VolQuest - SCOUTING THE OPPONENT: Georgia
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SCOUTING THE OPPONENT: Georgia

It’s been a particularly unusual college football offseason, but with the recent news that Tennessee players will return to campus this month and start voluntary workouts on June 8, there’s real optimism that a season will still happen despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

As we do each year, here’s a brief snapshot of Tennessee’s 12 opponents for the fall. We continue the preseason preview series with a look at the Georgia Bulldogs.

Georgia — Nov. 13

2019 Record: 12-2

Head Coach: Kirby Smart

2020 OUTLOOK

Georgia has won three straight SEC Eastern Division titles and signed back-to-back No. 1 recruiting classes, but Kirby Smart is looking to take his team into the truly elite company within college football with another conference championship and College Football Playoff appearance this fall.

Plenty of change is afoot offensively, as the Bulldogs must replace veteran quarterback Jake Fromm, as well as three offensive talents (Andrew Thomas, Isaiah Wilson and D’Andre Swift) selected in the Top 34 picks of the 2020 NFL Draft. Former 5-star lineman Cade Mays also transferred back home to play at Tennessee and Miami transfer Lawerence Cager exhausted his collegiate eligibility.

Despite the talent a year ago, the unit suffered a major regression in James Coley’s lone season as offensive coordinator. Without now UT OC Jim Chaney calling the shots and the team’s top five receivers from the previous season, UGA went from No. 7 nationally in yards per play in 2018 (7.05) to 46th (6.08) in 2019. Fromm took a big step back, seeing his completion percentage drop nearly seven points (67.3% to 60.8%) and throwing six fewer touchdowns (30 to 24).

But Smart didn’t sit on his heels to fix the offense this offseason, replacing Coley, now at Texas A&M, with Todd Monken, formally the OC with the Browns and Bucs the last four years. He also replaced heralded OL recruiter Sam Pittman with former Ole Miss head coach Matt Luke.

The offensive overhaul didn’t stop there though, as UGA added two of the top transfer quarterbacks on the market this offseason. Former Wake Forest quarterback Jamie Newman (32 total touchdowns in 2019) made the move as a grad transfer in January and just last month, former 5-star USC quarterback JT Daniels transferred to Georgia. Daniels, who is coming off an ACL injury that he suffered in Week 1 a year ago, is seeking immediate eligibility, and if granted, who throw a potential wrench in the quarterback room. Still, Newman is the odds-on favorite with his experience, dual-threat ability and skill-set to excel in Monken’s hybrid air-raid attack.

Newman struggled at times against elite competition at Wake, but he’ll be surrounded by much more talent at UGA. The Bulldogs have reloaded at receiver the last two seasons, with George Pickens (49 catches for 727 yards and eight scores) having the best freshman year of any wideout in the country, per PFF. They signed four wideouts in the 2020 class, including speedster Arian Smith. The tight end room has plenty of upside, but almost no experience, so UGA added former FSU grad transfer tight end Tre’ McKitty to the roster this offseason. Finally, the tailback room is typically stocked, with Zamir White, James Cook, Kenny Macintosh and 5-star freshman Kendall Milton all expected to see touches.

Despite some obvious unknowns offensively, Georgia is among the favorites for a CFP appearance this fall because of what it returns defensively.

Like pretty much everyone.

A year ago, the Bulldogs finished with the nation’s No. 2 scoring defense, No. 4 defense in yards per play and No. 1 rush defense, and more than 80% of their production is back. Smart and DC Dan Lanning rotated bodies constantly, building depth where the first-team unit didn’t look all that different than the backups who rolled in. They must replace All-SEC safety J.R. Reed, but the rest of the secondary (Richard LeCounte III, Tyson Campbell, Eric Stokes and DJ Daniels) is projected to get drafted in the first couple rounds next spring.

Redshirt sophomore Azeez Ojulari is the team’s top pass rusher (39 hurries, 5.5. sacks), but he should have even more help this fall with Nolan Smith, Travon Walker and Jermaine Johnson all being in their second year in the program.

The Dawgs rotate a bunch of guys up front, with Malik Herring and Jordan Davis being the most notable names. At inside linebacker, Monty Rice, team’s leading tackler in 2019, is back, and he’ll spilt snaps with Nakobe Dean, Quay Walker and Channing Tindall as part of a two-man unit.

2020 SCHEDULE
SEPT. 7 VIRGINIA (ATLANTA)

SEPT. 12

EAST TENNESSEE

SEPT. 19

@ ALABAMA

SEPT. 26

ULM

OCT. 3

VANDERBILT

OCT. 10

AUBURN

OCT. 17

@ MISSOURI

OCT. 31

FLORIDIA (JACKSONVILLE)

NOV. 7

@ SOUTH CAROLINA

NOV. 14

TENNESSEE

NOV. 21

@ KENTUCKY

NOV. 28

GEORGIA TECH

NOTABLE NEW ADDITIONS

FIVE THINGS TO KNOW

1. The scariest thing about UGA’s defense this fall is its potential to actually get better. The Bulldogs were the nation’s best at getting teams off the field without creating a ton of negative plays. They just didn’t allow first days. Smart has talked about wanting more havoc this fall, as they finished No. 9 in the SEC in takeaways, No. 7 in sacks and No. 6 in tackles for loss.

2. The discussion surrounding UGA’s addition of Newman has been among the more divisive topics in college football this offseason. It’s been hard to explicitly pinpoint what type of player UGA has in the transfer quarterback. Clearly, there’s talent (Newman has among the Top 5 Heisman Trophy odds to date), yet the quarterback’s body of work at Wake makes him hard to evaluate. In a bombs away offense, he struggled with accuracy, especially against top-flight defenses. His numbers also sank when he lost his best receiver. So the question this fall is will Newman show improvement with a better system and supporting cast? Or will he be essentially the same quarterback?

3. Pittman rotated six or seven guys up front last season, but still, UGA is essentially having to replace four major contributors/starters off its offensive line. Thomas and Wilson were first round draft picks, Mays is now a Vol and guard Solomon Kindley was also drafted. Center Trey Hill is the lone starter returnee, while Ben Cleveland, who started a bunch in 2017 and 2018 but was hurt a lot last season, returns and junior Jamaree Salyer, a former 5-star recruit, is expected to see an advanced role at either right tackle or guard. The Bulldogs will likely start a freshman or redshirt freshman at left tackle, leading to some potential early offensive growing pains.

4. A major component of UGA’s success under Smart has been the team’s ability to stack talent on top of talent. The Bulldogs have recruited as well as any school in the country the last four years, with classes ranked No. 3, No. 1, No. 1 and No. 1. In the last two cycles, they’ve signed eight 5-star prospects, just nudging out Clemson (7), Alabama (7) and LSU (6).

5. Georgia has the second-best odds to win the SEC this fall, coming in behind Alabama at 5-1. UGA’s win total sits at 10, with the Tide on the regular-season schedule for the first time since 2015. The Bulldogs open the season against Virginia in Atlanta. As for other odds, they sit at -110 to win the SEC East for the fourth consecutive autumn — essentially a coin-flip over Florida.