The Tennessee Vols head into Athens, Georgia for a highly anticipated matchup with the #3 Georgia Bulldogs. The 14th-ranked Vols will be up against their toughest opponent since starting their 8-game winning streak, which is the longest active streak in all of college football.
The excitement around this football program has not been this high in a long while, and this game could push it over the edge if the Vols can do these three things that I believe will ultimately give them the win that they need to be back to competing on a national level.
- Win the turnover battle
This is an obvious one, but the Vols are going to have to win the turnover battle if they are going to have a chance at beating Georgia. Luckily, this is something that Tennessee has been able to do so far this season.
Tennessee is yet to have a turnover through the first two weeks of the season. They have also been able to generate turnovers on defense when they needed to. Look no further than the interception by Theo Jackson last week against Missouri late in the game.
Missouri and Connor Bazelak had been able to move the ball downfield against Tennessee’s secondary, and looked to be in prime position to put more points on the board. Mizzou was close to making the ballgame a one-score game, but Jackson came up huge and read the eyes of Bazelak and was able to pick-off his pass and allow Tennessee to stay in control of the game.
Tennessee is going to have to force Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett, or whoever Georgia has in the game at QB, to make some contested throws that puts the Vols’ in a position to cause turnovers. Turnovers are one of the main causes for momentum shifts, and Tennessee is going to need all the momentum they can get in this matchup.
- Be productive in the passing game
Through two weeks of the season, Tennessee’s offensive line has been absolutely dominate. Getting Cade Mays eligible for the rest of the season was huge for the Vols, as they added another former 5-star recruit to their o-line.
Georgia’s defense provides a different challenge for Tennessee’s offense this week. They are one of the best defenses in all of college football, and they excel at stopping the run. They have allowed the fewest rushing yards in the SEC through the first two weeks of 2020, allowing only 116 rushing yards total.
Tennessee will still need to run the ball early and often, but the passing game is going to have to be much more effective than it has been so far this season.
Tennessee hasn’t needed to rely on Jarrett Guarantano’s arm to this point. The redshirt senior has had a very good start to the season, but this matchup with the Bulldogs will be his biggest test yet.
JG will need to be at his best this afternoon if the Vols are going to have a chance in this ballgame. He has shown a lot of improvement so far, but that well be put to the test against this Georgia defense.
Look for JG to utilize his playmakers and try to attack the Bulldog secondary with quick throws to get the ball out of his hand. He is also going to have to take some shots downfield, which is something he has shown he can do in his time at Tennessee.
- Play like you belong
It’s been a long time since Tennessee fans have had anything to be excited about when it came to football. Since Jeremy Pruitt has taken over the reigns of this football team, the culture of this program has done a complete 180.
I know it is one of the biggest clichés in sports to talk about “changing the culture”, but what Jeremy Pruitt has been able to do with this group of young men is nothing short of remarkable.
They have taken on the mindset of their head coach and approach each matchup with the mindset of going 1-0 that week.
Tennessee players are oozing with confidence right now, and that could be huge as we approach this matchup in Athens.
Too many times in the past it has seemed like Tennessee has played scared or like they don’t belong on the same field as the top teams in the SEC. This has led to some poor results in the past, but I don’t think you are going to see that this time around.
Jeremy Pruitt has this team believing in themselves and feeling like they can beat anybody on their schedule. Tennessee is going to have to play with that same mindset against the Bulldogs if they are going to have a chance at winning this Saturday.
If Tennessee can do the three things mentioned above, then I feel that they have a really good chance of upsetting Georgia, and getting their first win over a top-10 team since 2006. In that span, the Vols are 0-33 against teams ranked in the top-10. The Vols have a chance to end that streak this Saturday.
The question, “Are the Vols back?”, has been asked a lot over the last decade or so, but I truly feel like we will know the answer after this matchup with Georgia. They might not win the game, but putting up a fight and staying in the game late into the second half will go a long way in getting this program back to where it belongs.
The Vols will kickoff against Georgia at 3:30 pm this afternoon in Sanford Stadium. CBS has the matchup, as the Vols look to shock the nation and pick up a huge win.