Tennessee faces the Georgia Bulldogs in Athens this week in a showdown that could decide who wins the SEC East.
If the Vols win their first true road game of the 2016 season, they will all but lock up the SEC East title — barring absolute chaos. On the other hand, Georgia will be looking for revenge after losing to Tennessee last season in Knoxville.
The Bulldogs have arguably one of the most talented rosters in the SEC with big names like Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, Isaiah McKenzie and Jacob Eason. However, they have not been able to put together a signature win thus far in Kirby Smart’s first season as head coach. It took a late fourth quarter drive to beat North Carolina in week one, who had one of the worst run defenses in all of football last season. The Bulldogs then struggled against Nicholls State and Missouri and got blown out on the road by Ole Miss. If they can manage a win over the 11th-ranked Tennessee Volunteers, it could very well be the spark Georgia needs to secure a spot in Atlanta in early December.
The key to this game will come down to which offense decides to show up.
Tennessee has had a slow start to every game this year so far. The Vols only had 3 points at halftime against both Appalachian State and Florida, were up by only two against Ohio at the break and found themselves down 14 early against Virginia Tech. If the Vols start the game like they have finished every game so far this season, they could easily run away with a win.
So far this year, true freshman quarterback Jacob Eason has looked just as good as advertised, beating out the more-experienced Greyson Lambert for the starting position. In four games, Eason has accounted for 780 passing yards and 5 touchdowns
However, against Ole Miss, Eason and the rest of Georgia’s offense struggled. Eason went 16-for-36 for 137 yards, zero touchdowns and one interception. The run game didn’t perform well either, with freshman Brian Herrien leading the way with 78 yards and the only two touchdowns for the Bulldogs.
Another position group that needs to show up for Georgia is the offensive line. Through four games, the Bulldogs are tied for the seventh-most sacks allowed in the country (12) and are tied for fifth in the SEC in rushing yards. Tennessee’s defensive line, and Derek Barnett especially, terrorized Florida in the second half. If the Bulldogs want to have any chance at hanging with the Vols, the offensive line has to be ready to play.
Tennessee’s offense has been at its best against better competition, which will pose a major threat to the Bulldogs. The key for Georgia in this game is keeping the Vols’ offense off the field and wearing down the defense, which will be a tall task if Chubb is unable to play due to his ankle injury. If Georgia can keep the Vols in check in the first half and not let them pull away in the second half, it could be a long ride back to Knoxville.
This SEC East faceoff is set for Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET on CBS.
Edited by Adam Milliken
Featured image by Hayley Pennesi, courtesy of Tennessee Athletics