This Saturday in Athens, Tennessee takes on a Georgia team that is getting almost twice as many yards on the ground as it is through the air. That's both good news and bad news for both the Vols and the Bulldogs. With the SEC East looking rather unstable, Tennessee has a real opportunity to make a statement this weekend on the road before coming home next weekend against a particularly vulnerable Florida team. What do the Vols need to do against Georgia to prove the oddsmakers wrong, and what do they need to do to at least make themselves a factor in the SEC East? Here are our three keys to Saturday's game.
Get more passing yards than Georgia gets rushing yards. Georgia's rushing attack is elite, putting up over 300 yards per game on the ground. Their passing offense, though, is most certainly not. One could argue that a pie is a pie is a pie and that if you stuff your belly 75% full of one thing there's only 25% left regardless, but I'm the guy who then points out that you can always make a bigger pie, so I'm going to conclude that the Bulldogs' passing game isn't very good not because it's not being used but because it's just not very good. Sure, they could get so many yards on the ground that an inability to pass won't matter, but this at least tells the Vols where to focus their attention until contrary evidence comes in. The good thing about this news is that rushing yards are like pennies and passing yards are like nickels, and Georgia's pass defense looks to be the weak link on that side of the ball as well. So the contest to me is Tennessee's moving the ball through the air against Georgia moving it on the ground. I'm hoping that the Vols can gain more through the air than Georgia can gain on the ground and that Tennessee can get close to as many on the ground as Georgia does through the air. Neither of those things is particularly crazy to expect, and it would mean a roughly equal total yards scenario, which would be a good thing for an underdog.
Turn opportunities into points. As we all know, you don't get points for stopping the other team or for just moving the ball on offense. Georgia appears to be extremely efficient at getting paid in points for doing things well, and Tennessee, well, throwing into the end zone for a possible touchdown doesn't amount to much when the other team comes out with the ball. The Bulldogs are holding opponents to under 20 per game and getting nearly 50 for themselves, so when Tennessee plays for and either makes or is given the breaks, they need to get paid. A stop on 1st down? Great. Do it again. A short gain on second? Cool. Again. Third down for What? Get 'em off the field. Turn pass breakups into interceptions and interceptions into pick sixes. And when the offense is marching, finish the job and get that check.
Don't get pinned. Yes, this is my new favorite analogy, and I will continue to use it long after everyone else tires of it. The most humiliating moments of the recent past have come in absolute blowouts against elite teams. This all too often leads to fans complaining about the team "giving up," but frankly I think that's just dumb. It's one thing to get knocked down. By all means, get back up. But if you get pinned to the mat and rendered helpless, you haven't quit, you've been immobilized. Getting pummeled is not giving up. When you can't move, that's when the opponent starts ringing up the scoreboard and you get more and more demoralized with each punch. We avoided that against Oklahoma, and we need to avoid it again against Georgia. Yeah, I know. Nobody wants us or the team looking past any game or going into any game thinking anything other than that they can and will win. But if we're being objective fans here, this is likely another loss and it shouldn't be unexpected if it happens. But we need absolutely need to close the gap on a vulnerable Florida team at Neyland next week, and we need to bring the guys home with confidence even if they don't get it done against the Bulldogs. So go get the win, but at the very least, don't get pinned to the mat. Georgia 31, Vols 24.