The No. 1 Georgia Bulldogs need just one more win to finish undefeated in conference play during the regular season, a feat that Kirby Smart has not yet accomplished during his time as the head coach at Georgia. Led by the nation’s top-ranked defense, the Bulldogs will need to come out with a win at Neyland Stadium.
Known as one of the hardest places to play in the SEC, Rocky Top will be buzzing with a chance to spoil Georgia’s season. The difference in this season is that Tennessee has actually had some recent success, coming off of a win over a ranked Kentucky squad.
“They’re up-tempo, fast-paced and that’s really hard to prepare for,” said Smart on Monday. “Everybody tries to prepare in the off-season, but it’s so hard to simulate when you talk to people going against it, it makes it tremendously tough. Our guys are excited for the opportunity, playing on the road in the SEC is one of the toughest things there is to do in the country, and we’ll get to go to a really tough environment and play football against these guys.”
Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker has become the star of the UT offense. He has thrown 21 touchdowns compared to just two interceptions and is a dual-threat quarterback with over 500 rushing yards this season.
As Smart said, the up-tempo offense for the Volunteers’ has led them to average the fourth-most yards per game in the SEC with over 450 per contest. No team has found the blueprint to beat Georgia’s defense but Tennessee’s style should give the Bulldogs a fresh test.
“It’s so fast you can’t really simulate it in your practices, so you have to try and find a creative way to practice for it,” said Smart. “It’s so different than the triple option, I’m not trying to compare it to that, but it’s so different that it’s hard to prepare for.”
Georgia has only faced one true road atmosphere when the Bulldogs traveled to Auburn and beat the Tigers 34-10 on October 9. With Georgia facing FBS Charleston Southern and lowly Georgia Tech in the coming weeks, this weekend should be the last true challenge between Georgia and regular-season perfection.
Georgia players seem eager for the challenge.
“I’m excited to play them. I know it’s a huge stadium… 102,000 people I think it is,” said Georgia tight end John FitzPatrick. “It is going to be loud, and I know we will prepare hard all week with some crowd noise in the indoor. We will be ready.”
“Whenever we go down to Knoxville it is a lot of noise, but I love it,” said Kenny McIntosh. “I always look forward to playing in a stadium like this since I was a kid. Just being in front of all the fans and it being loud and all that, I just love that part of the game.”