‘Crazy’ Sanford Stadium awaiting Bulldogs-Vols clash

football fans 2022 during a game against Auburn on Dooley Field at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Ga., on Saturday Oct. 8, 2022. (Photo by Kari Hodges)

Georgia's perch atop college football beginning with last season's run to the national championship has been littered with successful road trips.

Downing Clemson in Charlotte. Shredding Michigan in Miami. Subduing Alabama in Indianapolis. Humiliating Oregon in Atlanta.

There have been two decisive wins over Florida in Jacksonville, as well as whippings of Auburn in Auburn and Tennessee in Knoxville, but highlighting the Sanford Stadium schedule during this time was last season's 37-0 blanking of Arkansas and 30-13 dumping of Kentucky.

This season's home schedule for Georgia has contained the not-so-frightening quartet of Samford, Kent State, Auburn in an extremely down year and Vanderbilt, but that will change abruptly Saturday when the Bulldogs host Tennessee in the first 1-2 national pairing in Sanford Stadium's history that dates back to 1929.

"It's going to be crazy," Bulldogs redshirt junior right tackle Warren McClendon said Monday during a news conference. "I think back to the Arkansas game last year and the Kentucky game and maybe even back to my freshman year (2019) and the Notre Dame game and how that crowd was. It's going to be a fun game, and I'm looking forward to it."

Georgia is 32-1 at Sanford Stadium since the start of the 2017 season with an average victory margin of 29.1 points, but Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart isn't resting on past success with the Volunteers looming.

"I know our fan base will be loud and proud, and I want to challenge our fan base," Smart said. "Everybody talks about the Notre Dame game, but we want it to be louder than that."

Tennessee will be playing its ninth game of the season but only its third away from Neyland Stadium. The Vols defeated Pittsburgh 34-27 on Sept. 10 before 59,785 in Acrisure Stadium, which often has a sterile atmosphere for Panthers games, and they routed LSU 40-13 inside Tiger Stadium on Oct. 8.

LSU is considered one of the toughest places to play in college football, but that game had an 11 a.m. local start, and Tennessee emptied the 102,321-seat facility by building a 37-7 lead in the third quarter.

"Great environments are why you come coach and play in this league," Tennessee coach Josh Heupel said Monday. "You want to be in big-time games, and there is something unique about being on the road and facing that type of environment, too. It's fun and exciting, and we'll practice with crowd noise.

"When we're at home, we practice it as well with the defense, because they've got to learn to communicate through it. We'll try to prepare for that and be ready to handle it, and we obviously know it will be a great environment."

Vols senior left guard Jerome Carvin said the Vols were "ready to rock and roll" before adding they will have to keep level heads once the game kicks off.

Georgia has played in many more games of this magnitude in recent years compared to the Vols, but Smart doesn't put that in the same category as being at home.

"They've played in some big games this year," Smart said. "They played at Pitt. They played Alabama at home, but they've played some really good teams and have played really well against them.

"I don't think playing in the big game is that big a deal, because every game is a big game in the SEC, but I do think that playing at home is important."

Bowers honored

Bulldogs sophomore tight end Brock Bowers was named Monday as the SEC Offensive Player of the Week after hauling in five receptions for 154 yards and an acrobatic 73-yard touchdown during Saturday's 42-20 defeat of Florida.

Bowers is a definite focus of the Vols this week.

"That matchup changes because of where they position him," Heupel said. "They do a great job of moving him around, and you have to identify him in all the different formations that you're going to get from them. You've got to be able to handle their run game, too, because all those things play off of that.

"You've got to know where he's at all game long."

Georgia senior safety Christopher Smith, who had seven tackles and a sack against the Gators, was named SEC Defensive Player of the Week.

Smith's availability

Georgia senior outside linebacker Nolan Smith, who has 18 tackles and a team-high 16 quarterback pressures this season, is unlikely to play this week after getting injured against Florida.

"It does not look good for his availability," Smart said. "It's a pec(toral) muscle that we've done an MRI on, and we're still getting some opinions on it, but he's probably doubtful for this week."

Senior Robert Beal and sophomore Chaz Chambliss are expected to replace Smith against the Vols.

Smart said more would be known later this week regarding sophomore receiver Adonai Mitchell (ankle), sophomore tackle Adarius Mims (MCL) and junior running back Kendall Milton (quad).

Better than expected

Junior defensive tackle Jalen Carter, who has been projected as a top-five pick in the 2023 NFL draft, has battled ankle and knee injuries this season but played roughly 20 snaps against Florida.

"He probably played better than I expected," Smart said. "When you guys asked me after the game, I didn't really know how much effect he had, but he was in on a run and a pass. He executed well and held the point. He didn't feel like it bothered him, and it's really about stamina.

"He's been doing a lot of conditioning when he hasn't been practicing, so we hope to have him in great shape. Hopefully he's able to go full speed."

Bulldogs bites

Georgia's game next week at Mississippi State will have a 7 p.m. start on ESPN. ... Florida entered Jacksonville averaging 6.4 yards per carry but was held to 2.9 yards per rush against the Bulldogs. ... Redshirt sophomore receiver Ladd McConkey, the former North Murray High standout, collected his seventh career touchdown catch last Saturday.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com.