This game is set up to be the game of the year in not just the SEC, but in all of college football. Tennessee has proven they are more than for real and have made their mark with an amazing offense and now must go toe-to-toe with the defending champion, Georgia Bulldogs.
This game will also decide, in all likelihood, the SEC East.
Georgia enters as an eight-point favorite in the Betfred Sportsbook.
Here are the big keys for both teams to win.
The Keys for Tennessee to win:
1. Get Hooker Going: Hendon Hooker had a good college career before this year, whether it was his brief time at Virginia Tech or his only season at Tennessee last season, but this year he’s taken a massive step forward. Hooker has established himself this year as the Heisman Trophy frontrunner through nine weeks and is a clear difference maker in this offense. He has 2,338 passing yards, 21 passing touchdowns, one interception, and he also has a 71.2% completion percentage on the year. Georgia is allowing 177 passing yards a game, so the Volunteers need to get Hooker comfortable throwing the ball early and often against this Georgia pass defense which has been great all year.
2. Establish the Run: As fast and explosive as the Tennessee offense plays, their offense is predicated on establishing the run game. Hooker and the amazing receivers get all the credit and rightfully so, but their run game is very key to what they do. The Volunteers average about 200 rushing yards a game. They have a backfield by committee with Jaylen Wright and Jabari Small getting an equal number of reps at the running back position. Wright has 92 carries, 478 rushing yards, and five rushing touchdowns on the year. Small has 110 carries, 475 rushing yards, and eight rushing touchdowns. Georgia has one of the best rushing defenses in the entire country. They allow 85.5 rushing yards a game. Tennessee was able to run for 182 yards on Alabama which is another great rushing defense. Tennessee needs to be able to establish the run, and if they can do that then they have a great chance here.
3. Slow Down Stetson Bennett: Stetson Bennett was a big question mark for Georgia last year, but he’s proven himself time and time again, and was even being mentioned in the Heisman Trophy conversation early in the college football season. He’s slowed down a bit but has still been great. He has 2,349 passing yards, nine passing touchdown, three interceptions, and he has a 67.8% completion percentage on the year too. The biggest thing that Tennessee needs to do is force Bennett into making mistakes, just like they did to Will Levis last week. The Tennessee pass defense has not been the best this year. They are giving up 301 passing yards a game, and have been up and down all year, but they have been better recently. Tennessee needs to defend the pass because Stetson Bennett has shown he can win Georgia games through the air, so this is a big matchup.
The Keys for Georgia to win:
Establish the Run: Georgia doesn’t have their normal single dominant running back, and instead this year they have a running back room by committee. The leading rusher is Daijun Edwards with 71 carries, 440 rushing yards, and seven rushing touchdowns, but Kenny McIntosh and Branson Robinson also share the load. McIntosh has over 330 rushing yards and Robinson has over 230 rushing yards on the year. Georgia averages a total of 202 rushing yards a game with all these backs they use. Georgia focuses on the run mainly, to establish physicality on offense. Their run game is what allows Stetson Bennett to thrive in the passing game through play-action. Tennessee is very good against the run and allows 93 rushing yards a game. Georgia needs to establish the run to have a chance here because it’s what they know and are comfortable with.
Contain the Explosive Passing Game: Tennessee is arguably the best offense in the country, so Georgia has its hands full on Saturday. Tennessee has been amazing at utilizing their playmakers on the outside with Jaylin Hyatt, Bru McCoy, and now Cedric Tillman, and hitting them with big passing plays with Hendon Hooker at quarterback. The next best defense the Volunteers have played before this game was Alabama and big passing plays killed the Crimson Tide all game. Alabama’s offense is built to stay in a shootout if it gets to it, while Georgia’s might not be. Hendon Hooker’s connection with Jaylin Hyatt might be the best quarterback-receiver combination in the country. Tennessee averages 353 passing yards a game and they have no issue taking big shots at any time throughout a game. Georgia has been excellent against the pass, but they need to get better in the pass rush. They only have 10 sacks this season which is the worst in the SEC. The Volunteers are the best passing game that the Bulldogs will have faced all year, so they need to defend against it well to have a chance here.
Get Brock Bowers Involved Early and Often: Georgia’s passing offense is predicated on getting their tight ends involved. The best of those tight ends is Brock Bowers, but Arik Gilbert and Darnell Washington are both monsters too. Bowers is the main receiving option Tennessee is going to focus on in this game. He has 31 receptions, 547 receiving options, and three receiving touchdowns on the year. He is a matchup nightmare and needs to get fed the ball early and often because there’s not much the Tennessee defense can do to defend him straight up. With the Volunteers giving up a lot through the air, expect Bowers to get his in this matchup. He also already has NFL scouts drooling over him and he can’t go to the draft till next year. He’s a highlight waiting to happened and Georgia needs to get him the ball to have a chance here.
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