Georgia football loses first-round talent ahead of Tennessee weekend

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Georgia will be without one of their top players for this weekend’s matchup against Tennessee and for the rest of the season. Nolan Smith, who would’ve been a no-doubt first-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, has a pectoral injury that he suffered in the win over Florida.

Outside of the obvious devastation of the loss, given Tennessee is Saturday, it’s a terribly unfortunate situation for Smith. The senior from Savannah, who returned for his final season, led the Bulldogs with three sacks, seven tackles for loss, and 16 quarterback hurries.

Smith left in the first quarter of Saturday’s win over the Gators and will undergo surgery ahead of the offseason in which he’ll prepare for the NFL Draft. Hopefully, the injury doesn’t result in him free-falling down draft boards because he’s as talented as any edge defender in this class.

“Nolan is a natural leader,” Kirby Smart said. “He’s been that way since I met him when he was in eighth grade and he came up here to camp. He’s been a natural leader. His leadership is more important than his ability, and his ability is pretty strong. He creates a toughness and holds people to a standard of the way you strike blocks, the way you close on counters, the way you rush with effort, special teams, I mean, he plays on all special teams. He’s just a core guy.”

Without Smith, Smart and the Georgia defense will turn to Chaz Chambliss, Robert Beal, and Marvin Jones Jr. Beal led the unit in sacks last season, and Chambliss notched a sack against the Gators last week along with a tackle for loss.

Georgia will be hard-pressed to slow down Hendon Hooker and the Tennessee offense. The Volunteers’ signal caller has thrown for 2,338 yards with 21 touchdowns and one interception this season. The Tennessee offense leads the FBS in scoring (49.4 points) and total offense (553 yards) and is second in passing (353.4 yards) But Georgia’s defense is one of the best groups in the country. It’ll be strength on strength and the biggest college football matchup of the season thus far.

John Adams/Icon Sportswire

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