ATHENS — Greetings from Sanford Stadium, where it’s officially fall but feels decidedly summer.
And that goes beyond the temperature, expected to reach a high of 86 degrees for today’s 3:30 p.m. kick between your No. 2 Georgia Bulldogs (4-0, 2-0 SEC) and unranked Tennessee (2-2, 0-1). It’s hot and sticky between the hedges today, folks.
No, this feels more like one of those early-season, nondescript non-conference money games. It certainly doesn’t feel like the fall classic we’re used to seeing between these two SEC East rivals.
Maybe that’s because the Bulldogs enter as a 31-point favorite. That’s still hard for me to wrap my head around. Las Vegas handicappers, who tend to know what they’re talking about, see Georgia winning this game by more than four touchdowns. Truly incredible.
I don’t see it happening. I’m sorry. I know, I know, the Bulldogs won 41-zip last year in Knoxville. This Tennessee team, by all accounts, is worse. I get that.
But the Vols can’t really be that bad, can they? They hand out 85 scholarships just like Georgia does. They have a bunch of players on their roster that the Bulldogs recruited and badly wanted. They have every advantage every Power 5 powerhouse program could have. Thirty-one points. Astounding.
That said, I’m not sitting here in Dan Magill Press Box expecting an upset. The advantages that Georgia holds in this matchup are many and significant. Not the least of those is the Bulldogs are playing at home, where they haven’t lost in a while. I’m most happy today for the UGA fans, who for their good money finally get to see something approaching a compelling contest. I don’t mean from a competitive standpoint. I mean from a storyline standpoint.
Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt all by himself makes today’s game compelling. The former Georgia defensive coordinator spent two seasons in Athens and, not coincidentally, the Bulldogs ended up firing the head coach and hiring Kirby Smart. He was a divisive presence at UGA, for sure, but he began the installation of the Alabama Way for the Bulldogs, which made the transition for Smart all the more smooth.
And that brings us back to today’s game and that lopsided line. These are two programs trying to do the same thing on the football field. Run the ball and stop the run. Be physical, be tough, be aggressive, play sound defense and special teams. You know, that Alabama thing.
Maybe Tennessee will commit six turnovers today, like it did when it lost to Florida 47-21 last Saturday. Maybe the Vols will fumble the ball through the end zone again. But I just can’t imagine the Vols playing that poorly two weeks in a row.
That said, I expect Georgia to play very well today, too. I thought a lot of the chatter about last week’s poor rush defense, especially on first down, had more to do with the Bulldogs defensive emphasis on containing Missouri quarterback Drew Lock than it did being manhandled in the trenches. To be clear, today the emphasis will be different. It will be one stuffing the Vols’ formidable run game.
On offense, Georgia will continue to try to be balanced. I’m fascinated to see if Cade Mays ends up filling in for the injured Ben Cleveland at right guard. That’s really saying something about the 5-star Tennessee football legacy if he goes from starting at left tackle in place of Andrew Thomas to starting at right guard. It’s not like Georgia doesn’t have some other decent linemen, right?
That’s where this rivalry has gotten out of whack. Twenty years ago, when Tennessee was on its way to the national championship, it was winning games with a bunch of 5-star players out of Atlanta. Now the Bulldogs are winning big with 5-stars from Knoxville, among others.
And the Bulldogs will win big today. It just won’t be by 31 points.
As always, Mike Griffith, Brandon Adams, Jeff Sentell and I are here to bring you all the action, before during and after the game. Be sure to get the free DawgNation app to follow along.