Welcome to Upset Alert, a weekly column about a Saturday favorite liable to get knocked off by the underdog.
In Week 3, Missouri was picked to upset Georgia and fell one 4th-and-10 stop short of doing so. In Week 4, Florida was picked to continue its romp over Tennessee but blew it in amazing fashion, as the Vols mounted an incredible second-half comeback.
Here are three reasons why Georgia, the 3.5-point home underdog, can hand Tennessee its first loss on Saturday.
3. No Chubb? No problem
At this point, after he missed Wednesday’s practice, I’d be surprised if star Bulldogs tailback Nick Chubb played against Tennessee. Chubb is unquestionably the star, but Georgia has capable backs behind him to carry the load and take pressure off Jacob Eason. True freshman Brian Herrien (7.1 yards per carry) has been an immediate contributor. Fellow freshman Elijah Holyfield logged his first carries of the season against Ole Miss. And 1,000-yard rusher Sony Michel is returning to form after overcoming a broken arm.
It went overlooked in the admittedly ugly Ole Miss game, but Georgia’s offensive line showed collective improvement as run-blockers. The Vols have a middling run defense — opponents have crossed the 100-yard mark in three of the four games — and the continued absence of linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr. certainly won’t help. The only way the Bulldogs win is by running effectively; that should happen in this matchup.
2. On the back end
Both teams’ secondaries looked vulnerable in Week 4. Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly torched Georgia, and Florida backup Austin Appleby nearly hit the 300-yard mark in his first Gators start. That led to some personnel shuffling in practice for both teams.
The Vols are starting true freshman Baylen Buchanan after junior Justin Martin got burned on a couple of deep balls. The Bulldogs yanked Juwuan Briscoe, who likewise got beaten Saturday, in favor of fellow sophomore DeAndre Baker, who has never started.
Can Eason take advantage of a weak secondary? Can Georgia correct its own problems with another week of practice?
The key difference is the Bulldogs’ ball-hawking tendencies. They’ve picked off 6 passes to Tennessee’s 2 this season, and Josh Dobbs leads the SEC with 5 interceptions.
And if Appleby could hit the big play last week, well, you’d have to think Eason can make a few of his own. The lack of depth in the Vols secondary should give speedster Isaiah McKenzie some favorable matchups. McKenzie’s averaging 15 yards per catch, by the way.
1. Emotional letdown
This will be Tennessee’s first true road game of the season, a real test for a team that has yet to put together a full game. Week to week, quarter to quarter, you’re never really sure what you’re going to get from the 2016 Vols.
The Florida game was undoubtedly their biggest, with all of the smack talk and the SEC East implications, and now they have to go on the road and play a Georgia team that’s been stewing over last weekend’s Ole Miss beat-down.
Can we really rely on the Vols in this game? They’re 4-0, but three of those wins have come by 10 points or fewer. Tennessee hasn’t won a game in Athens since 2006. All season long, the Vols looked primed to crack under the pressure of their own expectations. It hasn’t happened yet, but they’ve come close.
Eventually, the fortune will dry up. With a huge win behind them and two big SEC West games in front of them, is there a more likely scenario for the Vols to lose focus than this?