Tennessee football faces its last opportunity to earn a marquee win this season when it hosts No. 1 Georgia at Neyland Stadium on Saturday afternoon. The Vols are looking for their 15th straight win at Neyland Stadium and the Bulldogs are looking for their 28th straight win overall.
Here’s three keys for Tennessee to spoil Georgia’s unbeaten season.
An Opening Drive Touchdown
Despite all of Tennessee’s offensive limitations this season, they’ve still scored opening drive touchdowns in seven of 10 games this season. If they’re going to pull off the upset, they need to make it eight of 11 against the Bulldogs.
The Vols’ offense isn’t as good as they’ve been in either of Josh Heupel’s first two seasons and that makes their margin for error much smaller. Josh Heupel and his offensive staff need to have a strong scripted drive and game plan that can give Tennessee an early lead.
That’s valuable for a multitude of reasons. Most importantly, points are valuable. Especially for this up-and-down offense. But after last week’s loss at Missouri, Tennessee’s offense and team as a whole needs some early confidence in this one.
The Neyland Stadium crowd will show up and be a factor either way but an early lead would help convince the 100,000-plus fans that Tennessee really can pull an upset.
Against the defense that’s defended Heupel’s offense the best, Tennessee needs to open the game with seven points. Not three points but seven. If the Vols want to shock the college football world, that’s where they start.
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Stop The Run
This stop the run key is not like the stop the run key from the Kentucky game. Kentucky had been reliant on its run game and it seemed unlikely the Wildcats could beat Tennessee by leaning on their passing game.
Georgia has a good passing game. Probably a better passing attack than they do a rushing attack. But more than anything, the Bulldogs’ offense is balanced.
If Georgia’s offense remains balance and effective against Tennessee, they’ll do a lot of what Missouri did a week ago. They’ll stay out of third-and-long and will be incredible efficient on third down. The Bulldogs will control the football and control the game.
Tennessee isn’t going to shut down Georgia’s passing attack. The Bulldogs have too many weapons and too good an offensive line for the Vols’ pass rush to overwhelm and take over the game. The Vols’ pass defense has struggled since losing Kamal Hadden to a season-ending injury and their linebackers have particularly struggled in pass coverage— good luck with Brock Bowers.
But the Vols’ run defense is good enough to slow down Georgia’s rushing attack. Maybe not completely shut it down but good enough to win early downs. That’s going to be important. If Tennessee’s defense is going to have success against Georgia, they must get the Bulldogs into third-and-long and find a way to get off the field then.
That starts with stopping the run and forcing Georgia to consistently beat them through the air without making mistakes.
Find Explosive Plays Offensively
Georgia’s defense isn’t generationally good like it’s been the last two seasons. But it is still really good. How does Tennessee have success against it?
That’s the question I’ve struggled to wrap my head around this week. Tennessee’s passing offense isn’t good enough to consistently sustain drives against most teams, let alone Georgia. The Bulldogs’ run defense isn’t as good as they’ve been in recent years but I still struggle to see how Tennessee is going to run the ball consistently enough to win.
My solution? Find some explosive plays so you’re not reliant on sustaining long drives.
That is, obviously, much easier said than done. Georgia’s secondary is elite and Tennessee’s receiving core is banged up and inexperienced. The Vols aren’t going to consistently win one-on-ones on the perimeter. But can they win a couple?
And while Tennessee moving the ball consistently on the ground seems unlikely, can they pop a long run or two for a score? Jaylen Wright and Dylan Sampson have shown big play ability. They need to show it again in this one.
Of the three keys, I think this one is the hardest for Tennessee to achieve. But it feels imperative if they’re going to pull the upset.