When: Saturday, October 1, 2016
Where: Sanford Stadium, Athens, Ga.
Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
Odds: The Volunteers are currently four-point favorites, via Odds Shark.
Two bitter rivals face off Saturday as the No. 25 Georgia Bulldogs (3-1, 1-1) host the No. 11 Tennessee Volunteers (4-0, 1-0) in a pivotal SEC East matchup. These two teams are coming off completely different performances last week. The Vols hosted Florida and got behind early before completely turning things around and taking down the Gators, 38-28.
Meanwhile, after a hot 3-0 start under new head coach Kirby Smart, the ‘Dawgs were smacked around in a humiliating 45-14 defeat at Ole Miss. Freshman quarterback Jacob Eason finally looked like the first-year player that he is, completing just 16 of 36 passes in the defeat. A concern for UGA this weekend is the health of star running back Nick Chubb. Chubb, who rushed for 57 yards before exiting with an ankle injury, has missed practice all week. While it was widely reported Chubb would miss this game, according to Smart, Chubb remains a game-time decision.
The irony of Chubb’s injury is that it was the Tennessee game last season where Chubb tore his ACL. Speaking of that game, the Bulldogs led 24-3 at halftime before blowing it, leading the Volunteers to break a five-game losing streak against Georgia.
UT quarterback Joshua Dobbs is quietly having a strong season. Against Florida last week, Dobbs’ first-half stat line was ugly. He completed only one of his first eight attempts, thanks to numerous drops. Dobbs turned it on in the second half and finished with 319 yards passing, four touchdowns, 80 yards rushing and another score. Dobbs is prone to slow starts, though, and the Bulldogs should try and exploit that with extra pressure to force him into some mistakes. It’s worth noting, though, that Dobbs exploited Florida when the Gators tried to bring pressure, going 5 of 5 against the blitz in the second half. Smart and his defense must be creative in sending pressure.
The Bulldogs will need a strong performance from Eason. Two weeks ago in the win at Missouri, Bulldog fans thought Eason had his coming out party in leading UGA on the game-winning drive. Last week’s loss to Ole Miss showed Eason will still experience growing pains. He wasn’t exactly helped by his teammates as two throws were dropped in the end zone.
Joshua Dobbs: As Dobbs goes, so go the Vols. It’s really quite that simple. If he gets off to a slow start, so does UT. If he gets rolling, Tennessee’s offense does, too. Dobbs is far from a perfect quarterback. He is prone to mistakes. For the Volunteers, they must keep him involved in the running game. It creates more possibilities for them on offense. Give Dobbs some run-pass options and he is capable of burning the Bulldogs. Dobbs is an elusive runner, so the more he runs in the first half, the more defenders UGA will keep in the box. That will open up more passing lanes.
Sony Michel: We have yet to officially find out if Chubb will play. He may, but why would the ‘Dawgs send him out there at anything less than 100 percent? They shouldn’t. Fortunately, Georgia still has Sony Michel.
Michel isn’t quite as strong as Chubb between the tackles, but he is equally capable of gashing UT with big plays. Michel missed the first game due to injury, but has gradually increased his workload in each of the last three weeks. He could be in line for a big day versus Tennessee. Georgia’s offensive staff should move Michel around and get him involved in the passing game, creating one-on-one opportunities against linebackers.
Georgia’s Offensive Line: UGA’s offensive line so far in 2016, well, to put it mildly, has struggled. Outside of the season opener against North Carolina, Georgia has struggled to open up running lanes. The ‘Dawgs found little to no running room against FCS Nicholls State three weeks back and Chubb is getting hit in the backfield far too often. Tennessee has a talented front, so Georgia needs this unit to step up in a major way.
So, what happens?
This is a rivalry game, so you can throw everything out of the window. Forget Tennessee is hot and that the ‘Dawgs have struggled on offense recently.
Chubb’s injury could change things for Georgia. His presence alone makes things easier on Eason as it forces defenders to have an extra man in the box. If he doesn’t play, that’s a major advantage for UT.
Georgia is the more desperate team, knowing a loss against Tennessee puts them two back in the standings already. That would essentially be three games back as the Vols would hold the tie-breaker. Tennessee, meanwhile, has had its share of issues in Athens. The Bulldogs have won the last four meetings in Athens.
This one will be close and come down to the final possession. A turnover will likely be the deciding factor and on this day that will go in favor of the Bulldogs.
Predicton: Georgia 26, Tennessee 24