If there was one Georgia Bulldogs victory in 2013 that could be counted as the costliest, it was the 34-31 overtime win over the Tennessee Volunteers at Neyland Stadium.
The Bulldogs came into Knoxville on a 3-game winning streak, having just upset the mighty LSU Tigers in Athens, and were seemingly on their way to securing another SEC East championship.
But as the game wore on, Dawgs were falling like flies. Georgia entered the game without Todd Gurley, Tray Matthews and Connor Norman, and then during the course of the game Keith Marshall, Michael Bennett, Justin Scott-Wesley and even punter Collin Barber were injured, some of them season-ending.
Georgia can’t afford for that type of game again in 2014, but unfortunately it may happen. The rivalry with the Vols has shaped up to be one of the most brutally physical games on the schedule every season, regardless of the outcome. Both teams have suffered key losses via injury over the last few years.
To make it even more interesting, the Volunteers have had a tremendous recruiting year to go on top of the huge strides they made as a team in 2013. This could and should be a concerning game for the Dawgs. On Sept. 27, the war will rage on once again in Sanford Stadium.
Tennessee Key Departures
OFFENSE/ST: RB Rajion Neal, OT Antonio Richardson, C James Stone, OG Zach Fulton, OT Ja’Wuan James, K Michael Palardy
DEFENSE: DT Daniel McCullers, LB Dontavious Sapp, DL Corey Miller, DL Marlon Walls
Offensively, the Vols are going to be depending on some of those key recruits that are coming in, as they will have to replace their entire offensive line, and still try to find the right guy at quarterback. It’s going to take some time for a brand new line to learn to work together and to be able to read some of the complex pass protections needed against defenses like Georgia. The Vols may be running the ball quite a bit early in the season.
The same problem exists on defense, where Tennessee is basically replacing their entire defensive line. The Vols are the only team in the SEC to return none of their starters from the defensive line – a line that struggled mightily against the run as it was last year. The trenches on both sides of the ball will be a huge factor for Tennessee.
Tennessee Key Returning Players
OFFENSE: RB Marlin Lane, WR Marquez North , WR Jason Croom
DEFENSE: LB AJ Johnson, LB Curt Maggitt, S Brian Randolph, S LaDarrell McNeil
The Vols are more than set at wide receiver, as they have a stable of wideouts similar to what Georgia has at running back. The question will continue to be, who will throw the ball to this talented group? Marlin Lane will be the bell cow at running back, but head coach Butch Jones will want to develop some more talent behind him.
Defensively, the linebackers and secondary for the Vols are strong, and they’ll need to be if that brand new defensive line doesn’t hold up. Teams will still be reluctant to pass against one of the speediest secondaries in the SEC, but just like last season, they may not have to.
Tennessee Suspended Players
Right now the status of star wide receiver Alton “Pig” Howard is up in the air. After dealing with some personal issues, Howard was left out of the spring practices. He’s had a path laid out for him by Butch Jones to get him back in the good graces of the program, which (right now) he is doing.
One of the requirements that was given to Howard by Jones and the 12-man player staff, was to attend classes in what the university calls the mini-term, a three-week period of classes in May between the end of the spring semester and the start of the summer session’s first term. Word is that if Howard completes this term, he’ll be on the roster in August.
Tennessee Possible Impact Incoming Freshman
As mentioned in the opening, Tennessee has had quite a bit of good fortune in recruiting the last two seasons. A total of 31 recruits have enrolled, a group that includes 15 different 4-star players according to the 247sports.com composite rankings.
WR Josh Malone, ATH/RB Jalen Hurd, S Todd Kelly, OLB Dillion Bates, DE Dewayne Hendrix, and RB Derrell Scott are all players who could come in and start making Butch Jones life a lot easier. But Tennessee is going to need to get a lot out of some of their young linemen on both sides of the ball, like 4-star DEs Derek Barnett and Dewayne Hendrix, as well as offensive linemen Dontavius Blair and Jashon Robertson, who could help provide some depth.
Having a top recruiting class this big is a blessing and a curse, because while you were able to lure a lot of top players in, it also means you had that many scholarship positions open and available.
Outlook for Game
This game is going to come down to strength against weakness. The Bulldogs are very strong on both sides of the line, while the Vols are basically fielding two brand new lines. The experienced and salty Bulldogs may end up having their way when it comes to moving bodies down low.
On the flip side, a very talented and fast Tennessee receiving corps is going to be up against a young and fairly untested secondary. Georgia’s excellent linebackers may have to help out in pass coverage a little more than Mark Richt and Jeremy Pruitt would like during this game, especially if Pig Howard is able to play.
This will be the second game in a row at home for the Dawgs, having just played Troy the week prior, while Tennessee will be on the second game of a rough road trip (with an open date between) after having just traveled to Norman, Ok. to take on the Sooners. Tennessee will likely need that open week to recover.
Freak injuries and miracle plays aside, the advantage in the trenches (and facing Todd Gurley, who sat out last year’s game) should be more than enough to give Georgia a solid victory at home over the Vols this year. Take the pups by 10 over big orange.
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