No. 12 Georgia (4-1, 2-1 SEC) vs. Tennessee (2-2, 0-1)
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. (TV: CBS, Radio: 940-AM)
Stadium: Neyland Stadium (102,037)
Kickoff weather: High of 87, low of 66; 20 percent chance of rain
Series: Tennessee leads 15-19-2
Last meeting: Tennessee won 51-33 in Athens in 2006
Odds: Tennessee favored by 2 points
Injuries: Georgia: Out: WR A.J. Bryant (knee), LB Marcus Washington (shoulder);
Doubtful: OL Scott Haverkamp; Probable: S Kelin Johnson (concussion, shoulder). Tennessee: Out: TE David Holbert (knee), TE Brad Cottam (hand), CB Marsalous Johnson (knee); Probable: WR Gerald Jones (hamstring).
Georgia is on a roll, coming off its best rushing performance since the 1998 season, and the best news for the Bulldogs is they are going up against another struggling defense. Ole Miss is ranked 108th in the nation in yards allowed and the Volunteers aren’t much better at 95th. Tennessee has allowed 188.2 yards per game on the ground so as long as Thomas Brown and Knowshon Moreno hold onto the football, they could have another big day. Don’t expect Kregg Lumpkin to break back in the lineup quite yet. The Volunteers have always talked a big game about their running attack, but it’s been mostly lip service this year. They throw the ball 57.7 percent of the time and are 11th in the SEC in rushing with 132.2 yards per game. Sophomore LaMarcus Coker was slated for a breakout season, but he hasn’t recovered from a preseason suspension and has just 117 yards on 24 carries. Starter Arian Foster is averaging 74.2 yards per game. Foster is a more physical back than Coker, who is the home run threat.
Maybe this will be the game Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford breaks out. The sophomore thrives on big moments, and a nationally televised game in front of more than 100,000 fans in attendance might be just what he needs to concentrate for 60 minutes. Quarterbacks coach Mike Bobo said this week he’s still trying to impress on Stafford the importance of consistent footwork and trusting his protection. The Bulldogs’ wide receiver are blocking better than they have “in a long time,” Richt said. Sean Bailey remains the top threat, but no one scares an opponent and none of them are in the SEC’s top 10 in receiving yards per game. Volunteers quarterback Erik Ainge is playing as well as any quarterback in the league other thanKentucky’s Andre Woodson. Junior wide receiver Lucas Taylor has stepped in to fill part of the void left by Robert Meachem, Bret Smith and Jayson Swain. He is second in the SEC in receiving, but the problem for the Volunteers is they have yet to scare anybody with a deep threat.
Tennessee has one of its best offensive lines this decade, which will make for an interesting matchup. The strength of Georgia’s defense in the first four games of the year had been its line, but it was gashed several times for long runs against Ole Miss. Bulldogs head coach Mark Richt hopes his group doesn’t get distracted by the fact that the Volunteers are throwing the ball on almost 60 percent of their offensive plays. “They’ve always been a team that wants to run the football,” Richt said, “but they’ve got a quarterback who is hot. We just have to make sure that we don’t lose sight o the fact that we still have to stop the run first.” The Volunteers defense has been porous. They are ranked 95th in the country and have allowed 439 yards per game. In Tennessee’s defense, it has played California and Florida, which have two of the nation’s best offenses. The best player of the bunch may be a true freshmen who Georgia recruited very hard, safety Eric Berry. Berry, whose father played at Tennessee, will start at safety today. The Vols also are expected to start a true freshman at cornerback in Brent Vinson, so expect Georgia to test him. Tennessee is looking for better production from linebacker Jerod Mayo and safety Jonathan Hefney.
Georgia has owned this area of the game against the Volunteers since Richt arrived six years ago. Even last year, when Tennessee blocked a punt for a touchdown, the Bulldogs won the special teams battle 14-7 thanks to a punt and a kickoff returned for a touchdown. And theremay be opportunities for more returns this year. The Volunteers are ranked 91st in the country in punting and are allowing an SEC-worst 9.6 yards per return. (Only one other team in the SEC allows more than 5 yards per return.) Tennessee’s kickoff coverage if 11th in the league. As far as the Volunteers’ return game, only the kickoff return team has done much damage this year. Hefney, a usually reliable veteran at that spot, has been erratic this year. The Vols’ punt return average of 3.3 yards is 113th in the nation. Where Tennessee remains solid is its kicking game. Punter Britton Colquitt is more than serviceable, and freshman place-kicker Daniel Lincoln hasn’t missed yet (eight-for-eight).