ATHENS – Greetings from Sanford Stadium, where it’s no exaggeration to say that it’s an absolutely perfect day for a football game. There’s not a cloud in the sky and, at this very moment, not a soul in the seats. But that will be an interesting sidebar to today’s proceedings, how many people actually show up for the game between your No. 5 Georgia Bulldogs (9-1, 7-1 SEC) and the visiting Minutemen of UMass (4-7).
It is, after all, the first day of UGA’s fall break. And Georgia is a 41.5-point favorite in a Las Vegas line that has been as high as 44 points and as low as 39. Suffice it to say, nobody is expecting the Bulldogs to struggle much today.
Of course, nobody was expecting No. 1 Alabama to struggle today either. The Crimson Tide – Georgia’s opponent two weeks hence in the SEC Championship Game – was locked up in a 10-10 tie at halftime with The Citadel in Tuscaloosa. I’m guessing they’ll pull it out eventually, but I suppose nobody in these parts feels too bad about Bama feeling even the slightest bit of angst for once.
Georgia’s hoping to avoid a similar fate here today, and I suspect they will. We’ve written a lot this week about the Bulldogs and even about Alabama – be sure to check out our ongoing Road to Atlanta series – but not very much about UMass.
At the moment, the Minutemen are in a bit of funk. Their coach was suspended for a week earlier in the year for some remarks he’s alleged to have made after a game. And perhaps related, they’ve had some defections lately as a handful of players are seeking transfers. They also lost their starting quarterback to a knee injury earlier this season.
But UMass still has some quality players. Chief among them is wideout Andy Isabella. The 5-foot-10, 190-pound senior, who wears No. 5, leads the FBS in receiving yards with 1,479 and has scored 12 touchdowns. He’ll provide a good test for Georgia’s young secondary, where redshirt freshman Eric Stokes is expected to get his first start at cornerback today.
Meanwhile, UMass is 0-8 against SEC teams all-time, but it has given a lot of them fits. Just last year the Minutemen gave Mississippi State and Tennessee big scares before finally falling 34-23 and 17-13, respectively. And South Carolina eked out 34-28 victory over UMass in 2016.
With all that in mind, and all that’s at stake in the games that follow this one, I don’t expect Georgia to cover that exorbitant line. But I also don’t expect the Bulldogs to struggle in the first half the way Alabama did. I expect them to come out strong and physical, take care of business, then get backups into the game as quickly as possible. I suspect we’ll see a lot of Justin Fields at quarterback, Brian Herrien at running back, Demetris Robertson at wide receiver, Channing Tindall at linebacker and Otis Reese at safety.
And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
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