The Blueprint: How Tennessee Can Beat Georgia

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    Georgia Game-49 Chubb

    For SEC games this season, Daniel Lewis will put together a blueprint for how Tennessee can have its best chance to knock off that week’s opponent. It’s written from a Tennessee coach’s mindset and isn’t necessarily representative of how RTI predicts the game to go.

    Offense: If the Vols are going to find a way to bounce back, It starts with running the football against the Bulldogs. In Georgia’s four wins this season, the Bulldogs have given up just 107 rushing yards per game. Alabama then put up 193 rushing yards in handing Georgia its first lost of the season on Saturday.

    Tennessee doesn’t necessarily have the overall personnel in the run game that Alabama does, but Jalen Hurd, when he gets a few blocks and some space, has shown he can be among the best in the league this year. And even as a freshman with less of an O-line than he has right now, Hurd put up 119 yards on the ground between the hedges last year. Getting another 100-150 yards from him this year against a team that, statistically, is middle-of-the-road in the SEC in rush defense, must be a priority for Tennessee.

    Joshua Dobbs need to get his feet back involved in the game after the quarterback run game was relatively quiet against Arkansas. Tennessee’s offense was perhaps at its best this year at Florida when Dobbs was running all over the Gators. Late in that game, however, the Vols went to the well a few two many times with quarterback runs after Florida had adjusted its defense to account for Dobbs more and more. That’s when the Vols need to flip the switch and trust Dobbs to throw the ball once the defense is completely sold out to stop the run. He’s shown he can make those throws before. Trust the junior quarterback to do it again.

    Get creative if need be. Dobbs doesn’t have to sit in the pocket and make three or four reads. Move him around, use play-action, rollouts and make Georgia think the run is coming again, but then slip a tight end or a back out into the open spaces – take a page out of Arkansas’ playbook in that area.

    Protection will be huge as always, especially with a couple offensive linemen banged up. Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins are the two the Vols must identify on every snap, and Georgia likes to move those guys around and bring them from different spots. Georgia’s pass rush hasn’t lived up to standards this year, but Jenkins in particular (3 sacks, 7.5 TFLs) is a threat on every snap and, like Tennessee, just because the numbers haven’t been huge yet, doesn’t mean the potential isn’t there.

    Overall, execution has to be better against the Bulldogs on this side of the ball. Yes, coaching has played a big role in UT’s failures this year, but especially against Arkansas, mistakes really plagued this group. Turnovers, dropped passes and missed blocks were costly against the Razorbacks. Georgia presents some similar challenges as Arkansas did, so the Vols need to limit those errors to find the SEC win column this week.

    Defense: The task against Georgia is so simple, yet extremely difficult at the same time: Stop the run – give yourself a great chance to win the game. Sounds easy, right? Not when the Bulldogs have one of the most veteran offensive lines in the conference, one of the best pure players in the country in Nick Chubb and a great complimentary back in Sony Michel.

    One telling stat about Georgia is that the Bulldogs are dead last in the SEC in third-down conversion percentage (29.17%). However, they are also second to last in third-down attempts. What that says is, they’re using those backs and their offensive balance to move the ball. But if you can get stops on first and second down and put them behind the chains a bit, they’re going to struggle when Lambert has to drop back and make plays.

    Lambert is at his best when he is managing the offense – mixing in passes when the defense is thinking run. He generally makes good decisions and can lob one over the top in the right situation as well. But if you take away the threat of the run and make him force it down the field, that’s when bad things happen for Georgia’s offense. That has to be Tennessee’s goal – limit the run game, get UGA into third-and-6+ type of situations and get off the field.

    It’s going to be a big day for the linebackers as well, a group that didn’t look particularly strong against Arkansas. Georgia’s offensive line is experienced and talented, but they are more athletic than they are overwhelmingly big and physical. That means they do a great job of getting to the second level and blocking linebackers, setting up opportunities for Chubb and Michel to break free. The defensive line has to help keep the linebacker frees, and when engaged, Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Darrin Kirkland Jr., Kenny Bynum, Austin Smith, Colten Jumper and anybody else on the field must get off blocks and prevent the dagger play on the ground.

    It’s also important to mention the potential impact of special teams in this game. Historically, the Vols have made some big plays in this area to help against the Bulldogs. Reeves-Maybin’s blocked punt in 2013 gave the Vols a chance in Knoxville. Antonio Wardlow’s blocked punt was the signature play in UT’s come-from-behind win in Athens in 2006. Alabama got an easy blocked punt and touchdown against Georgia last week, so the Vols need to bring some heat on punts to see if they can get an easy score that way.

    And the return game has been one of UT’s best weapons this year. Georgia only has forced touchbacks on 40% of its kickoffs this year, so Evan Berry will get another chance. Georgia is 10th in the SEC in both opponent punt return and kickoff return average this season. The Vols need to expose them in this area.