KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — No. 19 Georgia’s game at Tennessee on Saturday could come down to which team has the shorter memory.
Georgia (4-1, 1-1 SEC) is trying to bounce back from a 38-10 home loss to Alabama; Tennessee (2-3, 0-2) has dropped three of its last four games.
That recent frustration has both teams eager to put the past behind them.
“When you get beat that way, it certainly gets everybody’s attention,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “I think any loss does. Sometimes if you lose a game at the last second, that may be more gut-wrenching than just getting whipped.”
Tennessee certainly understands that after losing three games by a combined 12 points, including a 31-24 overtime setback against Oklahoma. The Volunteers have led by at least 13 points in each of their losses.
Vols coach Butch Jones said the Vols aren’t getting down on themselves.
“When you suffer adversity, you can go one of two ways,” Jones said. “You can divide and let those situations dictate your attitude and mindset. Or they can pull you in, they can galvanize you and they can pull you closer. I really believe these situations we’ve been in the last couple of weeks have really galvanized our football team.”
Georgia has won the last five meetings in this annual series, and Tennessee has dropped 28 of its last 29 games against Top 25 foes. But the Vols still have reason to believe this game could come down to the wire.
The last two Georgia-Tennessee games have been decided by three points each, including Georgia’s 34-31 overtime victory at Knoxville in 2013. Their last four games had an average margin of 5.3 points. Richt has said he expects this game to “go down to the wire” and that “it’s not going to be any different than in years past.”
“You never know what will happen on their end or ours,” Georgia wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell said. “You just have to play your best and be ready for any adversity that comes.”
Here are some things to watch when No. 19 Georgia visits Tennessee.
SOPHOMORE STARS: Each team has a standout sophomore running back. Georgia has the nation’s third-leading rusher in Nick Chubb, who has run for 745 yards while averaging 8.2 yards per carry. Chubb has rushed for at least 100 yards in 13 straight games. Tennessee’s Jalen Hurd has rushed for 492 yards and seven touchdowns. Georgia has another quality sophomore back in Sony Michel, who has run for 276 yards on just 41 carries.
GEORGIA’S QB SITUATION: Georgia quarterback Greyson Lambert was 10 of 24 for only 86 yards with an interception against Alabama and was replaced at one point by Brice Ramsey, who was 1 of 6 for 20 yards with two interceptions. Richt has said Lambert will start Saturday’s game. The Virginia transfer will try to reward Richt’s faith in him by recapturing the form he had shown in victories over South Carolina and Southern.
SPECIAL-TEAMS MATCHUP: Tennessee ranks sixth nationally and Georgia ranks 119th in net punting. If this turns into a battle of field position, that stat could prove critical. Georgia also must watch out for Tennessee’s returners. Tennessee has the nation’s second-ranked kickoff returner in Evan Berry. Alvin Kamara has one touchdown on a punt return and had two more scores nullified by penalties.
SEEKING RECORD STREAK: If Georgia beats Tennessee for a sixth straight time, it would mark the Bulldogs’ longest winning streak in this series. Tennessee beat Georgia nine straight times from 1989 to 2000. Although the series began in 1899, the two teams didn’t start facing each other every year until the SEC began divisional play in 1992.
VOLS’ INABILITY TO CLOSE: Tennessee is outscoring teams 127-50 in the first half of games but has been outscored 49-24 in the fourth quarter and overtime. Georgia has reason to feel confident Saturday even if Tennessee grabs an early double-digit lead.