Optimistic view from Rocky Top bucks oddsmakers on Georgia-Tennessee

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Georgia needs its student section to show up early Saturday. (Philip Williams / UGA)
Georgia needs its student section to show up early Saturday. (Philip Williams / UGA)

Georgia needs its student section to show up early Saturday. (Philip Williams / UGA)

There’s a bit of a disconnect this week between the Vegas oddsmakers, cautious Georgia fans and those folks in orange pants, who believe history is in their favor as they come into Sanford Stadium Saturday.

With the Dawgs favored by 17 to 19 points this week, Georgia is clearly the favorite of the folks who want you to bet on the game, but with another noon kickoff that could diminish the noise and crowd energy level Between the Hedges, a still-suspect secondary facing a team with talented receivers, and the Dogs’ own passing game still not completely out of the wrapping, UGA fans making predictions about this year’s game against the Vols are tending to be much more conservative.

On the other hand, Vols fans think the time is right for them to get back in the win column in this SEC East series. For the view from Rocky Top, let’s go to my old friend Joey Ledford. …

Butch Jones has the Tennessee fan base believing. (Associated Press)

Butch Jones has the Tennessee fan base believing. (Associated Press)

It’s a brave new world in the SEC when there really isn’t a beast in the East. It almost seems like nobody’s good enough to win it. We Tennessee fans are starting to think, why not us?

The man who wrote “Brave New World,” Aldous Huxley, makes my point today quite well: He wrote, “That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons of history.”

So what does history say about Georgia versus Tennessee?

♦ It’s a series of streaks. Georgia has won four in a row. UGA has won five straight only once, way back in 1924.

♦ The longest streak in the series belongs to Tennessee, nine in a row from 1989 to 1999.

♦ Tennessee leads in the all-time win column 21-20-2. The home field hasn’t necessarily been an advantage in this series, with the Vols having won in Sanford Stadium 10 times, the Dawgs winning the same number in Neyland.

I won’t even go back go Herschel’s march over Bill Bates (whose son now plays for UT), or Peyton Manning’s winning drive in 1995, to point out that it often doesn’t matter who is favored or by how much when Tennessee plays Georgia. There are many more recent examples:

♦ In 2001, Tennessee was ranked sixth in the nation when David Greene’s improbable last minute TD drive won the day and inspired Larry Munson to rave about a type of boot nobody knew existed.

♦ In 2004, Georgia was ranked third in the nation, but the Vols ruined Georgia’s 17 game home winning streak with a stunning 19-14 upset.

♦ Tennessee was unranked in 2007 and Georgia finished the season ranked No. 2. But the Dawgs missed a shot at the BCS title due to Tennessee’s 35-14 upset.

All this is to say that Tennessee is primed for another upset. Georgia looked like a national champion against Clemson, but played like regional chumps in losing to South Carolina. Tennessee plays 22 freshmen, and its weakest link is five new starters on the offensive line, including a couple of freshmen, but Butch Jones has his team and the fan base believing. By the way, we were off last week, and Butch is 9-2 after bye weeks.

Remember the last two years – you guys were heavily favored and both times you were fortunate to escape with a win. It was 51-44 in Sanford two years ago, and last year in Neyland, you surely would have lost had Pig Howard made it two more inches when he dived for the pylon in overtime.

So why do I give Tennessee a chance against your stable of talented backs? We are much more talented on defense. Tennessee is third in the nation in third-down defense, allowing teams to convert only 10 of 43 on third down. You might argue that it’s padded on cupcakes, but Oklahoma converted only 3 of 12 against Tennessee and was zero for one on fourth down.

Speaking of Oklahoma, we lost 34-10, but the score is incredibly deceiving. We threw two interceptions in their endzone, and one of them was returned for a touchdown. Change three plays and we’re there at the end. Oklahoma gained just 149 yards on the ground.

We are the least penalized team in the nation, losing only 21.3 yards per game to the zebras. All this is to say we are well coached, which you could not say about at least one of Butch’s predecessors.

