KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee returns to action this Saturday as No. 3 Georgia comes to town for a primetime showdown at Neyland Stadium. Both teams are coming off an open date last weekend.
The Vols and Bulldogs will square off under the lights for the first time since 2011. Kickoff for Saturday’s game is slated for 7 p.m.
Saturday’s contest will be televised on ESPN with Sean McDonough (PxP), Todd Blackledge (analyst) and Holly Rowe (sideline) on the call.
Fans can also listen to Tennessee’s radio broadcast on the Vol Network (WIVK-FM 107.7) as well as satellite radio (Sirius Ch. 78, XM Ch. 191, Internet Ch. 962). Bob Kesling (PxP), Tim Priest (analyst) and Brent Hubbs (analyst) will call the action all season long.
Need to Know
You’d be hard-pressed to find two coaching staffs more familiar with each other than Tennessee and Georgia. Six of UT’s 11 full-time coaches have worked at UGA at one point in their careers while Georgia has two coaches that have spent time on the Vols’ staff in the past (Sam Pittman & Charlton Warren).
Tennessee’s six coaches who have coached at Georgia include: Jeremy Pruitt (DC in 2014-15), Jim Chaney (OC in 2016-18), Kevin Sherrer (OLBs in 2014-17), Will Friend (OL in 2011-14), Tracy Rocker (DL in 2014-16) and Brian Niedermeyer (GA in 2015).
Special Teams Have Been Special
One of the Vols’ biggest strengths this season have been on special teams. Junior kicker Brent Cimaglia has been perfect this season, going 9-for-9 on field goals and 11-for-11 on extra points. The Nashville native is tied for first in the FBS in field goal percentage while ranking 26th nationally in scoring at 9.5 points per game. Cimaglia has made his last 11 field goals and has hit eight of his last 10 field goal attempts of 40 or more yards.
Behind 2018 freshman All-American Joe Doyle, who was named to the Ray Guy Award Watch List last week, UT ranks 18th nationally in net punting with a 44.4 average. The Vols rank 12th in the country in punt return average (17.8 yards/return) and 25th in the nation in kickoff returns (25.0 yards/return).
The Big Orange are also the only team in the nation that has not allowed a single kickoff return yard this season, thanks in large part to the powerful leg of sophomore Paxton Brooks, who has recorded 19 touchbacks in 20 kickoffs this season. UT has only allowed 12 punt return yards this year as well.
Bituli’s Return Bolsters Defense
After missing the first two games of the season with an injury, linebacker Daniel Bituli has returned to start the past two games for the Vols. The Nashville native recorded eight tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble in UT’s last game against Florida. Bituli has led the Big Orange in tackles in each of the last two years, making him the fifth player in program history to lead the team in tackles in consecutive seasons.
After struggling to create turnovers in the first two games of the season, Tennessee’s defense has stepped its game up in a big way in the last two games. The Vols have intercepted multiple passes in back-to-back games for the first time since Sept. 27 (at Georgia) and Oct. 4, 2014 (vs. Florida).
UT intercepted two passes at Florida on Sept. 21 and had four picks in a 45-0 rout of Chattanooga on Sept. 14. The Vols’ four interceptions against the Mocs were the most in a single game since also tallying four in the Outback Bowl against Northwestern on Jan. 1, 2016.
Series History: Georgia
Series tied, 23-23-2
Saturday will mark the 49th meeting between the Volunteers and Bulldogs. The first meeting between the two programs came way back in 1899, when UT defeated UGA, 5-0. Georgia has won two straight in the series, but the Vols hold a 12-11-1 edge in the series in games played in Knoxville.
A win for Tennessee on Saturday would be the program’s first victory over a top-10 team since defeating No. 10 Georgia, 51-33, in Athens in 2006.
Like the Vols, the Bulldogs are also coming off a bye week. Georgia enters Saturday’s game with a perfect 4-0 record after positing wins over Vanderbilt, Murray State, Arkansas State and then No. 7 Notre Dame. UGA is led by Kirby Smart, who has guided the program to a 36-10 record and a CFP National Championship Game appearance during his three-plus seasons as head coach.
The Dawgs have been one of the nation’s top offensive teams this season, ranking 11th in the country and third in the SEC in scoring at 42.8 points per game. UGA does the majority of its damage on the ground, leading the SEC with 253 rushing yards per game. Junior running back D’Andre Swift leads the potent rushing attack with 388 yards and three touchdowns while averaging 7.9 yards per carry.
Georgia has been just as dominant defensively, ranking second in the SEC in scoring defense (10 points/game) and total defense (262.5 yards/game). The Bulldogs are allowing just 57 yards per game on the ground, which leads the SEC and ranks fifth nationally. Junior linebacker Monty Rice leads the team with 22 tackles while the defensive back duo of Mark Webb and J.R. Reed have been disruptive for opposing offensives as well. Webb has 19 tackles and two forced fumbles while Reed has 18 tackles, an interception and three pass breakups. UGA also has 10 players that have recorded a sack this season.
The Bulldogs also have one the top kickers in college football in Rodrigo Blankenship, who is a perfect 8-for-8 on the year, including 4-for-4 on kicks from 40-plus yards.
SEC Nation on Rocky Top: SEC Network’s traveling pregame show, SEC Nation, will be on site at historic Ayres Hall on Saturday. The show, which is hosted by Laura Rutledge and features analysts Paul Finebaum, Marty Smith, Tim Tebow and Marcus Spears, will air on the SEC Network from 10 a.m. – noon ET.
1969 SEC Championship Team: Tennessee’s 1969 SEC Championship team will be honored during Saturday’s contest. The 1969 team, coached by Doug Dickey, won UT’s second SEC title and featured Tennessee greats such as Lester McClain, Tim Priest, Steve Kiner and Phillip Fulmer.