Georgia facing former teammate Cade Mays, Tennessee team that has come full circle

Tennessee coach Josh Heupel shares a moment with Cade Mays. Photo courtesy of Tennessee Athletics/

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Georgia players will take on former teammate Cade Mays for the second time on Saturday in Neyland Stadium, keying a pivotal battle in the trenches.

It’s a Tennessee team that, since the teams’ meeting last season, has come full circle with a new coaching staff and nearly half of a new roster.

The Bulldogs (9-0, 7-0) bring the No. 1-ranking into the game at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday and are three-touchdown favorites over the Vols (5-4, 3-3).

RELATED: Tennessee expert shares 5 keys for the Vols to upset Georgia

Most of the attention has been on how Georgia’s historically dominant defense — the first since 1992 Alabama not to allow more than 13 points in a contest through nine games — looks to slow the Vols’ fast break offense.

Georgia coach Kirby Smart said it all starts at the line of scrimmage.

“They wear you down,” Smart said. “They’ve got a good number of backs, a physical O-line. It’s not an Air-Raid team, it’s a shot-team and a pound-you team.”

RELATED: Bulldogs bracing for lightning-fast Tennessee offense

Mays is coming off a performance against Kentucky that saw him earn SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week for the second time this season, and he’s played 418 snaps without allowing a sack.

Georgia has yet to produce an SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week this season under second-year line coach Matt Luke.

Mays earned Freshman All-American honors at Georgia in 2018 and started under former O-Line coach Sam Pittman for the 2019 season.

Pittman’s departure to become the Arkansas head coach might have played a role in Mays’ transfer, but many believe a lawsuit filed by Mays’ family and the desire to play with his younger brother at UT were bigger factors.

Mays’ father, former Tennessee star Kevin Mays, had an ongoing $3 million lawsuit against UGA after his right pinky finger was partially amputated after it was wedged against a column in a folding chair on Dec. 15, 2017, prior to Cade’s commitment to the Bulldogs.

Cade Mays told The Athletic at the time “It wasn’t the right environment for me. I made some great memories there. I’ve got friends for life down there. It just wasn’t the right environment for me.”

The UT administration responded quickly and aggressively, firing nine staff members in addition to Pruitt, launching a massive self-investigation.

RELATED: Pruitt fired, Tennessee unravels amid stunning, shocking investigation

UT shared information of the investigation with the NCAA via Zoom along the way, recently concluding it will not self-impose a postseason bowl ban.

As quickly as the school worked to clean up the previous staff’s compliance mess, first-year coach Josh Heupel has the team moving even faster on the football field.

The Vols moved on from the 39 players who left the program via the transfer portal, adding key cogs like quarterback Hendon Hooker to become a part of an offense that leads the nation in plays per minutes.

“They’re one of the hottest football teams there is in terms of scoring points,” Smart noted this week. “They’ve done a tremendous job offensively of scoring points and going really fast.”

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