Tennessee Football: 7 Keys to Winning the North Carolina State Game
Friday night, the Tennessee Volunteers will open up one of the most pivotal seasons in the program’s history.
Significant progress and winning will keep Derek Dooley on the job and show that this program is heading in the right direction. Lack of improvements and losing will result in a coaching search, and once again starting over.
It all begins with the opening game against North Carolina State in the Georgia Dome on Friday night.
The Wolfpack finished the 2011 season with an 8-5 record, including a win over Louisville in the Belk Bowl. Quarterback Mike Glennon and All-American cornerback David Amerson return for head coach Tom O’Brien.
What will it take for the Vols to pick up the victory? Here are seven keys…
According to reports, Tennessee fans have been buying tickets at a significantly higher rate than those of North Carolina State.
With the excitement level for this season continuing to climb, optimism has resulted in fans snatching up tickets for the game in Atlanta. That can only work to the Vols’ advantage.
Should the Vols get off to a hot start, they will allow the crowd to come alive, and give the Georgia Dome a “home” feel.
Tennessee hasn’t played well in recent memory in the Atlanta, but a quick start could make it feel more like Knoxville than a neutral site.
Control the Line of Scrimmage Offensively
All offseason, people have constantly talked about the Tennessee run game and the improvements that must be made in order to have a successful season.
Volunteers fans and players are tired of hearing about it, and Friday night is an opportunity to put up or shut up.
In 2011, the Vols failed to rush for 100 yards five times. They lost all five of those games.
Most people, myself included, think the run game will be improved. Here’s a first opportunity to show that.
The Vols must control the line of scrimmage offensively in order to win this football game.
Justin Hunter Must Survive His First Hit
Surviving the first hit doesn’t mean that he must avoid injury the first time he catches the ball. While his physical health is obviously important, the biggest worry is his mental approach going into this game.
When you listen to athletes that have suffered a torn ACL as Hunter has, the biggest hurdle is not the physical rehabilitation. The challenge is to mentally put yourself back into the situation where the injury happened.
Once Hunter gets hit by a defender for the first time and realizes that he is physically okay, his mind will be more at ease and he will be able to play football without worrying about an injury.
Hunter’s importance has risen to a new high with the departure of Da’Rick Rogers. Tennessee needs him to be the receiver that recorded over 300 receiving yards through the first two games last season.
He just needs to survive the first hit.
Limit Self-Inflicted Wounds
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The Vols have lost quite a few games over the last couple seasons. While an SEC schedule is always tough, the Vols haven’t lost every game because their opponent was a better team.
Too often, Derek Dooley’s squad has shot itself in the foot.
In 2011, untimely turnovers, breakdowns in coverage and the botched snaps that Tennessee fans can’t get out of their minds.
When you watch championship-caliber teams, you don’t see very many what I like to call self-inflicted wounds. In order for the Vols to be successful this season, they must limit the mistakes not caused by the opponent.
Pressure Mike Glennon
Glennon returns to run the Wolfpack offense for the second straight season. The fifth-year senior threw for over 3,000 yards and 31 touchdowns in 2011, his first season as a starter.
If the Vols allow Glennon to sit comfortably in the pocket, he will have the opportunity to pick the Tennessee defense apart.
In football, you often have to force your opponent into mistakes. One way to do that is pressuring the quarterback. Forcing Glennon to move around in the pocket and throw before he wants to gives the Tennessee secondary an opportunity to take one the other way.
In a game that figures to be close throughout, turnovers could be the deciding factor.
Make Singular Mistakes
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Mistakes are going to happen every game. Fans, coaches and players need to go ahead and understand this.
The key is to not compound it by allowing one mistake to turn into two, three, four, etc. Too many times over the last two seasons, the Vols have not responded well to making a mistake, and in turn they have allowed games to spiral out of control.
Part of that can be blamed on being a young football team. However, at some point you have to tell it how it is, and that is that Tennessee hasn’t been a very mentally tough team of late.
With so many starters returning, the Vols should be much better in the mental toughness category.
Watch how they respond on Friday the first time they have to face adversity. It should tell you a lot about the mental status of this team.
Play 4 Full Quarters
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It’s no secret that Tennessee has been terrible lately in the second half of games. Look at the 2011 season for evidence.
Against LSU, the SEC champions, Tennessee trailed 17-7 at the half, but was squarely in the football game. In the second half, they were outscored 21-0.
Against the eventual national champion, Alabama, Tennessee entered the locker room at halftime tied at six with the Crimson Tide. However, the Vols were outscored 31-0 in the second half.
Football games aren’t won with just one good half of football. If you need more evidence, ask last year’s Texas A&M team.
Tennessee must play a full four quarters of solid football in order to have any chance in the Georgia Dome.