Georgia-Tennessee Betting Preview: Running Game Will Be Key

Georgia-Tennessee Betting Preview: Running Game Will Be Key article feature image

Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Georgia Bulldogs running back Elijah Holyfield (13) and quarterback Justin Fields (1) react after Holyfield scored a touchdown against the Austin Peay Governors during the first half at Sanford Stadium.

  • Georgia vs. Tennessee will kick off at 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday in Athens, Ga., where the Bulldogs are favored by 31.5 points.
  • Both Georgia and Tennessee like to run the football and will likely do more of that this week.
  • This game will likely have a slower pace thanks to similar approaches taken by the two head coaches.

This year’s Georgia-Tennessee matchup isn’t really about which team will win the game.

While there’s plenty of a reason they play the game (especially after Old Dominion’s upset of Virginia Tech last week), the Bulldogs enter Saturday’s game favored by 31 points over the Vols (find updated odds here).

Georgia is unbeaten and barely tested through four games. The Vols are trying to bounce back from a 26-point defeat at home to Florida last weekend.

These are two teams with totally different goals this season: Georgia is competing for a national championship and Tennessee is just trying to reach a bowl game.

Here’s what you need to know when Georgia and Tennessee kick off.

When Georgia Has the Ball

Quarterback Jake Fromm has been efficient this season, completing 72.5% of his passes with nine touchdowns and two interceptions.

Fromm hasn’t been asked to do too much thanks to the Bulldogs’ strong running game. The dogs average more than 250 rushing yards per game, 17th-best in the nation and second in the SEC.

Expect Georgia running backs D’Andre Swift, Elijah Holyfield and James Cook to run often and with success.

Florida averaged close to six yards per carry against Tennessee last week. The Bulldogs average 6.3 yards per carry on the season.

There will still be an opportunity for Georgia to work on its passing game. The Bulldogs could be without wide receiver Tyler Simmons because of injury, but receivers Mecole Hardman and Riley Ridley, as well as tight end Isaac Nauta, will all have chances to make plays against a young Tennessee secondary.

Tennessee’s defense will try to force turnovers, which won’t be easy. The Vols came up with only one takeaway in their past two games combined against UTEP and Florida.

Georgia ranks 12th in the nation and second in the SEC in turnovers lost. The Bulldogs know how to take care of the football.

One question with Georgia’s offense might be how much work the second team receives this week. Fromm played in the fourth quarter last week for the first time this season; will we see freshman quarterback Justin Fields get some extra work if Georgia builds an early lead?

When Tennessee Has the Ball

Tennessee likes to run the ball, whether it’s working or not.

Despite having lost two games by 26 points each, Tennessee ranks 13th in the nation in rushing attempts and 115th in passing attempts.

The Vols have often remained committed to the run even though they’ve needed to throw the ball to move down the field more quickly. That’s a sign of coach Jeremy Pruitt’s commitment to building a better offensive line that can help Tennessee run more effectively in the future.

The Vols have a stable of four running backs, led by speedster Ty Chandler, who should all see the field on Saturday.

Pruitt declared quarterback Jarrett Guarantano “good to go” on Wednesday after Guarantano exited the Florida game early. Watch to see if backup Keller Chryst is needed to spell Guarantano at any point on Saturday.

An interesting matchup will be Tennessee receiver Marquez Callaway vs. Georgia cornerback Deandre Baker. Guarantano (or Chryst) could look more often for receiver Jauan Jennings if Callaway is covered.

Tennessee allowed nine tackles for loss against Florida last week. Will Georgia, which ranks last in the SEC with 13 tackles for loss this season, be able to take advantage of the Vols’ shaky offensive line?

Tennessee hopes to improve on blocking issues have that plagued the offensive line, tight ends and running backs at different times this season.

The Intangibles

Pruitt and Georgia head coach Kirby Smart know each other well after working together as assistants at Alabama from 2007-12.

Will Smart avoid running up the score on his old friend, or might he look at this as an opportunity to make a statement against a division rival on national television?

There’s also Pruitt’s connection to Georgia. He served as the defensive coordinator in Athens in 2014 and ’15 under former head coach Mark Richt.

Pruitt knows Georgia’s personnel well after coaching and recruiting many of their players and preparing for them in last year’s national championship game while serving as Alabama’s defensive coordinator.

Bet to Watch

Georgia can absolutely cover the 31-point line. After all, the Bulldogs won 41-0 in Knoxville last year. Covering 31 points is still asking a lot, especially with the possibility Smart calls off the dogs (pardon the pun) if Georgia builds up a sizable lead.

Both of these teams like to run the ball and neither likes to play at an especially fast pace. Tennessee’s adjusted pace ranks 95th in the nation, according to the S&P+ data. Georgia ranks 110th.

The total looks like a number to pay attention to this week. While it’s dropped as low as 51.5 points, a game with two running teams that like to keep a slower pace could lead to a low-scoring game.

Don’t be surprised if Georgia-Tennessee stays under this week.