Going on the road in the SEC is a challenge before considering the complicating factor of tempo at Tennessee.
Georgia (10-0) coach Kirby Smart said the “package of backs” the Volunteers feature is the best they’ll see all season, part of the heightened degree of difficulty Tennessee (7-3) brings in a high-leverage environment in Knoxville. The Vols trail only Georgia (25 games) and Michigan (21) with a 14-game active home winning streak.
“It’s a really difficult prep week. Probably the hardest one of the year, in terms of trying to replicate what they do,” Smart said. “They do a really tremendous job stressing you in all phases.
“You’ve got to be able to take a punch. You’ve got to be able to take momentum changes.”
Winning at Neyland Stadium on Saturday could be historic for Georgia, which is 6-1 against the Vols under Smart and won the past six matchups. Smart’s lone loss in 2016 at Athens was on Joshua Dobbs’ Hail Mary that gave Tennessee a 34-31 win.
It would cap an 8-0 regular season in the SEC for the third consecutive season. No other SEC team has pulled off the hat trick since the conference went to an eight-game schedule in 1992.
The Tennessee defense stands out even after Saturday’s 36-7 loss to Missouri. Georgia has been dissecting ways to combat the Vols’ pass rush. Tennessee is second in the SEC and No. 8 in the nation with 33 sacks. But Georgia has allowed only seven sacks this season, a number topped by only six other FBS programs.
“They’ve always been good with (coach) Josh (Heupel) offensively,” Smart said. “What they’ve been able to do defensively is impressive. They play really good defense and … special teams is the one no one talks about. They’re elite.”
Georgia can stake a claim to elite offense, ranking fifth in the FBS with 504.8 yards per game. Tennessee is No. 17 (454.8 yards per game) and witnessed Georgia’s defense silencing an Ole Miss offense that ranks No. 2 in the SEC (466.2 yards per game).
One equalizer again available to the Bulldogs is All-American tight end Brock Bowers. He played more than 40 snaps in Saturday’s 52-17 win over Ole Miss after missing two games to recover from ankle surgery.
Smart said Georgia had no second thoughts or hesitation about playing Bowers, who is ranked as a top 10 prospect in the 2024 draft. Some loud opinions in SEC country and beyond suggested Bowers should shut it down for the rest of the season to prepare for his pro career.
Smart said it was never a discussion.
“He’s in good shape. He’s conditioned. I don’t know that he’s 100 percent,” Smart said. “He wanted to go out there and compete and play.”
–Field Level Media
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