ATHENS — Georgia football team goals move from one game, to the next, without anyone or anything overlooked.
That’s Kirby Smart’s style of management.
Good thing, because ESPN analyst and former Vanderbilt quarterback Jordan Rodgers sees two teams capable of coming between the Bulldogs and another trip to the SEC Championship.
Florida and Tennessee.
Rodgers is on record as saying he gives the Gators the edge over Georgia, and he also explained how the Vols are ready to challenge this season.
“You know they won six out of their last seven (last season),” Rodgers said on WJOX radio in Birmingham last week. “If Jarrett Guarantano hands the ball off against Alabama, that’s a different ball game.”
Alabama beat Tennessee 35-19 last season, but there’s a faction of Vols’ fans — along with Rodgers — that focus in on a play when the UT quarterback went rogue and ran a QB sneak instead of the intended Jim Chaney play call.
The Vols trailed 28-13 midway through the fourth quarter when Guarantano fumbled at the goal line and Trevon Diggs recovered and raced 100 yards for a touchdown for the game’s final score.
Tennessee won its next six games to close out the season 8-5.
It’s the Vols’ best record since former UT coach and current Alabama staffer Butch Jones beat Florida and Georgia in 2016 during a 9-4 campaign.
Coach Jeremy Pruitt enters his third season having replaced seven of 10 assistants in the past two seasons, tailoring the staff to his liking.
Rodgers clearly sees the changes as a positive and views Tennessee as a rising program.
“Jeremy Pruitt has this team headed in the right direction,” Rodgers said. “They are gonna be a tough out for everybody.”
The Vols have plenty of quarterbacks to choose from, and one of the most highly regarded offensive lines in the SEC with the addition of Georgia transfer Cade Mays whose appeal for eligibility is pending.
Eric Gray is considered by many an elite running back, and while there’s reloading to do at receiver with Jauan Jennings and Marquez Callaway moved on, Rodgers believes Tennessee has enough left to compete.
“I think this is the year where they are right there with Georgia and Florida, and it’s gonna come down to how they play in those games,” Rodgers said. “But they are going to have an opportunity, to, call it an upset if you want, win over Florida and Georgia .They are gonna be in those football games.”
The Tennessee-Florida game is currently scheduled for Sept. 26, while the Vols game with Georgia takes place on Nov. 14 in Athens, the same weekend The Masters is being played down the road in Augusta.
Georgia has won the past three games against the Vols in the rivalry by a cumulative score of 122-26, including last season’s 43-14 win in Neyland Stadium.
But Rodgers has faith in Pruitt’s defensive mind, and he said it’s just a matter of getting on the same page as his senior quarterback.
“It’s going to come down to the trust that Pruitt has in his quarterback, Guarantano,” Rodgers said. “Pruitt has a blueprint for the defense, and he has a blueprint for how he wants his offense run and how he wants his quarterback to operate, that was the biggest unknown and the biggest negative last year was Guarantano played outside of that blueprint.
“So if he does kinda play within that blueprint, the talent that Pruitt has added to this roster, and the experience they have, they’re gonna be there. So they could be a team that could get Georgia to slip up, get Florida to slip up.”