I’m not going to roll through the roster, but here are a few Tennessee names to remember. Senior A.J. Johnson is the best middle linebacker we’ve had since Al Wilson. Cam Sutton, just a sophomore, may be the best shutdown corner in the SEC. Also note Jalen Reeves-Maybin, a special teams beast and likely All-SEC linebacker.

On offense, watch for Jalen Hurd. A five-star freshman, he could be Tennessee’s Herschel before he’s done. Marquez North is our go-to receiver, along with Pig, of course.

Georgia's defense needs to get pressure on Vols quarterback Justin Worley. (Getty Images)

Georgia’s defense needs to get pressure on Vols quarterback Justin Worley. (Getty Images)

Don’t discount Tennessee quarterback Justin Worley. The kid’s tough, and he’s experienced. He might just make enough plays to beat you.

Good luck, Dawgs! And thanks, Bill, for letting me come in to visit!

Thanks, Joey, for another good-humored, informative look at your Vols. Now, it’s my turn. …

There is some cause for concern. The early kickoff isn’t good for UGA and the Vols do have a decent, if inconsistent, passer and top-notch receivers who certainly could prove a major challenge for Jeremy Pruitt’s defensive backs, who at times play more zoned-out than zone.

But if Georgia’s at-times imposing pass rush gets on track, Tennessee QB Worley might not have enough time to test Georgia’s secondary. South Carolina feasted on the Dogs’ defense because their offensive line kept Georgia’s pass rush at bay. But the Vols have a very green OL that has given up nine sacks through the first three games of the season and has kept their running game from getting much traction, despite having a talented young back, and that could be a big factor in the Dogs’ favor.

Georgia needs a big game from Leonard Floyd, Jordan Jenkins and company. Worley doesn’t respond well to pressure. Against the Sooners, who harassed him continuously, he completed just 21 of 44 passes, was sacked five times, threw two interceptions and lost a fumble.

Still, if Worley is given time he can hurt Georgia. This isn’t a game where Pruitt’s troops can sit back and react. Here’s hoping Georgia’s defensive front and linebackers come out attacking. Blitzkrieg!

Todd Gurley isn't intimidated by defenses stacking the box. (Steven Colquitt / UGA)

Todd Gurley isn’t intimidated by defenses stacking the box. (Steven Colquitt / UGA)

As for the Vols’ defense, led by A.J. Johnson, the SEC leader in tackles, it’s better than the Gamecocks’ D, and had some success early on slowing down Oklahoma’s backs. But the Vols haven’t yet encountered a running attack as good as Georgia’s.

I expect Tennessee to stack the box with as many as eight defenders, like they did against Oklahoma, in an effort to force Georgia to go to the air, where the Dogs are a bit of an unknown quantity so far this season.

Of course, Tennessee’s defense is undersized, and it’s worth remembering, as Todd Gurley has noted in the past, that if you stack the box against the run and the runner manages to break through, he’s got mostly open field ahead of him. And we know what Gurley, Sony Michel and Nick Chubb can do with that.

Inexperience aside, I expect the Vols to come in brimming with confidence, due to the close games against Georgia the past couple of years, so it’s important for the Dogs to try to take control of the game early on. A fast start for Georgia could indeed result in the kind of game Las Vegas expects.

Hutson Mason may have to shoulder more of the offensive load this week. (Jim Hipple / UGA)

Hutson Mason may have to shoulder more of the offensive load this week. (Jim Hipple / UGA)

Hutson Mason has done a good, if unspectacular, job of running Georgia’s offense so far, taking care of the ball and completing 70 percent of what few passes he’s thrown. But if Georgia’s defense gets off to its usual slow start and lets the Vols get some momentum, the pressure will be on Mason to shoulder more of the burden and loosen up the Tennessee defense with more of a downfield passing attack.

How he’ll respond in that sort of situation remains to be seen, but I think Mason is fully capable of taking on more of the offensive load.

If I’m right, all of Joey’s history books won’t be enough to keep the Dogs from winning for a fifth consecutive year.

Feel free to share your own thoughts on the Dogs and Vols.

Go Dogs!

Got something you want to discuss concerning the football season or UGA athletics? Or a question for the Junkyard Blawg? Email junkyardblawg@gmail.com.

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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg


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