Tennessee vs. No. 6 Georgia
Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET
Neyland Stadium (102,455) . Knoxville, Tenn.
Radio: Vol Network (106.5 FM Chattanooga)
Series Record: UT leads 21-19-2
Why Saturday is important
Ready or not, Tennessee’s program will be on display for the nation on Saturday. The Vols and Bulldogs are the SEC Game of the Week on CBS, and even though it might not be a marquee matchup, it’ll be, arguably, the most high-profile game on at that point in the day. The Vols are going all in with the exposure. Plenty of big-time recruits will be on campus and UT will also unveil their new alternate “Smokey gray” uniforms. Georgia clearly has the talent edge, but the Bulldogs haven’t played well in recent years in Knoxville. Tennessee has won two of the last three at home against the Bulldogs. Phillip Fulmer had one of his biggest wins late in his career over UGA in 2007. Lane Kiffin had his signature win against the Bulldogs in 2009. Now Butch Jones will look to get his first huge victory in front of what is expected to be a crowd of 100,000-plus.
Three things to know about Georgia
The Bulldogs are among the hottest teams in the SEC right now. After a season-opening loss at Clemson, they have responded in a big way. They knocked off South Carolina, North Texas and then survived a 44-41 shootout against LSU last week. They are the early favorites in the SEC East and shouldn’t be considered out of the national title hunt if they can stay at one loss. . Offensively, the Bulldogs are one of the most balanced teams in the nation. Redshirt senior quarterback Aaron Murray continues to assault the Georgia and SEC record books. He’s considered among the most accurate and experience signal callers in the nation. Even with star running back Todd Gurley (ankle) questionable, the Bulldogs can still run the ball. Backup Keith Marshall is no stranger to the Vols. He rushed for 164 yards and two touchdowns on just 10 carries in the 2012 matchup. . The defense, however, is still rebuilding after having seven players drafted after last year. The Bulldogs are giving up over 400 yards per game and 32.5 points per contest.
What you should know about Georgia head coach Mark Richt
Now in his 13th season with the Bulldogs, Richt has the longest current tenure with one school in the SEC. Only South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, who previously coached at Florida, has been a head coach in the SEC for longer. . The former University of Miami quarterback got his start as a graduate assistant at Florida State before moving on to East Carolina as its offensive coordinator. He returned to FSU for a successful run as quarterbacks coach/offensive coordinator from 1990-2000 before being offered the head coaching position at Georgia. . The Bulldogs have shown drastic improvement in his tenure. They averaged just over seven wins per season in the decade before Richt arrived. Coming into 2013, they’ve averaged just under 10 wins a year since he took over. . Richt has won just about everything except a national title. He’s won the SEC East, the SEC and multiple BCS bowl games, but has fallen just short of winning it all. Last season might’ve been his closest call. The Bulldogs fell just a few yards short of beating Alabama last season in the SEC championship, a win that would’ve put UGA in the title game against Notre Dame, a team that the Crimson Tide eventually routed.
Tennessee player to watch
Running back Rajion Neal has played some of his best games against his home-state school. He caught three passes for 70 yards at Georgia as a freshman in 2010 then had a huge game against the Bulldogs last year as well, rushing for 104 yards and a score and catching five passes for 53 yards and an additional touchdown. Coming off a career-high 169 yards rushing against South Alabama, Neal should be poised for another big game against the Bulldogs.
Georgia player to watch
With starting running back Todd Gurley (ankle) out, that turns more attention to backup Keith Marshall. He’s not a typical second-string guy. Marshall would start for most programs in the nation and he showed why last year against UT. Splitting reps with Gurley, Marshall was actually the more effective back, running 10 times for 164 yards, including a long of 75 yards, and two touchdowns.
Random facts to impress your friends
Tennessee hasn’t defeated a ranked team since knocking off South Carolina on Oct. 31, 2009. Interestingly, that was the last time the Vols wore an alternate jersey (like they will against UGA). That season, Lane Kiffin elected to use a black-and-orange alternate. . A win on Saturday would give UT its fifth straight victory at home and move the Vols to 10-3 at home in their last 13 contests. . The Vols are ranked third in the nation and first in the SEC in forced turnovers this season with 15. . The Vols have played 14 true freshmen and eight walk-ons this season. . Tennessee defensive coordinator John Jancek and secondary coach Willie Martinez are both former Georgia assistants. Richt fired both after a rough year for UGA’s defense in 2009. Martinez and Richt are also former college teammates at Miami.
“Extremely, extremely talented. Their quarterback is as good as any quarterback in the country, he is a Sunday quarterback, he can make all the throws, very skilled on the perimeter. Big physical offensive line with two, really three, running backs. I look at their football program, they have tremendous depth in all three phases offensively, defensively and special teams. It is going to be a great challenge for us, just like every week. It is another opportunity.”
– Tennessee head coach Butch Jones on Georgia
The Vols will win if …
They can figure out ways to get Georgia’s offense off the field. That likely won’t involve lining up and holding it to a lot of 3-and-outs. The Georgia offense is too talented to simply stall. The Vols must force turnovers and hope the Bulldogs also have some self-inflicted mistakes such as penalties as well.
The Vols will lose if …
They get in a shootout with Georgia. UGA’s defense is fragile enough that UT should be able to score some points. But if the game gets in a situation where the score begins to escalate into the 30s and both teams are trading scores, then Georgia will have the advantage. The Bulldogs have too much talent and experience on offense. The Vols should hope for a lower-scoring, somewhat sloppy game that keeps them in it until the fourth quarter.
Unofficial UT injury report:
Out: WR Devrin Young, QB Nathan Peterman, TE Alex Ellis, TE Justin Meredith, TE Joseph Ayres, LB Curt Maggitt, WR Ryan Jenkins, DT Trevarris Saulsberry, RB Marlin Lane, DT Maurice Couch (ineligible)
Probable: RB Rajion Neal
Georgia 38, Tennessee 21
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanielNooga