It's Football Time in Tennessee: Vols vs. Georgia Bulldogs Preview (11/18/23)

Recently: Tennessee (#18, 7-3, 3-3) turned in a completely inept performance at Missouri. Other than Jackson Ross, who punted like his life depended on it, and Dont'e Thornton, who literally gave his all for Tennessee that day when he suffered a season-ending leg injury diving for UT's lone touchdown, there were nothing but forgettable performances by the Vols on Saturday afternoon.

Georgia (#1, 10-0, 7-0) held off an early threat by Ole Miss and ran away from the Rebs 52-17. Ole Miss found the end zone on two of their first three drives, but went 3-and-out on half of their remaining drives and mustered only a field goal in the last 44 minutes of game time. Meanwhile Georgia scored touchdowns on 7/11 drives in the game. 

Previously on Vols vs. Dawgs: Tennessee traveled to Athens as the #1 team in the CFB Playoff rankings last November, but failed to create anything offensively and fell to UGA 13-27. Looking at the advanced stats, Hendon Hooker had by far his worst game that day, accumulating -2.3 predicted points added in the game. Yes, that's a negative number. Remember, PPA is a measure of how much you are improving the teams' chances of scoring--so Hendon's play that day was actively hurting the Vols chances of scoring. That's how poor UT's offensive performance was. In contrast, as bad as Tennessee's offense looked against Mizzou last week, Joe Milton still accumulated 17 PPA in the game.

Georgia leads the overall series against Tennessee 27-23-2 thanks to a current 6-game win streak by the Dawgs, Georgia's longest such streak in the series. 

Five Factor Preview

Tennessee Offense vs. Georgia Defense

In 2022 Tennessee had an elite offense, but struggled to score against Georgia. In 2023 Tennessee does not have an elite offense. The Vols are already struggling to finish drives. Tennessee averaged 4.8 points per opportunity in 2022, but that average is down by more than a full point in 2023. UT scored zero points on three opportunities against Mizzou. Manage your expectations accordingly. 

I usually use this space to highlight some of the opposition's top players. But that's hard to do against a team that is literally 76% blue-chip athletes. Throw a dart at the UGA roster. Who'd it hit? Yeah, look out for that guy. 

Tennessee Defense vs. Georgia Offense 

Georgia struggled to find an offensive identity early in the season, but has become among the nation's most efficient offenses. Tennessee has been good at limiting scoring opportunities, PPO, and opponents' success rate, but this defensive unit that was already thin has suffered from attrition as the season draws to its close. The LB corps and secondary are looking especially rough these days. At the same time, UGA has the walking matchup nightmare Brock Bowers back from injury just in time to finish out the year. Again, manage expectations accordingly. 

Georgia Offensive Concepts

According to, Missouri ran inside zone reads on 7 snaps against Tennessee with a 57% success rate and gained 9.3 yards/play on those snaps. Georgia's favorite run concept is inside zone read. Manage expectations. UGA prefers inside slam as their particular flavor of inside zone, featuring a double team working up to the linebacker at the point of attack. An example vs. Ole Miss: 

Georgia, as most SEC teams do, relies on flood concepts in the pass game. Their most dangerous has been play action bootlegs. Notice in this example neither the PA nor the boot are especially pronounced, but it's still a doozy to defend. I'm guessing if the defender doesn't keep contain, the QB would continue to roll left with either an easy throw to the flat or a chance to run. Instead, he pulls up short, and the slight roll right has lined him up for a throw to the left. 

Prediction: I cannot predict a Tennessee win. I want you to consider a few things. 

  • Georgia's roster is made up of 76% blue-chip players (4- and 5-star recruits). Tennessee is still below 50% on the blue-chip ratio, although that number is trending up. 
  • Going into this game last year, UT's offense was playing at an elite level. The 2023 offense has not reached those heights, in large part because there was a downgrade at almost every position coming into this year--refer back to the roster situation. 
  • There's also the injury report to consider on offense. Would-be starting WRs Bru McCoy and Dont'e Thornton are out for the season. C Cooper Mays missed the first part of the year and now G Andrej Karic, who would be contributing, is out. 
  • Before last week, Tennessee's defense was playing at a very high level. Mizzou ran through them like a sieve. Consider the injuries pilling up on that side of the ball, too. LB Keenan Pili is still out, as is Arion Carter, who would be a major contributor. In the secondary, CB Kamal Hadden is out, and STAR Tamerion McDonald went out on the first play last week and remains questionable. Roman Harrison was out against Mizzou, I don't know if anything has been said about his status. That's five of the defensive 2-deep out on an already thin roster.
  • Meanwhile UGA just got TE Brock Bowers back from injury, adding another weapon to an offense operating at a statistically elite level. 

All that to say, if you're expecting Tennessee to win this game, you're setting yourself up for disappointment. Now of course, Tennessee can win. If this game was played 100 times, UGA wouldn't win 100 times. How many would Tennessee win? I don't think it's 50. Is it 40? 30? Parker Fleming (@statsowar on x) has the Vols at 43% to win, which I guess I could see a world where Tennessee wins 43/100 times, though it feels on the high end of what they could do. 

If Tennessee wins, it will be due to intangibles, because the tangibles all point toward UGA. So what can the Vols do to have chance? 

  • The #1 absolute most-important thing: Neyland has to be a zoo. The volume and intensity has to help throw Georgia off their game, because in a vacuum, they're the better team. But while Vegas has traditionally given 3 points to the home team, I believe that SEC home fields give closer to a touchdown boost to the home team. Just this season we've seen the Neyland crowd affect games against Texas A&M and South Carolina. And while the Bulldogs are a different breed than either of those teams, they're still a bunch of 18- to 22-year-olds, highly fallible and prone to distraction.
  • Hope that Georgia, who has had two season-defining games in back-to-back weeks, comes in a little complacent after beating what they assume to be better teams and already clinching the division title. 
  • Conversely, Tennessee must play with greater focus and effort than we saw against Mizzou. The Vols were shockingly lackadaisical a week ago. Go back and watch the offensive line... actually don't. I'll save you the frustration, there was a lot of leaning and reaching, just lazy technique. It showed up in how the line was manhandled all day. It'll be worse this week if there's not more focus. 
  • Luck. Joe Milton doesn't throw interceptions. Jaylen Wright had not lost a fumble in his career before Saturday. And there was the other fumble caused by poor spacing/lack of concentration. It just wasn't the Vols' day last Saturday. They'll need fortune to shine on them this Saturday (and you can't spell fortune without UT). 
I also didn't mention the fact that in all of Tennessee history, the Vols have three wins against #1-ranked teams. If UT were to beat Georgia on Saturday, Josh Heupel would become the first coach in school history to beat two #1 teams in his tenure. Neyland and Majors each had one win against a top-ranked team. Fulmer never beat a #1-ranked team. Heupel did it in year 2, against Alabama last October. Consider how big an ask it is to expect a coach in year 3 of a rebuild to do something that hasn't been done in 130 years of Volunteer football. Manage your expectations. But not necessarily your emotions. 

High emotion, low expectations. 



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