Jimmy’s blog: Vols must keep pace with Georgia run game

By Jimmy Hyams 

When the SEC expanded in 1992, Tennessee took ownership of East Division rival Georgia. 

The Vols won eight in a row, including a victory with a baseball player starting at quarterback. 

Add a win in 1989, and that’s nine in a row over the Bulldogs. 

But when the clock struck 2000, the series changed. 

Georgia won the next four and 14 of the next 20. The Bulldogs have also won eight of the last 10, with one of UT’s victories coming on a Hail Mary pass to Jauan Jennings. 

Georgia coach Kirby Smart is favored by two touchdowns to beat Tennessee for a fourth year in a row under his reign. His first three wins have come by 41, 26 and 29 points. 

No. 3 Georgia (2-0) has an uninspired win over Arkansas and an impressive victory over top 15 Auburn. 

No. 12 Tennessee (2-0) has a workmanlike win at South Carolina and a strong effort against Missouri. 

Georgia might have the best defense in the country, if not the nation. 

Tennessee has one of the best offensive lines in the SEC, and perhaps one of the best in the nation. 

Here are keys for Tennessee to beat a top five team on the road.

1.Run game. Tennessee won’t rush for 232 yards like it did against Missouri. But it must have a semblance of a run game. The Vols need to get at least 100 yards on the ground. That sounds like a modest goal, but Auburn got 39 on 22 carries against the Dawgs. And offensive coordinator Jim Chaney can’t give up on the run early, even if UT is struggling to push the pile. You can’t become one-dimensional. A decent run game will help UT’s play-action attack. If you ask your quarterback to drop back over 40 times (like Auburn’s Bo Nix did) you’re asking for trouble.  Georgia outrushed Auburn 202-39 yards. UT must come within 50 yards of Georgia’s run total. 

How good is Georgia’s run defense: It hasn’t allowed a running back to score a rushing touchdown since Alabama’s Josh Jacobs 17 games ago. Since then, three quarterbacks have rushing scores: Nix, Texas’ Sam Ehlinger, Baylor’s Charlie Brewer. 

2. Limit turnovers. That seems to go without saying. But put it like this, UT MUST win the turnover margin, even if it’s by one. Breaking even might not be good enough. Losing it spells doom. 

3.Better secondary play. Tennessee has had holes in the defensive backfield in the first two games, due in part to many defensive backs missing practice with injuries or covid-related issues.  The return of nickelback Shawn Shamburger should help. A healthy Bryce Thomspon should help. A better pass rush would help. The one thing UT can’t afford is to let Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett sit back in the pocket and survey the field. If so, star sophomore receiver George Pickens will pick UT apart. 

4.Efficiency converting first downs and in the red zone. UT was 6×13 converting third downs against Missouri and 4×4 on fourth downs. You don’t get much better than that. UT also scored touchdowns on each of its five red-zone penetrations. That likely won’t happen against Georgia because it will be difficult to get in the red zone five times. But taking touchdowns over field goals when you get inside the 20 gives you a much better chance to spring an upset. 

5. Explosive plays. This is a Jeremy Pruitt key. Tennessee had four passes of at least 30 yards against South Carolina. The Vols had six passes of at least 17 yards against Missouri and seven runs of at least 10 yards. That would qualify as a monumental success against Georgia. On the flip side, you can’t allow that many explosive plays to the Bulldogs. 

6. Tennessee WRs must beat press coverage. The Vols wideouts have been productive, but they have not beaten man-to-man coverage with consistency. Georgia has at least three NFL defensive backs: Eric Stokes, Tyson Campbell, Richard LeCounte. UT’s receivers must gain separation to help Guarantano in the pass game. If not, UT could suffer the same fate in the pass game as Arkansas did in the second half v. Georgia.

7. Limit possessions. Tennessee had eight full possessions (not counting running out the clock at the end of a half) against Missouri and scored touchdowns on five. The scoring drives covered 14, 9, 8, 16 and 9 plays. That keeps your defense fresh and frustrates a Georgia offense that sits on the sideline.  It also gives you a better chance to make this a fourth quarter game. And we all know what can happen in the fourth quarter. Just ask the Chicago Bears. Or Atlanta Falcons.   

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