgia is the reigning National Champion and Tennessee is shaking up the college football landscape. To make things interesting, Tennessee wasn’t ranked in the top 25 polls to start the season and now has the #1 offense in the nation.
The first edition of the College Football Playoff Rankings was released Tuesday night. Tennessee is ranked 1, Ohio State 2, Georgia 3 and Clemson 4. According to CFP selection committee chairman Boo Corrigan, Tennessee was ranked No.1 on the strength of Vols’ win over Alabama and LSU. Kirby Smart and his team aren’t concerned with the ranking because the winner of this game is a favorite to win the SEC East and potentially the National Championship.
Kirby Smarts’ team will have his hands full if the Tennessee offense starts clicking. The home field advantage will be a factor, but the Bulldogs are 2-6 under Smart when his teams face top 10 offenses. Josh Heupels’ offensive schemes don’t allow you to disguise things, they make you line up and play. This is the most anticipated SEC matchup on Saturday according to the fans. Record setting ticket prices indicate that this game, Tennessee versus Georgia, is the most highly anticipated matchup in college football history.
Prediction: Tennessee - 35 | Georgia - 32
Junior Staff Writer
I feel like I’ve used the phrase “the stage is set” an awful lot this season, and that is undoubtedly a good thing. The Vols keep putting themselves in position to play high-profile, high-gravity games, and this one has the most at stake for the Vols in any game since 2001, when many of the current players weren’t yet born. Border rivalry bragging rights, an almost certain SEC East division title, a unanimous #1 rank, and the inside track for a 12-0 regular season and a College Football Playoff berth… say no more. Whether Tennessee wins or loses Saturday, the fact that they’re even in this position in Year 2 of the Heupel era is simply remarkable.
The obvious matchup everyone wants to see here is the unstoppable force that is the UT offense vs. the immovable object that is the UGA defense. Expect the Vols to give the Georgia defense fits for two reasons. First, the offense is very unconventional and not at all similar to other high-powered offenses Georgia has seen, and second, the Bulldogs have struggled to get to the QB, so Hendon Hooker is likely to have time to go through his progressions without ending up on the ground. That said, Georgia has a better secondary than Alabama, plus a lot of elite talent and team speed on defense that will allow them to make up ground on plays many other teams would be burned on. So, it’s doubtful that even a good offensive game by the Vols will get them to their season average of around 49ppg… a score somewhere in the 30’s seems more likely.
I think the matchup on the other end is being slept on in this game, and there may be a larger variance in the final Georgia point total than there is in the final Tennessee point total. The Vols defense this year is predicated on trying to create disruptive plays and limit huge plays for the opposing offense. Georgia is actually very comfortable dinking and dunking their way down the field, and they do it especially well with their tight ends. Maybe after a great game by the UT secondary, and particularly the corners against Kentucky, the Vols switch it up and press a bit more against a UGA receiving corps that’s merely decent. The Bulldogs also tend to commit turnovers in bunches, so grabbing an early takeaway may help Tennessee rattle Stetson Bennett and the UGA offense into making more mistakes. The run defense that has been excellent all year for UT needs to come up big against a solid ground attack, or else Georgia will have favorable downs and distances, as well as making throws easier for Bennett. If that happens, the Dawgs are liable to light up the scoreboard.
This contest figures to be a 12-round heavyweight fight, although either team could deliver a quick knockout if they can control the pace of play and the opposing offense falters early. My guess is that that doesn’t happen, and this game ends up coming down to some very tense moments. Although my preseason record prediction was 9-3 for this Tennessee football team, and this game at Georgia was penciled in as a loss, it seems like each week, I’ve been able to see just enough from this group to convince me to pick them again the next week. I flipped to the Vols’ side before the LSU game, and they paid it off with a dominating win. I cautiously flipped again before the Alabama game, and once again, they found a way to get the job done. Georgia is a great team, and likely the toughest regular season game of the year for the Vols, but I feel justified in riding till the wheels fall off with this relentless Tennessee squad. Plus, I trust Hooker more than Bennett with the game on the line.
Prediction: Tennessee – 41 | Georgia – 37
Junior Staff Writer
The Tennessee Volunteers and the Georgia Bulldogs square off Saturday in the most recent Game Of The Century. #1 vs #2 or #1 vs #3 depending on your choice of poll. This will decide the SEC East, this will propel one of these two teams to the playoff as long as they make it to the SEC Championship unblemished. It's the high powered offense of Tennessee vs the stingy defense of the Bulldogs. The Dawgs have been great on both sides of the ball but remain largely untested. Aside from the Oregon beat down way back in week 1, UGA has yawned their way through the season. This will be the first time I think we see them really get on their toes and pay attention. Much has been made about the hype and crowd noise and atmosphere. I've been to Athens over a dozen times, it can spike in noise but it doesn't hold the sustainable white noise that rains down on the field like Neyland. In all honesty, if it gets loud enough that Hooker and the boys can't communicate easily, then the UGA defense is going to face that as well and against this offense that could provide massive problems.
Moreover, the Vols quick pace doesn't provide the normal rise and fall opportunity for a crowd and could at times render this less of a factor. The Dawgs are more talented. They have more depth. They can flat out fly. But the Vols offense, as long as it can get the chains moving, can hinder that depth with pace and not allowing substitutions. Stetson Bennett and the UGA offense has fed off the defense this season. Multiple opportunities are afforded this offense to get going because of their defensive efficiency. This has led to the Dawgs scoring at more than 40 points per game.
To win this game Tennessee needs to put pressure on Stetson Bennett on BOTH sides of the ball. The Vols need to put points on the board every trip down the field and rattle the Dawgs signal caller when he tries to answer. Much has been made about the aerial attack of Tennessee and this is the time to let it absolutely fly.
While there is an embarrassment of riches talent wise in the Dawgs secondary the experience is minimal after the mass exodus of draft picks last season. This is where the Vols will win this game. Josh Huepel will scheme mismatches against this young secondary and push the pace while the defense sells out to put on pressure to shake Stetson Bennett. I think Bennett makes a couple mistakes in this game and it's enough to give the Vols the edge.
Prediction: Tennessee - 42 | UGA - 31
Senior Staff Writer
This game comes down to two things, both on the defensive side of the ball. Can the Tennessee defense contain Stetson Bennett and force him to make plays with his legs? And can Tennessee slow down Georgia’s two-headed monster in Brock Bowers and Darnell Washington? Bowers is more than your typical pass-blocking tight end who may catch a pass or two. He’s the swiss army knife of the Georgia offense. Against Kent State, Bowers reeled off a 75-yard touchdown run off an inside handoff. Not something the prototypical college tight end is capable of doing. If Tennessee can do that, they will all but guarantee their spot in the SEC Championship game and potentially the college football playoff.
Prediction: Tennessee - 37 | Georgia - 34