After turning the ball over six times and losing 47-21 in its first SEC game, Tennessee travels to Athens, Georgia this week to take on the 2nd-ranked Bulldogs.
The Bulldogs come into this game undefeated, perhaps looking to avenge the Vols’ Hail Mary win two years ago at Sanford Stadium. After being beaten by Dan Mullen’s Florida Gators last week in Knoxville, Tennessee drags into this week’s matchup at an even 2-2.
After coaching together at Alabama, Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt and Georgia head coach Kirby Smart will meet as SEC East adversaries for the first time on Saturday, Sept. 29.
Pruitt commented on his relationship with Smart on Monday, saying he and Smart “worked together for six years.” He also referred to Smart as a “very good football coach” and a “very hard worker,” noting that “you can see it in their football program.”
In just two years at Georgia, Smart has completely flipped the script for the Bulldogs. Following the firing of Mark Richt, Georgia brought in Smart, who then led the Bulldogs to an 8-5 record in his first year before going 13-2 with an SEC Championship and a National Championship game appearance in Year 2.
In the meantime, athletic director Phillip Fulmer hired Pruitt after a tumultuous offseason at Tennessee.
Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm excelled last season after replacing the injured Jacob Eason, and Fromm is 50-of-69 so far this season with nine touchdowns and two interceptions.
Meanwhile, Jarrett Guarantano limps (maybe literally) into this one after throwing for no touchdowns and two picks on 7 completions out of 18 attempts last week against Florida.
Guarantano rolled up in an injury last week after what some have deemed a late hit by Florida’s Cece Jefferson. Pruitt said this week that Guarantano will be ready for Saturday, but Guarantano also took several shots against the Gators. Either way, Guarantano will be hurried due to Tennessee’s poor offensive line play, whereas Fromm will look to pad his stats against an inexperienced Vols defensive back unit.
Georgia boasts several talented receivers, with two standouts being Mecole Hardman and Jeremiah Holloman. Hardman has hauled in 14 catches for four touchdowns so far this year, while Holloman has netted six catches for no touchdowns but 29 yards per reception. Those statistics will be vital for the Bulldogs against a Tennessee secondary that features freshmen Alontae Taylor and Bryce Thompson in prominent starting roles.
Another weak spot for Tennessee is on the offensive line. The Vols’ line has allowed six sacks so far this season, pushing Tennessee back 39 yards with an average of 1.5 yards lost per sack. Both Guarantano and backup Keller Chryst have been hurried several times due to missed blocks, and the Vols’ running backs have had to push their way for a lot of yards after contact in order to net an average of 205 rushing yards per game for Tennessee.
Comparatively, Georgia’s offensive line has kept Fromm’s pocket relatively clean with four sacks allowed so far this season. The Bulldogs roll into the matchup averaging just over 250 rushing yards per game, and Georgia has also allowed just 13 points per game on defense.
Two strong points for Tennessee come in its third-down defense and special teams play. The Vols have allowed the fewest first downs in the SEC with 56 so far this season, and Tennessee has proved stingy on third downs with a 24.5 percent conversion rate for opponents. As far as special teams, punter Joe Doyle pinned opponents inside their own 20-yard-line nine times so far this season, which will certainly help against Georgia’s offense.
Georgia likely will not need a lot of third downs for explosive plays, but if the Vols can force the Bulldogs into a few third-and-long situations and pin Fromm’s offense back deep after punts, that will almost certainly yield a better outcome for Tennessee.
Kickoff for the matchup is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. on Saturday in Athens, and the game can be viewed on CBS.
Featured Photo by Jake Nichols
Edited by Ainsley Kelso