Georgia and Tennessee square off Saturday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. between the hedges, as the Bulldogs aim for a 5-0 start to the season and third Southeastern Conference win on the heels of a 43-29 win at Missouri. Tennessee is coming off a 47-21 loss to Florida in Knoxville, which dropped the Volunteers to 2-2 on the campaign and 0-1 in the league.
A 14-point road win in the SEC is always a positive, but Georgia was bedeviled by uncharacteristic mental mistakes, including a second straight game with too many penalties and a thankful near non-touchdown with another premature celebration. Kirby Smart was frustrated with the miscues at Missouri, but certainly proud of his team’s effort and performance. Georgia rode a series of big plays, including a fumble return for a touchdown and a blocked punt for a touchdown in the first half, and three long Jake Fromm scoring strikes to Riley Ridley, Jeremiah Holloman and Mecole Hardman after intermission.
Tennessee had a couple of early turnovers that proved costly against the Gators. Tennessee fell in its season opener to West Virginia in Charlotte and then reeled off back to back wins over overmatched East Tennessee State and UTEP squads.
Jeremy Pruitt is in his first year as Tennessee’s head coach. The previous two years, he was the defensive coordinator on Nick Saban’s staff at Alabama. In 2014 and 2015, Pruitt was the defensive chief for Georgia under Mark Richt’s watch. He worked for Saban and Smart on Alabama staffs in his first stint in Tuscaloosa, prior to taking over as Florida State’s defensive coordinator in 2013. Kevin Sherrer, Tracy Rocker and Will Friend, all former Georgia assistants, are on his staff in Knoxville.
There is a lot of familiarity.
A year ago in Knoxville, the Bulldogs put together one of their most impressive performances of the season in a 41-0 rout of the Volunteers. It was a signature victory for Georgia’s SEC championship squad and flushed some of the bad mojo from the previous two meetings, both won by the Volunteers on huge comebacks, including the 2016 Hail Mary in Athens.
Though the Dogs have been hit hard by injuries and been plagued by penalties the last two weeks, Georgia is a heavy favorite against Tennessee. Last Saturday certainly served as a great lesson, though, that no team can take any team lightly.