Date: Saturday, Nov. 17
Kickoff Time: 4 p.m. ET
Location: Sanford Stadium, Athens, GA
Watch it here: SEC Network
Line: Georgia -41, O/U: 66.5
Series: First ever meeting
Look no further
Georgia’s hosting of UMass this weekend might look, smell and feel like a classic “look-ahead” contest.
The Bulldogs are coming off their third straight decisive win against a solid SEC opponent. The next two weeks have plenty of extra spice on them, with in-state rival Georgia Tech and No. 1 Alabama in the SEC title game, respectively,
And here comes lil’ ole unassuming UMass to sneak in and be under-the-radar-competitive, right?
UMass has no wins vs. the SEC in recent memory, but has given teams in the conference fits in recent years.
Last season, they were one score away from beating Tennessee and hung with a ranked Mississippi State squad. In 2016, they trailed by only a field goal at halftime in The Swamp and lost by only six at South Carolina.
But don’t expect Kirby Smart’s squad to overlook the Minutemen altogether. It all has to do with a number: 5.
The No. 5, as in Georgia’s current rank in the playoff standings, makes every game stand out. The No. 5 puts them one spot out of the current playoffs. And while the Bulldogs can play their way into the playoff (most likely) with a win over Alabama, there is a slight chance that a competitive, last second loss to the Crimson Tide could still yield a playoff berth if other teams in the top 6 or 7 of the playoff system also fall in the coming weeks.
Note: This would be awful to have a team make the playoffs in that fashion, but it’s an outside possibility.
A loss or close win against UMass would demolish any and all hope of backing into that final playoff spot.
What needs to go right for UMass?
Just about everything and then some.
First off, the UMass offense needs to be clicking. That means a balanced attack with Marquis Young finding daylight for positive gains and Ross Comis finding targets not named Andy Isabella to take pressure off the nation’s leading receiver.
Defensively, the UMass defensive front must get creative to be disrupting to quarterback Jake Fromm, who has completed 67.5% of his passes this season and thrown 19 touchdowns vs. only five interceptions.
The backfield of D’Andre Swift and Elijah Holyfield form a punishing and dynamic 1-2 punch (pun fully intended as yes, he is the son of Evander) that linebackers and defensive backs must contend with before they get too much open field.
Coach Mark Whipple will need to find the one or two tiny advantages (if they exist) and continue to lean on them (like Isabella returning kicks, perhaps).
Expect trick plays.
Expect lots of quick screens to get the ball away from the Georgia defensive lines.
They’ll need Bulldog turnovers and lack of discipline.
Oh, and a bit of luck would go a long way, too.
The uphill climb on Saturday is real.
While the last game of the year for a team not going bowling is typically a spot to give all the younger guys a look, this one is different.
The Minutemen field 15-16 senior starters in any given game this season. A chance to play “between the hedges” will be a cool experience for these guys as they close out their collegiate career.
With NFL scouts sure to have at least half an eye on the game with Georgia playing, it might also be a chance for these seniors to show out and maybe get a look or two from the next level.
Both offensive and defensive lines simply have too much talent and will give Georgia a big lead, with reserves coming in the final quarter.
There will be a handful of Minutemen highlights, but the final score won’t be one of them.