It’s an absolutely huge game tomorrow for the Vols when the 7th-ranked Georgia Bulldogs come to Neyland Stadium looking to avenge two consecutive losses to their rivals to the north. Based on the history between these two teams, it’s going to feature a fair amount of drama, as the last four games have all been decided by seven points or less. Peyton Manning’s going to be there. Brett Favre is going to be there in his Wranglers. SEC Nation is going to be broadcasting its pre-game show live from campus, and the game is the SEC Game of the Week on CBS.
It’s all hands on deck, and that includes you.
Yes, you. Defensive coordinator Bob Shoop is imploring Vols fans to make Georgia freshman quarterback Jake Fromm uncomfortable in his debut on the road in the SEC:
“This will be his first SEC road game, we’ve got to get Neyland rockin’ on Saturday,” Shoop said. “We’ve got to introduce him to what SEC football’s all about.”
It’s admittedly going to be a tough challenge for the Vols, who are 7.5-point underdogs at home. They are also still trying to establish an identity on offense, and the buzzards continue to circle above Butch Jones despite the attempts to shoo them away by the likes of none other than Phillip Fulmer and Peyton Manning.
And yet the players seem to be tuning all of that out just fine and are quietly going about their business. Game captains this week are junior running back John Kelly, senior defensive tackle Kendal Vickers, junior defensive back Rashaan Gaulden, and senior punter Trevor Daniel. And although Georgia may be one of two teams on Tennessee’s schedule that is more talented than the Vols, it’s not like Tennessee doesn’t have the nation’s most-elusive running back in John Kelly:
The SEC’s most elusive backs – led by Tennessee’s John Kelly. pic.twitter.com/5HZWvZCrAG
— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) September 25, 2017
and the second-best true freshman after four games in Trey Smith:
Before we kick off Week 5 tonight, here’s a look at our top freshman through the first four weeks of the season. pic.twitter.com/BM2YoOjNHQ
— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) September 28, 2017
and one of the SEC’s highest-rated defensive ends in Jonathan Kongbo:
PFF Week 4 – SEC Team of the Week – Defense pic.twitter.com/54c4ZH0vw4
— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) September 26, 2017
and one of the SEC’s most efficient tacklers in Daniel Bituli:
SEC’s most efficient tacklers are paced by a couple of Georgia Bulldogs pic.twitter.com/Do5Czr57V3
— CFB Film Room (@CFBFilmRoom) September 28, 2017
And with Georgia playing a more traditional style of offense, Tennessee will no longer have to choose between talent in Bituli and experience in Colton Jumper as both can get on the field and still leave room for a third talented linebacker in Quart’e Sapp.
Meanwhile, everybody’s weighing in on what the Vols need to do to pull off the upset against Georgia tomorrow:
- Our own Brad Shepard has five keys to a Vols victory over Georgia: we have to make Jake Fromm look like a freshman; slow Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, and D’Andre Swift; get the offensive groove back, get some turnovers, and band together as a team.
- I said in my Tennessee-Georgia statsy preview that the defense needs to strike the right balance between mitigating the damage inflicted by Georgia’s run game and protecting against the occasional deep pass.
- A Georgia beat writer says the Vols’ best chance is to exploit the Bulldogs’ secondary, as it hasn’t really been tested this season.
- SEC Country says that the Vols need to get off to a fast start and need improved quarterback play from Quinten Dormady, who’s thrown four interceptions and fumbled the ball twice already this season.
- And most importantly, it sounds like Butch Jones believes that the game will be decided on first down:
“Everything is about first-down efficiency,” he said. “When we talk about first-down efficiency, four yards, whether pass or run, is considered efficient. We have to be about 65 percent at first-down efficiency. When you look at scoring drives, most first downs occur on first or second down opposed to third down. When you go and look at the video from last week we had way too many 2nd-and-12 and 2nd-and-15 plays. Against a team like this, we have to be ahead of the sticks. Like I said on Monday, against this defense, a two-yard run can be a productive run. What we have to do is, stay ahead of the chains and work to eliminate negative yardage plays. That’s one of the critical elements of this game, staying on schedule, so to speak, on first and second down. They do a great job on third down, so we can’t be in third and long situations.”
Whatever happens, you’ll want to be there, and you’ll want to do your part, as it is shaping up to be a good one that has significant impact on the all-important SEC standings.
Also, you’ll want to stay in your seats at halftime tomorrow, as that’s when we’ll be honoring Peyton Manning by recognizing his induction into the National Football Foundation’s College Hall of Fame. Manning’s using his influence to get both coach Fulmer and coach Majors on the same field with him at the same time, and the Pride of the Southland Marching Band’s halftime performance is reportedly centered around Manning, so that should be interesting as well.
- Don’t forget to download this week’s Gameday on Rocky Top Podcast.
- It’s not only a big game, it’s a huge weekend for Vols recruiting.
- The men’s and women’s basketball teams are going to host a Rocky Top Tip-Off on Friday, Oct. 13, at Thompson-Boling Arena from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. The event, which is free, features an autograph session, team introductions, a three-point shooting competition, and a dunk contest.