Tennessee looks to solidify its spot in the driver's seat in the SEC East this weekend against the Georgia Bulldogs. A win will give them a bit of breathing room with tiebreakers over the two teams most likely to challenge them, but a loss will either add undue pressure against upcoming SEC West opponents or put them in the position of having to root for Georgia to lose games they probably shouldn't. This game is as important as the last one, and I fear we're not as mentally prepared. Here are my keys to the game.
Start Early, Part I
Two Sundays ago -- the Sunday before the Florida game -- I completed the first draft of every one of my posts for the week. I knew it would be an especially important and busy week, so I planned accordingly. Drafting every post on Sunday not only made more time for a crazy busy week in the store and a tailgate and radio remote with Bobby Rader up here in the Tri Cities, it also allowed me to publish more polished second-drafts of all of my weekly posts when the time came. When Saturday arrived, I actually had enough time to chat with Xfinity to get them to buzz my cable box to get it working so the DVR would record while I was away. We were in no actual hurry for the game, and we got to Knoxville in plenty of time to dodge the sun as we walked to the stadium and to sit down right as the pre-game drum drill started.
You know how the first half unfolded. In the second half, I first lost my voice and then I lost my mind. The moving image of Jajuan Jennings juggling on a tightrope before securing the catch and engaging the burners will be forever imprinted on my mind. Everything else was lost in a cacophony of jubilation. When it was over and the game was secured, my daughter and I stuck around for the Tennessee Waltz and Rocky Top and even pretended we had Steve Perry's vocal range for Don't Stop Believing despite the aforementioned lost voice. We partied on the way back to the car, the 20 minutes to Weigel's at Strawberry Plains, and all the way home.
One Sunday ago -- the Sunday before the Georgia game -- I re-watched the Florida game, this time on TV. Why? I wanted to, and I knew it would be more enjoyable than pre-drafting all of my weekly posts. On Monday morning, I posted a rushed first draft of my weekly expectations post and spent the day printing t-shirts at the store (one of my managers is on vacation) and logging a few legal hours before coming home and spending 90 minutes on a podcast talking some more about the Florida game. Tuesday morning, I posted another rushed first draft of my weekly stat rankings post, and on Wednesday, I missed my weekly TV schedule post altogether.
And now it's Thursday, and my weekly game preview is going to be posted at 10 or noon rather than at 8:00.
All of that is to say this: How the Vols do against the Bulldogs this weekend depends in large part on how soon they got back into their weekly routine this week. Did they adhere to the 24-hour rule? Or did they spend a little more time enjoying last week a little more like the rest of us did? It's really difficult to move on past something so spectacular, and I wouldn't be surprised if they had some trouble doing so, but the earlier they got started this week, the better off they'll be. Let's hope they did a better job than I did.
Start Early, Part II, and Don't Forget to Finish
If you've listened to the podcast at all this season, you've heard us talk about the challenge of fixing something without breaking something else. Last year's team was defined in large part by them building early leads and losing them. This year, they appear to have learned how to finish, but it seems they can no longer start well. This team needs to put an entire game together, and if they do, we're looking at a truly special season. It's not like they haven't done it before, either, so it's not impossible. At this point, it's just about doing it for the first time this year and then doing it consistently the rest of the way.
Empty the Bucket, Part II
We said last week that it was time to turn every dial to 10, and this week the team needs to keep every dial right where it was in the second half last week. They appear to have found the right balance of priorities, and all they need to do is push repeat.
The head-to-heads with Florida and Georgia are still the most important games of the year because it's those games that will primarily decide the SEC East race. The games the next two weeks against Texas A&M and Alabama are opportunities and they are not unimportant. They are, however, secondary to Florida and Georgia, and Tennessee is only halfway to that goal. The Vols need to finish that job this weekend in Athens by treating this game as a must-win every bit as much as they did the last game.
Before I show you what the early season statsy caculator spit out this week, let's take a look at schedule strength. According to the NCAA's calculation, Tennessee's schedule is ranked 9th and Georgia's is ranked 55th.
Tennessee, currently ranked 15th in S&P+, has played Florida (#7), Virginia Tech (#14), App State (#67), and Ohio (#86). (Note, according to those numbers, Tennessee has beaten two higher-ranked opponents, so take all of these numbers for whatever you think they're worth after accounting for that anomaly.)
Georgia, currently ranked 61st in S&P+, has played (and lost to) Ole Miss (#8), and they've beaten North Carolina (#30), Missouri (#42), and Nicholls (unranked).
So, it would appear to be prudent to give more weight to Tennessee's in-game statistics at this point. With all of that in mind, my score prediction is Tennessee 31, Georgia 21.
Here are the tables:
Processing Tennessee vs. Georgia.
|Tennessee||Georgia||Comps||Result against Comps||Guess|
|Next Worst||Next Best||Next Worst||Next Best|
|Tennessee rushing offense vs. Georgia rushing defense||186.5||139.8||Appalachian State||Ohio||Appalachian State||Ohio||180|
|Tennessee passing offense vs. Georgia passing defense||201.3||243.3||Ohio||Virginia Tech||Ohio||Virginia Tech||200|
|Tennessee rushing defense vs. Georgia rushing offense||141.0||196.8||Virginia Tech||Appalachian State||Virginia Tech||Appalachian State||180|
|Tennessee passing defense vs. Georgia passing offense||212.0||216.3||Appalachian State||Virginia Tech||Appalachian State||Virginia Tech||180|
|Tennessee scoring offense vs. Georgia scoring defense||32.8||30.0||Ohio||Appalachian State||Ohio||Appalachian State||31|
|Tennessee scoring defense vs. Georgia scoring offense||21.0||25.3||Appalachian State||Florida||Appalachian State||Florida||21|
Processing Georgia vs. Tennessee.
|Georgia||Tennessee||Comps||Result against Comps||Guess|
|Next Worst||Next Best||Next Worst||Next Best|
|Georgia rushing offense vs. Tennessee rushing defense||196.8||141.0||Nicholls State||Missouri||Nicholls State||Missouri||140|
|Georgia passing offense vs. Tennessee passing defense||216.3||212.0||Missouri||Mississippi||Missouri||Mississippi||200|
|Georgia rushing defense vs. Tennessee rushing offense||139.8||186.5||Missouri||None||Missouri||None||180|
|Georgia passing defense vs. Tennessee passing offense||243.3||201.3||Nicholls State||Mississippi||Nicholls State||Mississippi||200|
|Georgia scoring offense vs. Tennessee scoring defense||25.3||21.0||Mississippi||Missouri||Mississippi||Missouri||21|
|Georgia scoring defense vs. Tennessee scoring offense||30.0||32.8||Nicholls State||Mississippi||Nicholls State||Mississippi||33|