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Tennessee vs Georgia preview: 3 important matchups to watch in Volunteers vs Bulldogs game

Abby Dixon
Tennessee vs Georgia
Saul Young/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK

The No. 1 Tennessee Volunteers (8-0, 4-0 SEC) will face No. 3 Georgia Bulldogs (8-0, 5-0) — the defending national champions — for the most important game on the 2022 college football schedule thus far and potentially the best Tennessee vs Georgia matchup ever.

The tables have turned for the Vols this year, captured Tuesday when the College Football Playoff rankings revealed that the Vols earned the No. 1 spot in national rankings for the first time since 1998. It also sets the stage for this historic matchup. Saturday marks the first time that both teams in the Tennessee vs Georgia matchup that both programs are Top 5 opponents and the first time since 2002 they have met as Top 10 teams.

Related: Tennesse vs Georgia sets college football ticket records

This battle between the top two SEC teams will showcase two of the most explosive offenses in college football, including two offensive powerhouses in Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker and Georgia tight end Brock Bowers.

  • Tennessee vs Georgia time: 3:30 PM ET
  • Tennessee vs Georgia TV info: CBS

Let’s dive into our Tennessee vs Georgia preview, plus a prediction for who will come out on top.

Related: Heisman Watch 2022

Volunteers’ secondary vs Bulldogs’ pass offense

Syndication: The Knoxville News-Sentinel
Brianna Paciorka/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK

Tennessee’s pass defense is one of the worst in the nation, ranking 127th by allowing 300.8 passing yards per game. Looking deeper, the Vols allow 6.89 yards per attempt and 11.1 yards per completion, significantly boosting their pass defense to the top 50.

Despite the rankings, Tennessee’s secondary can make plays and it demonstrated that against the Kentucky Wildcats. The Volunteers held NFL prospect Will Levis to 98 passing yards and just 3.6 yards per pass with three interceptions. Tennessee’s defensive backfield has stepped up recently, with three players in particular who could make an impact Saturday.

  • Doneiko Slaughter: He stood out during his start at cornerback for Tennessee, after he excelled in one-on-one coverage against Kentucky’s stronger receivers and was able to pick off an underthrown pass. Although he typically plays at safety, he proved to be an impact player at cornerback.
  • Trevon Flowers: Leads the Vols with 27 solo tackles while also contributing one sack, two interceptions, and one forced fumble.
  • Kamal Hadden: Co-leader for the Vols with two interceptions while also forcing one fumble and racking up 27 total tackles.

Georgia’s pass offense will be the biggest challenge for Tennessee this season. The Bulldogs rank eighth in passing yards per game with 328.1 yards, highlighting their high-volume passing attack. However, Georgia is also 43rd in passing yards per completion, averaging 12.87 yards. If Tennessee can contain Stetson Bennett and Brock Bowers, it has a good chance at stopping Georgia’s offense.

  • Stetson Bennett stats: 2,349 passing yards, 84.2 QBR< 9-3 TD-INT
  • Brock Bowers stats: 31 receptions 547 receiving yards, 17.6 ypc, 3 touchdowns

Hendon Hooker vs Georgia’s secondary

NCAA Football: Georgia at Tennessee
Bryan Lynn-USA TODAY Sports

Hendon Hooker is leading one of the top passing offenses in college football right now. The Volunteers have the second-best passing offense (353.4 pass ypg) and are fourth in passing touchdowns (26). Hooker also boasts the second-highest passing efficiency (191.64), right behind C.J. Stroud (200.17). In this Tennessee vs Georgia clash, the Heisman Trophy favorite is about to face a tenacious Bulldogs’ secondary that ranks 13th in passing defense (177.1 pass ypg).

Three of Georgia’s secondary weapons include Kelee Ringo, Malaki Starks, and Christopher Smith. This trio has combined for 74 tackles, 11 defended passes, four interceptions and one sack. The physicality and awareness of the Bulldogs’ back seven will pose a great threat to the Vols’ passing offense, and may force them to shift to attacking on the ground.

If the secondary doesn’t blow coverage against Jaylin Hyatt, then Hooker may be forced to steer away from the star receiver and hit other targets downfield.

  • Jalin Hyatt stats: 45 receptions, 907 receiving yards, 20.2 ypc, 14 touchdowns

Bulldogs’ run game vs Vols’ defensive front

NCAA Football: Florida at Georgia
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Bulldogs’ high-powered rushing game could become a key factor to success in this matchup. They are currently averaging 202 rushing yards per game, a top-25 rushing offense entering November. Georgia is very effective when it runs the football, averaging 5.65 ypc thus allowing it to work the clock and keep Tennessee’s offense off the field. Daijun Edwards and Kenny McIntosh have been stellar this season, elevating the run game for the Bulldogs. However, this Tennessee vs Georgia matchup is so good because of where each of these teams’ strengths are.

Edwards has rushed for 440 yards and seven touchdowns, averaging 6.2 ypc while McIntosh has rushed for 332 yards and six touchdowns averaging 4.8 ypc. In all, the Georgia offense has racked up 28 rushing touchdowns and 1,616 rushing yards. 

The No. 9 ranked Vols’ run defense will be difficult to obtain averages like that against. They allow just 92.9 yards per game and 2.90 yards per rush. Byron Young and Omari Thomas are threats up front for the Vols. The two defensive lineman shed blocks and get through the line causing immediate pressure. They have a combined 39 tackles on the season.

Related: Top 25 rankings updated every Saturday night

Efficiency in the run game can be the decisive factor in this SEC matchup, so if the Bulldogs can figure out how to get through the sturdy Vols’ defensive line, then they will have a leg up on Tennessee.

  • Tennessee vs Georgia prediction: Volunteers 40, Bulldogs 38