Game Time: Saturday, September 29th, 3:30 p.m. ET/2:30 p.m. CT
Odds: Georgia (-31), -110 (Georgia Moneyline), +5000 (Tennessee Moneyline), 54.5 (O/U)
This game used to have some juice where the underdog going into it would leave the game the victor. During the Mark Richt era, UGA had some fine teams that should’ve knocked a middling Vols program back to Knoxville, but Tennessee had enough playmakers that they would win. Of course, most SEC fans remember the “hobnail boot” game. These and several others helped make this divisional rivalry an underrated and largely enjoyable one.
Then 2017 happened.
In Butch Jones’ final year at Tennessee, second-year head coach Kirby Smart brought his Bulldogs into Knoxville and shut them out. Like, literally. The final score was 41-0. The Vols offense mustered only 142 total yards. For Vols fans, it couldn’t get much worse.
This seemed like a harbinger, not an outlier, of things to come between the two SEC East foes. Vols first year head coach Jeremy Pruitt (like Smart, a former Saban defensive coordinator at Bama) is going through some serious growing pains with the 2018 team. Just last week, they turned the ball over SIX times against Florida in a 47-21 loss at Neyland Stadium.
By the way, is Vol fandom like that old saying about insanity? Doing the same thing over and over expecting different results? Not trying to cast aspersions, here, but it’s hard to convince them that things are on the up and up.
And it doesn’t get easier to do that when they have a trip to Athens on Saturday against the No. 2 Bulldogs. Doesn’t really seem fair, does it?
Currently, the Bulldogs are humming along on both sides of the ball. They’ve had two divisional road games to this point and they’ve dominated both. The defense is allowing a paltry 292 yards and 13 points per game while the offense is averaging 477 yards and 44.5 points per game. It doesn’t really look like with all the talent Smart’s bringing to and developing in Athens is slowing down any time soon.
While the Vols offense is certainly not elite, averaging just under 30 points and 400 yards per game, they have looked better under new OC Tyson Helton. Whether that means a thing against Georgia remains to be seen. The Vols have looked much better in the redzone this season, going 15 of 18 with 11 TDs and 4 FGs. These are the things that Vols fans need to focus on this year, because on the surface it’s all going to look like a mess.
Also, a sneaky stat that those watching might want to pay attention to is the fact that the Volunteer defense is currently 6th in the FBS on 3rd downs, allowing opponents to convert only 24% of the time. Tack on that the UGA offense is 49th on 3rd downs, converting 43% of the time, Tennessee could hang in the game for a lot longer than people think.
At the end of the day, that’s what Vols fans need to focus on: what their team can do to make a UGA win difficult. Because if the Tennessee offense turns the ball over like it did last week, then forget it. This UGA team knows how to take advantage in all three phases of the game, so mistake-free football is a must for the Vols. Let this be a game about talent and execution and I think it could be closer than the experts think.
UT makes this a difficult one for about 2-3 quarters and the UGA does their UGA thing.
Prediction: Georgia 42 Tennessee 17