Tennessee-Georgia: Five Things Volunteers Must Do to Get Out of Athens Alive
With a combined three wins, this season's Tennessee-Georgia game is not quite the marquee matchup it has been in recent years, but it is just as meaningful.
Derek Dooley needs to get his first SEC win, and at 1-4, it seems like Georgia is the perfect subject.
But it's not going to be as easy as everyone thinks.
Georgia may have lost to the likes of Colorado and Mississippi State, but they made Ryan Mallett of Arkansas show his Heisman mettle by beating them with a late drive to the end zone, leaving the Bulldogs only 15 seconds to try to tie it up. Even then they almost tied it with a Hail Mary.
By the way, that was without A.J. Green.
That leads me to the first thing Tennessee has to do to get out of Athens alive...
5. Rush the Passer
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It'll be hard for Aaron Murray to get the ball to A.J. Green if he is on his back.
The Vols' reconstructed defensive line has only been able to manage five sacks in five games so far this season. Lead returning sacker defensive end Chris Walker has yet to notch a sack so far.
The lack of depth on the line has really shown so far this season, and in order for the defense to be more successful, Tennessee is going to need guys like Jacques Smith and Malik Jackson to really step up.
Smith has played exceptionally well for a true freshman, and Tennessee fans should only expect more from him in the next few years.
Tomorrow, on the other hand, defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox needs to throw Smith in the fire, as well as mix up the D-line rotation to try to keep fresh legs on the field in order to combat a very experienced Georgia Bulldog offensive line.
4. Keep Matt Simms Squeaky Clean
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On the other end, Tennessee has done an even worse job keeping our favorite QB clean, giving up 19 total sacks. That is way too many times for a quarterback to get hit and keep playing well.
Simms could end up getting hurt if he keeps taking about five sacks a game, not to mention all the knockdowns when he gets the pass off just in time.
Simms is playing extremely well for being on his back for effectively a third of the snaps, but imagine how he could play with at least three seconds of pass protection (up from about .68 seconds, approximately).
If Simms can get enough protection, it will allow Justin Hunter and Denarius Moore to be involved even more so in the deep passing game.
Mixing up play action and rollouts will be key in pass protection and getting the ball downfield.
3. Third Downs
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Tennessee has been terrible on third downs on offense AND defense all season and will have to be much more effective if they want to have a chance against UGA on Saturday.
The Vols offense is only converting 25 percent of its third downs this season, and what's sad is the defense is doing worse. The D has given up 63 percent of third downs from five yards and longer and almost 60 percent from 10 yards and longer.
Those are some depressing stats.
But all is not lost.
Tennessee has to stop playing prevent on third down and start bringing the house (or most of it). Wilcox just has to understand that a quick decision by a quarterback that's under pressure is probably worse than one that gets to sit back and find the hole in a zone coverage.
As an offense, the Volunteers have to be less conservative and just focus on getting small chunks of yards on first and second down with Tauren Poole, but I'll get to that later...
2. Stop A.J. Green
A.J. is somewhere in there.
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In his first game back from his four-game jersey-selling involuntary vacation, Green showed UGA exactly what they were missing, catching seven balls for 117 yards and two scores.
Tennessee has only allowed one 100-plus-yard receiver all year, and that was against...UAB.
Corners Eric Gordon and Art Evans are going to have to play physical against Green, who is big and, unfortunately for the Vols, even faster than Derek Dooley could get Tennessee off the field when the game ended the first time against LSU.
Tennessee has not faced a receiver this good all year, so Janzen Jackson is going to have to provide some help over the top. Don't be surprised to see a bracket on No. 8 for most of the game.
Last year, the Vols held Green to 60 yards and seven receptions, while the offense exploded for 45 points. Dooley is going to need another day like that if he wants his first SEC win this Saturday.
1. A LARGE Helping of Tauren Poole
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The last and most important thing Tennessee has to do in order to win on Saturday is inject Georgia with major doses of Tauren Poole, and don't stop until the clock hits all zeros.
The Vols' offensive line will have to get constant push up front in order to give Poole, the fifth-leading rusher in the SEC, some room—which the O-line has done pretty well all year.
Early down is paramount.
All Tennessee needs is three or four yards a carry, and as we've seen before, Poole can hit a big play at any time. This will keep the Georgia D honest and will open up play action, which I think will be the biggest factor in the passing game for Tennessee.
But it all comes back to Tauren Poole. Poole and the offensive line will dictate how the game goes. They will decide if Gerald Jones and Denarius Moore can get involved in the game, because if Tennessee can't run the ball, then Georgia can focus in on the Vols' outside threats, and that means a loss for Rocky Top.
This game has more on the line than advertised, and if Tennessee can come out with a win...
The SEC needs to take notice.
Brett Parisi is the Head Sports Writer at Knoxvilleman.com and is a contributor to Bleacher Report.