3 Keys to Georgia beating Tennessee

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The day is almost here. Game of the year — AP Poll #1 Georgia vs. CFP Rankings #1 Tennessee, the first time that has ever happened. Last year’s reigning National Champions enter this matchup as just over a touchdown favorites, but the Vols have shown all season that they relish the underdog role. Here are the keys to the Bulldogs covering that number and remaining undefeated.

Honorable Mention — The Crowd

I don’t think Georgia has always had the best home field advantage in the SEC, but things have changed since Kirby Smart has taken over (I wonder why). Last year’s game against Arkansas was among the craziest atmospheres I have ever seen to begin a game… and it started at noon! The Bulldog faithful have had this game circled on their calendar ever since Tennessee upset Alabama in Knoxville, and tweets like these from Tennessee talk show hosts only add more fuel to the fire.

I don’t care what the narrative around Sanford Stadium has been in the past. That’s old news, and the Vols will find out the hard way this weekend in what I expect to be the craziest environment in college football to date this season.

Game Control

Listen, nobody is completely shutting down this Tennessee offense. Not even last year’s Georgia team would have held this year’s Vols squad under 24 points, and this year’s Georgia defense isn’t nearly as good as last year’s. Tennessee is going to score points; there will be explosive plays. It’s inevitable. Limiting the number of those explosive plays will be critical. However, no matter what happens, Georgia must continue to play their game and try their best to avoid a track meet. The Bulldog offense is good enough to match the Vols’ tit-for-tat, but it’s vital that they stick to their game plan of establishing the run against a vulnerable Tennessee defense and letting Stetson Bennett work off of that. Long drives will keep the Vols offense off the field, which is the #1 way Georgia can prevent Tennessee from scoring points.

Stetson Bennett Avoids Turnovers

Winning the turnover battle is always critical, but I’m looking right at Stetson Bennett with this key. He’s been much better this season, but Georgia needs the version of Bennett that showed up against Oregon, not the guy who showed up last week versus Florida. Bennett did throw for 316 yards and had a couple of touchdowns, but he only completed 50% of his passes and also had two interceptions. If he plays like that against the Vols, Georgia is doomed. Giving this Volunteer offense extra possessions and short fields is a recipe for disaster.

Make Hendon Hooker Uncomfortable

Of all the keys, this one will be the toughest for Georgia to accomplish. Since the Pittsburgh game, the Tennessee offense has been a juggernaut that nobody has been able to slow down. Hendon Hooker is rightfully the frontrunner for the Heisman, as the Vols are averaging nearly 50 points per contest. It’s oftentimes an easy 50 too, with Hooker looking like he’s not ever breaking a sweat. Can Georgia change that on Saturday?

As I said in my first key, nobody is going to completely shut down the Tennessee offense, but this Georgia defense — even if they aren’t as good as last year — is still by far the toughest test for Hendon Hooker and company. Kirby Smart is one of the best in the business at getting his guys ready, and I do think they could create a lot of problems for Tennessee’s offense, especially if they are controlling the clock on the other side of the ball. Losing Nolan Smith is a humongous blow, but Georgia has enough depth to recover. With a raucous crowd on their side, I’m looking to see if the Bulldogs can be the first team to really make Hooker sweat come Saturday.

Photo: John Adams/Icon Sportswire

 

 

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