Tennessee Desperate For Big Win Over #19 Georgia
Back in August, expectations for Tennessee football were higher than they had been in years. They were coming off their first bowl victory since 2008. Their young team had another year of experience under their belt, and the talent of two top-5 recruiting classes was starting to show. Many had picked Tennessee as a dark horse candidate to win the SEC East.
Now in October, things could hardly have gone worse.
The Vols (2-3, 0-2 SEC) have lost games in heartbreaking fashion. They blew a 14 point lead to Oklahoma, they blew a 13 point lead to Florida. And just last week, they were unable to hang onto a 14 point lead against a struggling Arkansas team at home.
Needless to say, these losses have weighed heavily on everyone involved with the program.
19th-ranked Georgia (3-1, 0-1 SEC) limps into Knoxville after losing big to a resurgent Alabama team in Athens. Tennessee is in desperation mode, as everyone on Rocky Top is looking for a win to turn the Vols' season around.
This is a rivalry game, but it means so much more than that. Tennessee hasn't beaten Georgia since 2009. The last two results have been decided by 3 points each.
A win here would be huge for Tennessee and their coaching staff, who have made some heavily criticized coaching decisions this year. It would change the conversation in Knoxville, and it would give hope to a desperate fan base.
What will it take for Tennessee to pull out a season-saving victory?
Run the ball
Tennessee has struggled all year to get the passing game going. Quarterback Joshua Dobbs has a lowly completion percentage of 57.5 percent. Not all blame goes on Dobbs, however, as Tennessee's receivers have not been able to challenge secondaries and get open.
Tennessee's success in every game moving forward should be dictated by the success of their running game. Six foot three, 242 pound sophomore back Jalen Hurd has bruised his way to nearly 500 yards so far this season. In Tennessee's last game against Arkansas, Hurd played a key role in the offense, and Tennessee put 17 points on the board in the first half. In the second half, Tennessee tried to lean more on their passing game. Hurd rushed for a total of 4 yards, and Tennessee only managed a field goal.
Get the ball to Jalen, and if that doesn't work, give the ball to Alvin Kamara. Kamara, also a sophomore, is the lightning to Jalen Hurd's thunder. The speedster is averaging 6.5 yards per carry.
Last but not least, Joshua Dobbs is a serious threat on the ground. He has already rushed for 250 yards on the season. His seven attempts last week should be increased if Tennessee expects to win this game.
Don't let them run the ball
Georgia is in a similar situation as their opponent. They have a very strong rushing attack, and a mediocre passing game. Georgia's offense has been led by sophomore back Nick Chubb. Chubb has been tearing it up so far this year, averaging a staggering 8.2 yards per carry.
Tennessee's run defense appeared to be pretty solid until last week's game against Arkansas. The Hogs ran all over the Vols, and by the end of the night they had racked up 275 yards on the ground.
It's pretty simple, if Tennessee allows Georgia the same opportunities on the ground as they gave to Arkansas, the Vols will lose the game.
However, if Tennessee's defense can somehow slow the rushing attack, the Bulldogs will have to rely more on quarterback Greyson Lambert. Lambert struggled greatly in Georgia's last game against Alabama. He was even taken out of the game, as he finished the day 10 for 24 with an interception.
In a season filled with struggles on both sides of the ball, Tennessee has a bright spot in their special teams unit. They lead the nation in kickoff return yards, averaging 38 yards per return. Oddly enough, Georgia is last in the nation in this category, with 11 yards per return. More importantly, Georgia is 85th in the nation in return defense, allowing an average of 22 yards per return. One special teams play can change the outcome of a game, and in a matchup that has been decided by just 3 points the past two years, it's hard to ignore the potential importance of special teams.
If Tennessee loses this game, it is going to be close. That's just what recent history says. Another devastating loss, and the Vols' season is in serious jeopardy, especially facing a road game at Alabama, who had no problem handling Georgia. If Tennessee isn't careful, they will find themselves at 2-5 before they know it.