There’s been a sense of dread in many Georgia-based quarters about this game. In others, there’s been hope, a feeling that Georgia is about to rebound and Tennessee is due to crash. What does this reporter think? He wouldn’t want to bet his two children’s college savings on either team.
The Friday five, with the answers to four key questions, and then an attempt at the fifth, and biggest question:
1. Georgia entered the week with fixes needing to be made seemingly everywhere. What’s the one area almost guaranteed to be better this week?
Pass receiving. Tennessee’s secondary isn’t as good with star cornerback Cam Sutton injured. But mainly, Georgia’s receivers have to catch the ball better than they have been, especially after such an emphasis on fundamentals this week. Plus, expect Jim Chaney to gameplan around those issues, and have more short, high-percentage passes.
2. But what area that’s actually been okay for Georgia is likely to become a big problem?
Pass protection. Oh, you don’t accept the premise that it’s been okay? Let me explain: Yes, Georgia has given up 12 sacks, tied for the second-most in the SEC, that’s a bit deceiving: Jacob Eason has tended to have time to throw, there have just been a decent amount of coverage sacks, plus Eason hasn’t checked down enough. Tennessee only has five sacks in four games, but defensive end Derek Barnett is a star, and this will be the toughest match-up Georgia left tackle Tyler Catalina has faced this year. Tennessee’s pass rush in the second half against Florida was pretty good, and defensive coordinator Bob Shoops likes to blitz. It just seems Barnett and the rest of the Vols are due to have a breakout game. And even if that’s reflected more in constant pressure, that will spell trouble, as Eason has had trouble adjusting to the pass rush.
3. Will Georgia’s run game be better, worse, or the same as previous weeks?
About the same. Nick Chubb being out is bad, obviously. Sony Michel is an able replacement, but Tennessee’s run defense – with or without MLB Jalen Reeves-Maybin (injured shoulder) is pretty good. The feeling here is Chaney will try to run outside more, and will use the fullbacks and tight ends to block more, and that’s how Georgia’s run game could be better. But Tennessee’s defensive coaches know all that too, and any positive changes to the run game are mitigated by Chubb being out.
4. Which position decides the game?
The two quarterbacks. Yes, you could say that about a lot of games, but especially this one. Eason should continue to improve as he gets comfortable in the pocket, especially against a banged-up and vulnerable Tennessee secondary. But does he improve to the tune of a 300-yard, 30-plus point performance? That may be what it takes … unless Tennessee’s Josh Dobbs has a bad day. Dobbs dominated the Bulldogs last year, racking up 430 total yards – 320 passing and 118 rushing – and if he does that again Tennessee wins. Georgia couldn’t handle Chad Kelly last week, but maybe that experience helps them adjust enough this week.
5. What are Georgia’s chances of victory?
40 percent. … Rather than a prediction, we’re going Nate Silver here and put this in terms of percentages. There’s no area that Tennessee has an overwhelming advantage over Georgia – except maybe special teams, where the Vols are good, and the Bulldogs are … well, not. But there’s no area where Georgia has any obvious advantage, even a slim one. If this were at Tennessee, or even on a neutral site, it would be easy to pick the Volunteers. But given that it’s at Sanford Stadium, the letdown factor for Tennessee, and the desperation factor for the Bulldogs, the underdog has a decent shot.