KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee coaches and players are adamant that they’re not overlooking Georgia in Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. game between the famed Hedges of Athens.
It’s hard to imagine the No. 11-ranked Vols (4-0, 1-0 SEC) not being focused on the No. 25-ranked Bulldogs (3-1, 1-1) with everything that’s at stake.
Tennessee’s schedule shows a trip to No. 9 Texas A&M and a home date with No .1 Alabama after this game with Georgia, so a win over the Bulldogs appears paramount to the Vols achieving their first goal of winning the SEC East Division.
SEC Country Georgia beat writer Chip Towers, who has covered Georgia for the better part of three decades, took some time to break down the game.
1. On a scale of 1 to 10 — with 10 being the highest — what is the impact of Nick Chubb playing for Georgia? Why, and how are Bulldogs different with/without him?
CT: I’d put it at about a 7.5 and here’s why: As great as Nick Chubb is, he’s not a superhero, and that’s been underscored in recent weeks as Georgia’s has struggled mightily to run the football against its last three opponents. Don’t let the 230 rush yards against Ole Miss fool you. Most of it came in the last quarter and a half after the Bulldogs had fallen behind 45-0. All indications are that Chubb did not suffer a serious ankle injury against the Rebels, and the hope is that he’ll be back for this game. If Chubb is indeed approach his previous level of health, there’s reason to believe he would be supremely motivated to go against the team that knocked him out of last season and that could make a difference in a game Georgia is going to need every advantage it can muster.
2. What is the strength/weakness of the Georgia offense?
CT: There honestly isn’t one at the moment. Conceivably, it could or should be freshman quarterback Jacob Eason. Obviously he was rated the top QB prospect in the country for a reason and he showed why with a 308-yard, 3-TD performance against Missouri that led the Bulldogs to a a comeback victory. But unless or until Georgia’s offensive line and receivers pick it up, he’s like a carpenter without any tools. Hard to build without them.
3. What is the strength/weakness of the Georgia defense?
CT: The Bulldogs actually aren’t awful on defense. They’re just young and thin. And small. Georgia’s defensive backs are all around 6-feet tall or shorter, and that’s very problematic against Tennessee’s lengthy receiver corps. Georgia has some good players on the defensive line, but there is only one upper classman in the rotation (junior NG John Atkins) the rest are all sophomores or freshmen. And the Bulldogs remain without starting defensive end Jonathan Ledbetter, who is missing his fourth consecutive game as part of a suspension and alcohol and drug rehabilitation process. Georgia’s also missing outside linebackers Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins as they enjoy their new NFL careers. The Bulldogs have managed just four quarterback sacks all season, which is 13th in the SEC. So pressuring the passer continues to be an issue.
4. What has Jacob Eason done to win the trust of his head coach so quickly? What makes him special?
CT: The main thing for Eason is his ability to throw the ball deep with accuracy. Ironically, he hasn’t done that much lately. He was a victim of drops against Ole Miss and missed open receivers deep against Missouri. Meanwhile, he apparently leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to the offensive operation, getting the play in, interpreting the signals, communicating the play and making, adjustments, etc. But his potential is through the roof in terms of arm talent, so Georgia clearly has decided to let Eason grow up on the field and try to iron out the wrinkles as they come.
5. Are Bulldogs fans regretting firing Mark Richt yet, as well as Miami is playing right now?
CT: No. Well, at least the most vocal ones aren’t. The ones we hear from most often believe that Kirby Smart can do no wrong and that Richt left Smart with no talent to work with. That refrain gets a little old for those of us who have been around a while and watched Georgia win 10 games a year, including the last two seasons, with whatever talent was at Richt’s disposal. Smart remains in the honeymoon period and will be for a while. But we heard his coaching ability and “the process” questioned during and immediately after the Ole Miss game. And we’ll hear more if Tennessee runs roughshod over themon Saturday.
CT: You may recall in 2000, when Georgia beat Tennessee 21-10 in Athens and the fans rushed the field at Sanford Stadium and ripped up their own precious hedges, how much breaking that nine-game losing streak to the Vols meant to the Bulldogs’ fan base. Then, they might’ve taken UT for granted as Richt proceeded to beat them 10 out of the next 14 years. But I think everybody recognized last year’s comeback by Tennessee in Knoxville as sort of a turnaround. It feels like the Vols are trending up while Georgia is transitioning. And there is nothing to indicate that trend doesn’t continue this Saturday. The matchups in this game, particularly UT’s offense vs. UGA’s defense, are terrible for the home team. The Bulldogs will need to fight to keep this one respectable. Vols will win big.