After rolling then-No. 19 Kentucky and landing at No. 1 in the initial College Football Playoff rankings, Tennessee heads to Athens to face No. 3 Georgia.
The SEC east is on the line as Tennessee looks for its first win over the Bulldogs since the Vols’ Hail Mary win inside Sanford Stadium in 2016.
Here are three keys to a Tennessee victory.
Tennessee is the No. 1 team in the country but they’re eight-point underdogs against Georgia. The Bulldogs are the defending national champions and have spent the last half decade playing in games of this magnitude.
Going on the road, nothing would make a bigger statement than Tennessee coming out and punching Georgia in the mouth from the jump. While Tennessee getting out to a quick two touchdown lead against Alabama was nice, the Crimson Tide were built to come from behind and make the game a four quarter fight.
Georgia is not built to come from behind. The Bulldogs are built to lean on opponents with its run game and elite defense.
If Tennessee gets out to a two touchdown lead, it wouldn’t be the game but it would put Georgia seriously on its heels and completely change the dynamic of the game.
It would also take the rowdy Sanford Stadium crowd out of the game early and would go a long way towards the Vols playing loose and pulling off the upset win.
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Control The Line Of Scrimmage
This is the most important key to the game. Which isn’t exactly some wild and creative thought. Whoever controls the line of scrimmage wins most football games.
Let’s start on the defensive line of scrimmage where Tennessee has limited every opponent’s run game. Georgia’s offensive line is the best Tennessee’s faced to this point in the season. While the Bulldogs don’t have the dynamic running backs they’ve often had, their offensive line is good enough to fuel the SEC’s fourth best run offense and stay ahead of the sticks.
That’s the key for Georgia’s offense. Stetson Bennett is having a great season and Tennessee’s pass defense has struggled for much of the season. The Vols’ best path to success to get Georgia in third-and-long and fire up the blitz packages that have been effective all season.
On the other side, Tennessee’s run game is the straw that stirs the drink. The Vols have ran the ball well every game this season except against Pitt. Pitt is subsequently the one game Tennessee’s offense struggled.
When Tennessee can run the ball well enough to keep defenses honest then its extremely hard to stop the Vols’ offense. Georgia presents the best run defense Tennessee has seen to date this season.
If the Vols can line up and run it at Georgia then I have a hard time seeing them score less than 35 points. If Tennessee scores 35-plus points I think they get the job done in Athens.
Win The Special Teams Battle
I expect this game to be close. Much closer than the point spread indicates. With a game like that there’s an extra emphasis on special teams play.
Tennessee punt returner Dee Williams has been close to popping a return for a touchdown all season. Doing that in this game would change the outlook of the game completely.
There’s also an emphasis on the kicking game. Tennessee’s offense has been fantastic in the red zone all season but with Georgia’s strong run defense the Vols may have to settle for a few field goals in scoring range.
While Tennessee won’t win this game with field goals, they have to capitalize on opportunities for points. Chase McGrath was great earlier in the season but has been shaky since the Alabama game.
In a game between two evenly matched teams, the special teams battle is magnified. That’s how I view Saturday’s matchup between the hedges.