Photo by University of Georgia Athletics (@GeorgiaFootball on X)
By Tucker Harlin
KNOXVILLE, Tenn- No. 18 Tennessee (7-3, 3-3) returns home to take on No. 1 Georgia (10-0, 7-0) in Neyland Stadium Saturday. The game kicks off at 3:30 and will air on CBS.
The Bulldogs have won their last six contests against the Vols. This streak has tilted the series to 27-23-2 in favor of the Bulldogs, making Jauan Jennings’ heroics feel like a lifetime ago.
The 2022 game between the Vols and Bulldogs in Athens is the closest margin of victory for the Bulldogs in the streak. The game got out of hand quickly for the Vols, resulting in a 27-13 loss.
The Bulldogs are undefeated in their quest for a third consecutive national title. The Bulldogs had a handful of close calls in SEC play, including single-digit wins over Auburn and Missouri, along with a 10-point comeback win over South Carolina.
However, the Bulldogs still have their fair share of blowout SEC wins. The Bulldogs won 51-13 over then No. 20 Kentucky and 43-20 against Florida in Jacksonville. Last week, the Bulldogs beat a one-loss Ole Miss team 52-17 between the hedges.
Leading the Bulldogs on offense is quarterback Carson Beck. Beck has thrown for 3,022 yards, 18 touchdowns, and five interceptions on the season. Beck is consistent, passing between 250 and 300 yards per game.
The most dangerous aspect of the Bulldogs passing attack is tight end Brock Bowers.
Bowers is the best tight end in college football and has been for the last three seasons, earning All-American honors in both 2021 and 2022. Bowers missed the Florida and Missouri games with a high-ankle sprain, but he still leads the team with 601 receiving yards and five touchdowns.
Ladd McConkey and Dominic Lovett are the top two wide receivers for the Bulldogs.
Like Bowers, McConkey has been a staple in the receiving game over the last three seasons but has also missed time due to injury. Lovett transferred in from Missouri where he led the Tigers in receiving yards a season ago. This year, he has the most receiving yards among wide receivers with 475.
On the ground, Daijun Edwards has emerged as the bellcow for the Bulldogs. Edwards has logged 692 yards and 10 touchdowns in the first 10 contests. Kendall Milton takes some of the load off of Edwards, running for 422 yards and seven touchdowns so far.
The interior of the offensive line is full of veterans. Center Sedrick Van Pran achieved All-American status last year, and guards Tate Ratledge and Xavier Truss started in 14 of the 15 games in the Bulldogs’ last national title run. Earnest Greene is in his first year as a starter at left tackle, and Amarius Mims should get the start on the right side if healthy.
Defensively, the Bulldogs have developed a reputation for high draft picks, particularly defensive linemen and linebackers in Philadelphia.
On the line, Mykel Williams is on the end, Nazir Stackhouse is manning nose guard, and Zion Logue is the defensive tackle. Williams leads the line in tackles for loss with four. Stackhouse is the line’s leader in tackles with 14, and he recorded a critical interception in the win over Missouri.
The Bulldogs have reloaded at linebacker with Smael Mondon and Jamon Dumas-Johnson on the inside and Chaz Chambliss on the outside. Mondon led the Bulldogs in tackles a year ago and is doing the same this year. Dumas-Johnson has struggled with an injury of late, but freshman CJ Allen filled in for him last week and earned SEC Freshman of the Week honors.
Of the defensive groups, the secondary is the Bulldogs’ most experienced.
Tykee Smith is the Star for the Bulldogs. Smith leads the team in tackles for loss and interceptions with 6.5 and four, and he leads the secondary in tackles with 46.
Kamari Lassiter and Daylen Everette are the corners for the Bulldogs. Everette is in his first year as a starter, and Lassiter is the leader in pass breakups with seven after a productive season in 2022.
Javon Bullard and Malaki Starks are back again at safety. Bullard has missed two games this season with injuries, but he has produced 38 tackles and a pair of interceptions. Starks shined in the game against the Vols last week, and he has 33 tackles and five breakups ahead of Saturday’s contest.
The Bulldogs gave Peyton Woodring the nod on field goal kicking this year. Woodring has made 18 of 21 attempts this season, two of the misses from less than 30 yards out. Woodring has not attempted a field goal beyond 50 yards.
Brett Thorson is punting again for the Bulldogs. Vol fans may remember Thorson from the punt that pinned the Vols inside the 1-yard line. Thorson is averaging 42.7 per punt in 2023.
Mekhi Mews is the Bulldogs’ primary return specialist. Mews ran back a punt return for a touchdown in the Bulldogs’ win over Ball State in the second game of the season. Mews’ longest kick return this year is 47 yards.