In every college football game there are one or two impact players that can change the outcome. And, if Tennessee (4-0) wants to beat Georgia (3-1) in Athens for the first time since 2006, multiple impact players need to show up and make plays.
Here are the impact players in this big SEC East matchup, Saturday in Sanford Stadium.
#11 QB JOSH DOBBS
Dobbs has accounted for 14 of the Vols’ 17 touchdowns in the first four games. He’s scored five touchdowns in a game twice, thus far (Virginia Tech, Florida). However, he also, has five interceptions, which is the same number he threw in 13 games all last season.
The problem is Tennessee’s offense starts slow. The Vols have been outscored 34-10 in the first quarter and outscored 60-44 in the first half. Dobbs needs to start faster than his 1-8 passing at the beginning of the Florida game. In my opinion, Tennessee needs to attempt to stretch the field with a deep pass early to show the threat of a big play. WR Josh Malone has five TD catches and all of them have been 20 yards or more, including a 67 and 42-yarder. Jauan Jennings had a 67-yard TD catch last week. Big plays are realistic, but the Vols need to show it sooner, which could allow for more room to run early in the game.
#9 DE DEREK BARNETT
Finally, Barnett broke through and destroyed an opposing quarterback. The junior had been held without a sack in the first three games, but he showed up huge in the second half vs Florida. He had two sacks, another tackle for loss and nearly intercepted a ball in the Florida end zone. He was awarded our VFL Insider ‘Game Ball’ vs the Gators.
Barnett made him some money last week with what he put on film to NFL scouts. If he continues to play at that un-blockable level, he will get paid big next year and Tennessee will win a lot more games this fall in the process. Freshman Georgia QB Jacob Eason better keep an eye peeking over his shoulder for #9 coming around the edge in this game.
#2 DT SHY TUTTLE
The sophomore defensive tackle will have more motivation than just having a chance to lock up the SEC East. Tuttle lost the second half of his freshman season due to what was considered a ‘cheap shot’ from Georgia center Brandon Kublanow.
Tennessee Freshman DT Shy Tuttle Out For The Rest Of The Season With Broken Fibula Because Of This Play vs. Georgia pic.twitter.com/vejaV4dpJO
— Tennessee Fan Base (@VolsFanBASE) October 13, 2015
Literally adding insult to injury, Georgia decided to put Kublanow on the game ticket between the Vols and Bulldogs. Tuttle has a lot to play for. He’s been playing at a very high level since returning from his broken leg against Virginia Tech. His snaps have increased and his ability has helped Tennessee disrupt offenses early this season. The Vols defense is planning on facing RB Nick Chubb, regardless of how healthy his ankle is. Tuttle will be a big factor in slowing down the Georgia running game.
#10 QB JACOB EASON
The freshman phenom has completely taken over as Georgia’s QB now and for the future. He’s had high’s and low’s, but it’s easy to tell Eason is very talented. He’s already shown up in a big moment with his last minute, game-winning touchdown pass at Missouri.
Eason had issues last week against Ole Miss. It was his worst performance of his short college career, as he threw 16-36, 137 yards and an interception. He was thrown off by an outstanding Rebel pass rush and was sacked three times. Can the Tennessee defense carry over the second half performance from the Florida game? If so, Eason could be seeing a lot of Derek Barnett in his face.
If the Vols don’t get a pass rush at Eason, he could use his big arm to push the ball down the field. Isaiah McKenzie and Terry Godwin are wide receivers with excellent speed.
#27 RB NICK CHUBB
Nick Chubb is one of the best running back talents we’ve seen in college football. Unfortunately, he’s been on the same track as Marcus Lattimore. After an ugly knee injury in Neyland Stadium last October, we thought Chubb was back to his old self with 200+ yards in the opener against North Carolina. He’s gone south with rushing performances of 80, 63 and 57 yards vs Nicholls, Missouri and Ole Miss. Granted, Chubb left the Ole Miss game early with an ankle injury, while averaging 4.8 yards per carry.
The ankle injury has Chubb ‘questionable’ for this Saturday’s game vs the Vols, but head coach Butch Jones is preparing like they will face Nick Chubb at 100-percent. What kind of damage and the one-time Heisman hopeful do against Tennessee’s defense is yet to be seen.
#78 DL TRENTON THOMPSON
Stopping Tennessee’s running game is the first way to beat them. QB Josh Dobbs has four rushing TDs and Jalen Hurd is a big back who creates his own room through the middle. Thompson is a massive human-being at 6’4, 310 pounds, and was a highly recruited 5-star prospect.
This season, Thompson is second on the team in tackles (20), first in tackles for loss (4) and has a sack. Thompson will be counted on to make an impact to clog up running lanes for Dobbs and Hurd. The Vols offensive line has been shaky and inconsistent all season. Big #78’s job is to make Dobbs beat them with his arm.