No. 1 Georgia, No. 2 Tennessee put title hopes on the line

FILE - Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett (13) carries the ball against Auburn during the...
FILE - Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett (13) carries the ball against Auburn during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021, in Auburn, Ala. Georgia plays Alabama in the College Football Playoff national championship game on Jan. 10, 2022. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)(Butch Dill | AP)
Published: Nov. 3, 2022 at 12:21 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

(AP) - Georgia coach Kirby Smart just smiled and shook his head when asked if he has stressed conditioning in preparation for Saturday’s visit from Tennessee and its fast-paced offense.

Smart knows that one week would not have been enough to prepare his Bulldogs for the challenge in the much-anticipated matchup between No. 1 Georgia and No. 2 Tennessee. That extra conditioning work began last summer and has continued through the season.

“If they’re not in shape, then you did something wrong long before (this week),” Smart said. “So we’ve been building towards this week ... since week one, the conditioning level of our players has been a concern every week for me. It’s one of the major concerns, Are you in good enough shape? Because if you’re not, you can’t make it up in one week.”

Led by quarterback Hendon Hooker, Tennessee (8-0, 4-0 Southeastern Conference, No. 1 College Football Playoff) averages a play about every 10 seconds, making it difficult for defenses to substitute players. The pace wears down defenses, helping the Vols lead the nation with 49.4 points per game.

Hooker said the Vols are “playing with a chip on our shoulder day in and day out. We just always feel like we have something to prove and that just fuels us to go work hard every day.”

Georgia (8-0, 5-0, No. 3 CFP) has reloaded after having eight players from its national championship defense selected in this year’s NFL draft, including five in the first round. Overall, Georgia had a record 15 players taken in the draft.

Despite the heavy losses on defense, the Bulldogs rank second in the nation with their average of 10.50 points allowed.

Neither team is one-dimensional. Tennessee’s defense is coming off perhaps its best game of the season in a 44-6 rout of then-No. 19 Kentucky last week.

Led by senior quarterback Stetson Bennett, Georgia ranks sixth in the nation with its average of 41.6 points per game and second, behind Tennessee, with 530.1 yards per game.

Balance has both teams in position to contend for SEC and national championships. Even so, the spotlight will be on the Vols’ high-scoring offense — and the conditioning of the Bulldogs’ defense.

“We’re going to find out on Saturday if we’re in shape or not,” Smart said. “I can promise you that because they’re going to try and get a lot of snaps in.”

Hooker’s leadership on the field has helped the Vols require 2 minutes or less on 35 of their 63 scoring drives this season.

Hooker passed for five touchdowns in Tennessee’s 52-49 win over then-No. 3 Alabama on Oct. 15.

“He’s become a guy that’s operating as highly and as effectively as anybody in the country,” said Tennessee coach Josh Heupel of Hooker.