Surging No. 14 Vols prepare for test at No. 3 Georgia
With eight consecutive wins going back to last year, No. 14 Tennessee is on the rise under third-year coach Jeremy Pruitt.
How good the Volunteers really are, though, could be answered in 60 minutes of Southeastern Conference football Saturday at No. 3 Georgia. The Bulldogs (2-0) pounded then-No. 7 Auburn 27-6 last week in Athens, Ga., establishing a 24-3 halftime lead and cruising through the game’s remainder.
That was a more impressive victory than Tennessee’s 35-12 decision over winless Missouri, particularly after Pruitt reviewed the video.
“We ran one particular play 10 times in the game and only blocked it correctly four times,” he said. “We’ve got to eliminate those mistakes to give ourselves a chance to have more success. We’ve got lots of things that we need to work on.”
Depending on one’s interpretation of the roster on hand, one of those things doesn’t appear to be the offensive line, which got a further boost last week. Georgia transfer Cade Mays was ruled eligible by the SEC on Sept. 30 and made his debut against Missouri, starting at right tackle.
Although Pruitt bemoaned missed assignments, the Vols still rushed for 232 yards on 51 attempts and controlled the ball for nearly 32 minutes. The addition of Mays, who started 18 games over the last two years with the Bulldogs, made a more experienced line better and deeper.
“He went against most of these guys every single day,” Pruitt said of Mays’ time at Georgia. “They’re used to going against Cade. Cade’s used to going against them. So they’re real familiar with each other.”
Mays departed the Bulldogs a week after starting in the Sugar Bowl against Baylor. The Knoxville product benefited from an emergency vote that was convened by SEC commissioner Greg Sankey. Conference presidents later termed the decision a “blanket waiver,” referring to the NCAA’s wish that no athlete lose a season of eligibility in part due to COVID-19.
Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart seemed to vacillate Monday between understanding Mays’ wishes and bitterness at Tennessee.
“I know guys in the SEC will do anything to get guys eligible, and that’s their decision,” Smart said.
Smart was much happier when asked about last week’s domination of Auburn. Redshirt junior quarterback Stetson Bennett connected on 17 of 28 passes in his first college start, throwing for 240 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions.
“I was really proud of Stetson and the way he handled things,” Smart said. “Very composed. He probably had some balls he wishes he could have back, but he’ll only get better from here and he gives us some continuity.”
This will be the 50th meeting of the two programs. Georgia owns a 24-23-2 series lead after last year’s 43-14 rout in Knoxville, its third consecutive win over the Vols. Tennessee’s last victory in the series occurred in 2016, when Josh Dobbs hit Jauan Jennings with a Hail Mary on the final play to secure a 34-31 decision in Athens.
–Field Level Media