By Frank Gale
The Vols emerged from their fourth game of the season against Akron with a win, 47-26. After the defense made adjustments at half time, the second half resembled what fans had expected from the opening kickoff. Bottom line, the Vols return to SEC action this weekend with a 3-1 record.
Tennessee travels to undefeated, No. 5 Georgia this week. This is the beginning of a four-game stretch that could see the Vols playing two more teams in the top 10 and one in the top 20. Sounds like a tall order for a team that has struggled in the SEC over the past few years with ranked opponents and in games played outside the borders of Tennessee.
The good news in this whole scenario is the Vols have shown in the past they can compete with Georgia in Athens. The Big Orange holds a slight 10-9-1 in the Bulldogs' home stadium.
Coach Derek Dooley’s trip in 2010 to Sanford Stadium did not end well, leaving on the wrong side of a 41-14 score. Last year in Knoxville, the Vols kept it close but lost 20-12. The Vols were undone in the second half by big plays and their inability to sustain drives when the game was still in doubt (an all too familiar story with good opponents).
Two big questions for the offense will be can they move the ball on the ground against a stingy defense and can Tyler Bray make good decisions when he puts the ball in the air? This Georgia defense makes opponents pay for bad decisions and the Vols have little room for error if they have any hope to pull the upset.
The defense has shown they can stop the run, especially in their base 3-4 defense. How the Vols, with their depleted secondary, deal with an experienced Aaron Murray and his receivers will be key to pulling the big surprise tomorrow.
Tennessee will need to play their best defensive game of the year and limit the Bulldogs' big plays. That is a tall order given how susceptible they have been to the big play this season, while Georgia is among the nation’s leaders in big plays — 20 yards and over.
The Vols seem to have found a place kicker that they can depend on. Derrick Brodus’ 17 points last week tied him with a few of UT’s more prominent kickers from the past for most points in a single game. His reward is kicking in a hostile stadium where his performance could be the deciding factor at the end of the afternoon.
The outcome of the Georgia game has been somewhat of a predictor for the Vols in recent years. Beating Georgia has sent the Big Orange on to decent seasons, while losing has derailed their season.
I guess I should thank Vandy’s super fan Jim Butler for his ‘Dores blowout loss at Georgia last weekend. While it didn’t soften them up, it should have the 'Dawgs a little over confident this week. Maybe just ripe for an upset? Anyhow, enjoy the bye week, Jim; no loss this week!
With an ever increasing fragile Vol fan base, it is imperative that Tennessee start winning SEC games before November. The Vols are 1-0 in the state of Georgia this season. I see no reason the Vols can’t stay perfect in the Peach State and return to Rocky Top with Coach Dooley’s long awaited signature win! Go Vols!
(Frank Gale is a Chronicle correspondent and his column appears regularly.)