4 things Vols must do to avoid another blowout loss to Georgia
It’s no secret that the Tennessee Volunteers have struggled in recent meetings with the Georgia Bulldogs.
Since winning the “Dobbs-nail Boot” game in 2016, the Vols lost the past 3 games against Georgia by combined 96 points. Mathematics tells us that’s an average defeat margin of 32. It’s tough to look at any numbers from those games and make the leap that UT was in the same stratosphere as UGA.
But times might be changing.
Since the Vols’ loss to Georgia last season, Tennessee has won 9 of its past 10 games, including a current winning streak of 8. They appear to be a more confident team and one that won’t lie down when adversity hits.
The folks in the big shiny buildings in Vegas established Georgia as a 14-point favorite, so it looks like they expect another large win for Georgia.
Here are 4 things the Vols must do to avoid another blowout loss to Georgia.
1. Slow down the game
Tennessee’s strength is its offensive line, absolutely, 100%, no doubt about it. There are 5-star guys all over the place. Wanya Morris and Trey Smith on the left side. Ex-Dawg Cade Mays and Darnell Wright on the right side. Brandon Kennedy, who I’m pretty sure played under Johnny Majors, has been solid at center. If that group can stay healthy, it’ll be one of the best in the nation when the season ends. Actually, I’d say that they are already.
In watching the Missouri game, you saw that Eric Gray and Ty Chandler had massive holes to run through. It brought back fond memories of Tennessee’s glory days of the 1990s and 2000s, when UT frequently ran over opponents.
If Tennessee can control the line of scrimmage against a very good Georgia defensive line, it will be able to control the clock and limit Bulldogs possessions. That can keep the game closer than most expect.
This is absolutely a best-on-best situation. Tennessee ranks 2nd in the SEC in rushing at 182.5 yards per game. Georgia leads the SEC in rushing defense, allowing just 58.0 yards per game. Last year, it seemingly took forever for somebody to score a rushing TD against the Dawgs. They haven’t allowed any this season, either.
2. Keep winning the turnover battle
In Tennessee’s first 2 games, they collected 3 turnovers while playing turnover-free football on offense. Every other SEC team has committed at least 1 turnover.
Jarrett Guarantano might not be the most accurate passer in the SEC, but he takes care of the football. He hasn’t been picked off in 54 attempts this season. Eric Gray and Ty Chandler have a combined 60 carries without a fumble.
Securing the rock is crucial to winning games, especially when playing a defense as talented as the Bulldogs’, who already share the SEC lead with 4 interceptions.
3. Pressure Stetson Bennett IV
Bennett’s performance has been, well, remarkable given his background and Georgia’s preseason plan. This was supposed to be Wake Forest transfer Jamie Newman’s team or Southern Cal transfer JT Daniels’ team. But Newman opted out and Daniels apparently isn’t healthy enough to go yet.
Then again, why rush Daniels onto the field when Bennett, a former walk-on, has played so well? He has thrown for 451 passing yards and 3 touchdowns in the first 2 games, with no interceptions. Bennett rescued a lethargic Georgia offense in the opener and played the whole way against Auburn and was only sacked once.
Senior linebacker Deandre Johnson has had a terrific start to the season for Tennessee, with 3.5 sacks in the opening 2 games. If he and his cohorts can make life difficult for Bennett, the Vols have a chance to keep things close, if not pull the upset.
4. Cimaglia kicks like 2019 Cimaglia
The Vols scored 35 points against Missouri on Saturday, but Georgia’s defense poses a much more significant threat.
The Vols haven’t topped 14 points against Georgia in the past 3 tries. Georgia led the nation in scoring defense last season and many believe this year’s defense is better than last year’s outfit. So far, it’s hard to argue. The Dawgs have allowed just 1 touchdown and 16 total points in 2 games.
Points might be at a premium again Saturday. With that in mind, the Vols need kicker Brent Cimaglia to be Brent Cimaglia.
Through his first 2 games, Cimaglia has made 1 field goal and missed 2. It’s early, but for a guy that made 85% of his field-goal attempts a year ago, it is concerning to see him missing kicks he normally makes.
Should the Vols have drives stall within a 50-yard field goal attempt, Cimaglia needs to hammer those home efforts to give Tennessee a chance.