Many of you who are reading this—OK, make that most of you—already expect Tennessee to get thrashed by the Georgia Bulldogs next Saturday. That outcome is likely but is not written in stone.
Tennessee needs this game for many reasons. And they can win it. Doing so will involve all the things a team must normally do to beat a superior opponent. Plus, for the Volunteers, it will require three additional steps.
How important this game is to both teams is obvious. First, it is a conference game, and the Vols are already 0-1 in the SEC. At this point, they are still in the hunt for the SEC East title, but just barely.
Also, beating Georgia would move their record to 4-1 overall, their best five-game season start since 2006. A win over Georgia almost definitely re-establishes them back in the AP Top 25.
For the Bulldogs, they have much more to lose than a football game on Saturday. They are trying to protect and advance a No. 5 national AP ranking. So, any loss here virtually eliminates their national title aspirations.
Before a serious claim on the national title can be made, the Bulldogs must win their conference championship. To do that, they must win the SEC eastern division. A loss to UT puts them a full conference game behind both South Carolina and Florida.
A loss to Tennessee also creates a tie between the Bulldogs and Vols on the loss side of the ledger. In the long run if things were to stay that way, UT would own the tie-breaker.
A loss to Tennessee on Saturday, assures the Bulldogs of no higher than a fourth-place standing in the conference. That would virtually eliminate them from the SEC title race very early on.
In addition, a Tennessee win would also make it virtually impossible for Georgia to win their first national championship in 32 years. It would also end any possibility of an undefeated season—again, the first in 32 years.
On the Tennessee side, a win over Georgia would greatly help head coach Derek Dooley validate his credentials as an SEC head football coach. It would also pull the Vols back up into the national rankings—as well as the national eye—a great coup for their recruiting.
Most importantly, it could become that signature win for the Derek Dooley era at UT. Something that most experts agree must happen sometime this year, in order for that era to continue.
This is a big early season matchup for both teams and their coaching staffs.
Tennessee will need to play their best game of the season to have a chance at Georgia.
In addition to doing all the obvious things well, the following three keys can assure a Tennessee win between the Georgia hedges.
Preferably, Tennessee will not turn the ball over; but to say a turnover means they will lose, is not a true statement. UT could throw a pick or fumble on their first possession and still win the game.
What they must do is win the turnover battle versus Georgia. It would be wise to have zero turnovers. But, the most important thing is whatever turnovers occur cause more harm to the Bulldogs than Tennessee.
If the Volunteers lose the turnover battle, they will likely lose the ballgame. To assure a win, UT must win the turnover battle.
The Vols can help their own cause by creating Georgia turnovers. Interceptions are great drive killers. Causing and recovering fumbles, preferably inside their own territory, can turn a game around as well. Each time Tennessee causes a turnover, they eliminate a Georgia drive and help their own cause.
If I had to put a number on it, I would say three or four Georgia turnovers to one or less Tennessee turnovers would be a reasonable goal for the Vols.
That’s it, game over! UT can’t run for 150 yards or more on a Todd Grantham defense.
That is simply not true at all.
However, to get Tennessee to do it in a big game, a fundamental adjustment must be made by the Volunteers. That being said, you must get the commitment up front from Tennessee Offensive Coordinator, Jim Chaney.
Without Chaney being on board, the plays will not be called and the numbers will not happen.
Coach Chaney is a very good offensive coordinator. However, he often falls head-over-heels in love with the passing game, even to the point of ignoring the run game.
This information is no big secret I picked up; coach Chaney has admitted it on more than one occasion.
When this happens in a tight game, the opposing defense will follow suite and pay less attention to trying to stop the Volunteer run game. This allows the opponent to concentrate on stopping the Volunteer pass game.
Tennessee cannot be one dimensional in this game and hope to win it. They must make Georgia respect their ability to hurt the Bulldog defense with the running game, not just before the kickoff but throughout the ball game.
OK, I’m not going to make you look it up. The 1939 Tennessee Volunteer team was the last in the “modern” college football era, to go an entire season undefeated, untied and unscored on.
Now, let’s get back to 2012, where The University of Buffalo ran for 199 yards versus Georgia. Florida Atlantic ran for 135 versus Georgia. Both of those teams are 1-2 now. They had 318 and 347 total yards of offense against Todd Grantham's Georgia defense.
Even Vandy managed 106 rush yards and 337 total on Georgia. And Grantham openly dislikes Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin. He did everything he could to try and make that team look bad. Lastly, pass-happy Missouri rushed for 113 yards, with 355 total yards against Grantham's defense.
In four games, against lesser opponents than UT, the Georgia defense averages 138.3 rushing yards allowed per game. So, the question isn't, "Can Tennessee rush for 150 total yards versus Georgia?" That's a no-brainer.
The question is, "Will the Tennessee offensive coordinator allow the offense to run the ball enough to make Georgia play the run game on defense?"
It needs to be done any way possible. Eight guys running for 17 yards each, two run for 75 yards each or one for 150. But make the commitment to run the football some the whole game.
Right now, someone is asking if they should keep running even if it isn't working? Good question.
I say insist this week in practice that it does work. Not the normal way, either. Not by having the starters run over a scout team line and gash them for 10 yards a pop over and over. No!
Double-up the scout defenders. Or, use starting offensive line vs. starting defenders and make the guys work for it. I mean work hard for it!
But somebody may get hurt? Yep, sure may.
I'm not suggesting UT change how they practice from now on. I am suggesting you take a chance to harden up the linemen—and the runners—on Tuesday and Wednesday this week.
Tennessee must have some success running the football versus Georgia in this game or they will lose. Run the ball for at least 150 yards, and make the Bulldogs respect the ability of the Vols to run and they have a chance to win this ballgame.
It is time. Tennessee quarterback, Tyler Bray, must make his mark on this football team.
He must do it as a leader of men. He has to refuse to lose and he has to get in people's faces if that's what it takes.
No more being okay with your receiver trying to one-hand a sure touchdown pass and missing it. That is unacceptable, regardless of whether the team is behind and likely to lose. Can you imagine what kind of fit Peyton Manning would have had if one of his receivers made that type effort in his day?
First, it would not happen. Peyton's receivers when he was here were too professional—even as college players—to make that type lackluster effort.
Leadership on the field starts at the top. For the offense, that is the quarterback. Tyler Bray is a gifted athlete and may one day be a great quarterback. But, he needs to start leading this team. He needs to get his receivers believing they "refuse to lose" on ugly lackluster play.
This group is immensely talented. They are much more talented as a group than Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray and his group. But, the most talented doesn't always win the game; the best team does.
Georgia has played two games in a row as a great football team. Tennessee has yet to do that. It can happen at any time. But for the Vols to beat Georgia this Saturday, it must happen then.
That's it. Besides the normal game planning and execution, that is all it will take.
Three things if done properly, they will form one more important point. They will negate the obvious advantage the Georgia defense possesses over Tennessee.
If the Vols don't turn the ball over, have some success on the ground and if Tyler Bray and company outperform Aaron Murray and company, Tennessee wins.
The Volunteers can become better than their individual parts if they do these things. The three together will turn the game into more of an offensive shootout, which is what Tennessee needs to win.
The Tennessee defense has some playmakers and it is coming together, but they are not on the same level as the Grantham defense at Georgia yet.
It is important that this game become more a "70-points-and-above" type combined score game. A game with over 80 total points scored will more likely fall Tennessee's way.
So, think over! But, if you are smart, keep your money in your pocket on this one.
If Tennessee does these things, I predict: Tennessee 42, Georgia 40
If Tennessee fails to do these things, I predict: Georgia 35, Tennessee 20