NCAAF Week 5: #7 Georgia @ Tennessee, Preview and Prediction

A dramatic finish saw Tennessee stun Georgia 34-31 in this matchup last year. What can we expect from these SEC rivals in 2017? We preview the game here!

Saturday, September 30th 2017, 3.30 PM ET – They total a 7-1 record between them, but the atmosphere surrounding each of the Bulldogs and Volunteers is very different with Georgia rising up the rankings, while Tennessee have struggled to impress.

Week 4 Recap

Georgia Bulldogs – In a battle between the Bulldogs, Georgia crushed the momentum that had built up around Mississippi State, conquerors of LSU the week prior. The defense severely limited duel-threat quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, and forced him into throwing a couple interceptions along the way to Deandre Baker and Dominick Sanders. A team that put up 465 yards of total offense in the win over the Tigers could manage only 280 this week when facing Georgia.

With a ratio of 42:12 in favor of runs over passes, Georgia focused on the ground game in terms of play calling, but put up as many scores (2 of 4 TDs) and yards through the air as on the ground, in large part thanks to a flea-flicker touchdown on the first snap on offense from Jake Fromm at quarterback (pictured below) to Terry Godwin for the 59-yard touchdown play. Though the carries were spread out, senior leader Nick Chubb scored two rushing touchdowns as part of a dominant 31-3 win.

Tennessee Volunteers – “Just flat-out unacceptable”. Those were the words of pressured Vols head coach Butch Jones after a labored 17-13 home win over UMass, with the struggling FBS Independent side entering this game with an 0-4 record.

It’s an unknown as to what may have ultimately happened in overtime had Florida not hit that Hail Mary last week to give Tennessee it’s only loss on the year so far. But even if they had entered this Georgia contest undefeated, to barely put away the Minutemen, who were missing their star tight end and their first choice QB for much of the game, is a worry entering this challenging matchup with the Bulldogs.

The impressive John Kelly took on much of the workload, with 101 yards and a touchdown on the ground in a grinding 25-carry effort at 4 yards per rush, while sophomore Brandon Edward Johnson was on the receiving end of some big plays as he took his 7 catches for 123 yards and a 17.6 yard per catch average. The pass rush on defense was a significant factor in emerging with the win, with 7 sacks among the 12 tackles for loss totalled by the defense as a whole. Linebacker Colton Jumper led the way with 2.5 sacks out of his 3.5 TFLs.

Keys to the Game

Stopping the run – Against Mississippi State, Fromm wasn’t asked to throw the ball too much, even if they trust him more than enough to unleash a deep bomb down the field on the first offensive snap of the game. With two highly experienced and talented backs in Nick Chubb and Sony Michel leading a group that also includes emerging freshman D’Andre Swift, they are running the ball around 70% of the time. Opposing linebackers Daniel Bituli and Colton Jumper are impressing early this season and will have a key role in this game to give the Vols a chance at the upset.

John Kelly meanwhile, has been outstanding so far in 2017 for Tennessee. The junior running back has been a bright spark throughout the early weeks and has the big-play ability to provide potential game-changing moments. An impressive combination of shifty and strong, Kelly will be the primary focus of the Bulldogs defensively.

Avoiding mistakes in the pass game – Working in tandem with the first key, these remain two relatively inexperienced quarterbacks in Tennessee’s Quinten Dormady and Georgia’s Jake Fromm. Both offensive coordinators will probably aim to get the ground game going early but when asked to throw, ball security will be crucial.

Fromm has been efficient so far with just the one pick (to seven TDs) from his 69 pass attempts. In contrast, Dormady has four interceptions to his name in a similar number of attempts (71) to go with six touchdown throws. Making life difficult for each will be two dangerous pass rushes looking to bring regular pressure to disrupt the rhythm and timing.

Staying sharp – On paper, most would consider Georgia to be heavy favorites. They look like a complete and balanced team on each side of the ball, and have backed that up with impressive wins. However, should the players start to believe the hype too much, and feel they can relax a little, errors may creep in. Let’s not forget, this is a road game for the Bulldogs, and if the Vols make a quick start and the crowd get behind them as a result, there’s a chance this doesn’t go to script.

Matchup to Watch

Tennessee OT Brett Kendrick vs Georgia edge rushers Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy – Vols senior offensive tackle Kendrick has seen time at both left and right tackle so far this season, something he got used to during his time as a starter. Regardless of side though, he’ll see plenty of either Carter or Bellamy, if not both. The Georgia pass rushing pair are also seniors and dangerous disruptive threats with length and athleticism that make them tough to handle.

Brett knows it too, saying this week (via “Davin Bellamy and Lorenzo Carter stand out for me. I have a lot of respect for Georgia. They have a really athletic front…The front seven will be a challenge, and it is something we have to step up and take care of.”

Carter is off to a particularly strong start statistically, with three sacks as part of 4.5 tackles for loss so far through four games. He’s been compared to former teammate Leonard Floyd in the past, but has had inconsistencies during his time with the Bulldogs. His five sacks last season were the best total of his career, but looks set to beat that in his final season.

Prediction: Georgia 27, Tennessee 17

Home field advantage lies with the Volunteers, and John Kelly is capable of making a big difference in their favor. Meanwhile, the front seven have proven they can get into the backfield to cause problems. They will have a chance.

The Bulldogs though, are simply the better team right now, and executing better all round. The Tennessee run defense is far too generous, and Georgia are not a team to play when unable to slow down the ground game.

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Rebecca Rennie

RealSport College Football Editor, as well as writer and NFL Draft analyst. Fan of most sports, and of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Stanford Cardinal and Central Florida Knights.