The defending national champion No. 3 Georgia Bulldogs host the No. 1 Tennessee Volunteers in a marquee matchup that will likely have major implications on the SEC championship game and College Football Playoff.
According to ESPN Analytics, the winner of this game will also have a 99% chance of winning the SEC East.
This has been a lopsided series in recent years as Georgia enters the showdown riding a five-game winning streak — tied for its longest in series history — with all five wins by more than 20 points.
Tennessee will look to change that with Heisman Trophy-favorite Hendon Hooker at the helm. Hooker has 21 touchdown passes this season, second to only Peyton Manning (23) through eight games in program history. Most of them have gone to Jalin Hyatt (14), who’s on pace to become the third receiver in SEC history to catch 20 touchdown passes in a season.
Here are the best moments from Tennessee-Georgia:
— Georgia Football (@GeorgiaFootball) November 5, 2022
Updates from Sanford
As expected, Georgia receiver Adonai Mitchell won’t play against the Volunteers. He isn’t in uniform for warm-ups. Mitchell, a sophomore from Missouri City, Texas, has been sidelined with an ankle injury and hasn’t played since Georgia’s 33-0 shutout of Samford on Sept. 10. He had five catches for 69 yards with one score in a 49-3 rout of Oregon in the opener. He is one of Georgia’s best deep threats in the passing game, and quarterback Stetson Bennett could have used him against Tennessee’s shaky secondary. — Mark Schlabach
What should you know about the Vols?
Tennessee coach Josh Heupel said the Vols should be as healthy as they’ve been all season today against Georgia.
Cedric Tillman, who led Tennessee in receiving last season, figures to provide a boost to an already potent receiving corps. He played limited snaps last week against Kentucky, and Heupel said they had him on a “pitch count” after missing the previous four games.
Heupel said Tillman will be “ready to roll” against the Bulldogs. The 6-foot-3 Tillman creates serious matchup problems with his size and athleticism, particularly with speedy Jalin Hyatt and his 14 touchdowns on the other side.
Tillman has been practicing full speed, but the Vols wanted to make sure he was 100 percent before bringing him back for a game. Tillman had tightrope surgery to repair a high ankle sprain in September. — Chris Low
How about them Dawgs?
There’s no question that Georgia’s defense will miss senior outside linebacker Nolan Smith, who led the Bulldogs in sacks, tackles for loss and quarterback hurries. He’s a versatile defender that Georgia moved around a lot, and he’s one of the team’s most experienced players.
But the Bulldogs were going to struggle to get pressure on Volunteers quarterback Hendon Hooker regardless. Hooker gets rid of the ball quickly in Tennessee’s fast-paced offense. He has tremendous eye discipline and doesn’t make many mistakes, which is why he has only one interception this season.
Georgia’s cornerbacks — Kelee Ringo and Kamari Lassiter — are going to have to play well on the perimeter to slow the Vols down. They’ll face a monumental challenge in trying to contain UT receivers Tillman, Bru McCoy and Hyatt.
Georgia coach Kirby Smart said the Bulldogs are going to have to adjust to UT’s pace on the fly and do it well.
“They got multiple paces they use and they can go as fast as anybody in the country. They practice it, they preach it, they do a really good job researching themselves and figuring out how they can go faster. And our job is to be able to match that conditioning level.” — Schlabach
It’s on in Athens
What might be the biggest game in Sanford Stadium history is still hours away, but thousands of fans have flocked to Athens from every direction.
Former Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning is here. So is former Georgia defensive back and NFL Hall of Famer Champ Bailey. Country music star Luke Bryan arrived for “College GameDay” via private jet. PGA Tour golfers Kevin Kisner, a Georgia alum, and past U.S. Open champion Gary Woodland were expected to arrive from Justin Thomas‘ wedding in Nashville sometime Saturday morning.
The Bulldogs have hosted plenty of big games in Sanford Stadium during the past 93 years, but perhaps none bigger than Saturday’s, which will probably decide the SEC East title and who will play in the SEC championship game. The winner will also have an inside track to the College Football Playoff, while the loser will need help from other teams to get into the top four.
It’s the first top-five matchup at Sanford Stadium since 1983, when Bo Jackson and No. 3 Auburn ended No. 4 Georgia’s 23-game SEC winning streak with a 13-7 victory between the hedges.
“It’s a big game, right?” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “There’s nothing about a number being in front of it. It would be a big game regardless because both teams are in the East.” — Schlabach