Head coach Butch Jones and the Tennessee Volunteers will host the No. 7 ranked Georgia Bulldogs in Neyland Stadium on Saturday. Jones is 2-0 against Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart in his career, but the Vols haven’t played this talented of a Georgia team in a long time.
The Bulldogs outscored their first three opponents of 2017 by a margin of 93-43, but their performance last week against the No. 17 Mississippi State last week was dominant. Georgia whipped State 31-3 after putting up over 400 total yards of offense. Freshman quarterback Jake Fromm has been poised and efficient with 650 passing yards, seven touchdowns and just one interception through four games.
However, the talented stable of Georgia running backs have been key to Fromm’s consistent play. Seasoned veteran Nick Chubb has logged 371 rushing yards and six touchdowns so far in 2017. With Sony Michele and D’Andre Swift combining for nearly 400 yards, the depth at the position is one of the best in the country. The Bulldogs offensive line has improved greatly considering they were the group with most questions on the team heading into training camp. The battle in the trenches will be a major factor in how the Georgia offense executes.
Defensively, the Bulldogs have one of the most dominant defenses in the nation, especially the front seven. Lorenzo Carter and linebacker Roquan Smith have led the Georgia linebackers with a combined 33 tackles, 4.5 tackles-for-loss, and four sacks so far this season. Defensive tackle Trenton Thompson has been a beast stopping the run, leading the Bulldogs’ to No. 16 in the nation in total defense.
The only thing deeper than the Bulldogs’ front seven is their secondary. J.R. Reed is one of the best safeties in the SEC, having tallied 15 tackles, two tackles-for-loss, one sack and a forced fumble. Defensive backs Aaron Davis, Deandre Baker and Dominick Sanders have a total of 27 tackles and six passes defended. Tennessee will have a rough go passing the ball, but the Georgia front seven will dominate if the Vols don’t find a rhythm through the air.
To say the Tennessee offense is struggling would be an understatement, particularly after squeaking by UMass 17-13 last week. A ton will need to change including quarterback Quentin Dormady’s accuracy and decision making in the pocket for the Vols to stand a chance. However, one bright spot for the Vols is running back John Kelly. He leads the SEC in rushing yards (450) and has recorded six touchdowns on top of that. Still, the Tennessee offensive scheme has issues with incorporating its playmakers in the offense. Receiver Brandon Johnson has twice as many targets as No. 1 receiver Marquez Callaway, and Tyler Byrd has received just two targets since his return to injury.
Along the offensive line, Tennessee is led by true freshman Trey Smith and Jashon Robertson, but has at times wrestled with opening running lanes for Kelly and the tailbacks. The most important thing for Tennessee on offense is finding a healthy balance. Dormady needs to limit his throws as much as possible against the Georgia secondary, but running with Kelly can’t be predictable either.
The Volunteers defense has certainly shown improvement since giving up over 600 yards of total offense to Georgia Tech in week one. However, Tennessee defensive coordinator Bob Shoop will have his hands full with the Bulldogs this weekend. The Vols front seven has developed well over recent weeks and has gotten solid pressure on the pocket for the first time all season. After having just three sacks heading into last week’s matchup with UMass, the Tennessee front seven exploded for seven sacks. Linebackers Daniel Bituli and Colton Jumper are the two biggest playmakers of the Vols front seven with a combined 57 tackles, one sack and a forced fumble through four games.
Darrell Taylor and Kyle Phillips have also had solid production getting pressure on the quarterback at defensive end recently. Safety and nickel have surprisingly been a strong suit for Tennessee with Nigel Warrior and Rashaan Gaulden playing extremely well. However, the Vols cornerbacks have had their fair share of struggles and visibly struggled with the pass heavy UMass offense last week. Putting pressure on Fromm to throw more than 20 passes will be the key to halting Georgia’s offense.
Georgia keys to success
Getting Chubb and the tailbacks going early will be the key to dominating on offense for the Bulldogs. Strong offensive line play is vital to the overall success of Fromm and the running backs against Tennessee. Defensively, stopping John Kelly is about all Georgia has to do to stop the Vols offense.
Tennessee keys to success
Finding solid balance on offense is the only way the Volunteers won’t get gashed Saturday. Taking pressure off Dormady is imperative to Tennessee’s success, considering the Bulldogs’ secondary is equal to that of Florida’s. Making Fromm throw as much as possible is the only thing that the Vols can do to throw off Georgia’s run-heavy offense.
This one shouldn’t be very pretty. The Bulldogs offensive line will win in the trenches, allowing Chubb and the stable of Georgia running backs to run wild. Thus, allowing Fromm to hit passes for big yardage. The Tennessee offense is too one-sided for the Bulldogs not to dominate. If the monstrous front seven shuts down Kelly, it’s over. Georgia will force Dormady to make tough passes and will force multiple turnovers. Overall, Kirby Smart will pick up his first career win over Butch Jones and the Vols as a head coach. The Bulldogs will steal a win in Neyland Stadium on Saturday, 34-10.
Featured image courtesy of UT Sports
Edited by Ben McKee