If Tennessee Wants To Beat Georgia, They Better Keep Their Foot On The Gas

If you happened to be watching the Tennessee game this past weekend, I hope you didn’t change the channel for too long. If you did, there’s a good chance you missed out on one of the Vols’ quick touchdowns. It wasn’t as though Josh Heupel thought they would score on the first play from scrimmage. Javonta Payton just made a great play and took it to the house.

For Tennessee fans, watching this offense is like getting a brand new car, and you can’t get enough of all the bells and whistles. It’s breathtaking to some, as they’ve had to sit through years of snail speed pace with a touchdown to the other team every so often. But not this year. Josh Heupel and his staff have caught the eye of their opponents because of all the horsepower in the offensive engine. The Vols have won the time of possession in only one game this season, and that was against Missouri, where they rushed the ball 59 times in the blowout. It will most likely be the same against Georgia on Saturday.

If you notice how this team plays football, the players on offense have the mentality of “let’s just go score as much as possible.” If the defense gives up a touchdown, the offense’ll just go grab another. Tennessee WR JaVonta Payton discussed the offense this week. Even after scoring on the first play, he kept preaching to his teammates they cannot let off the gas.

“After that, going on the sideline and going to all the guys and letting them know we have to keep the gas rolling and keep it moving. We can’t slow down at any point in the game. That first play was definitely a momentum booster, and you got to go out there and tell the guys we have to keep it rolling and keep up on all points”.

Payton knows this offense isn’t built to slow things down, especially if it’s working. Some may want to give the defense the chance to rest, but you’re out of luck if you think Heupel is going to ease off the pedal, even if the defense lacks depth at certain spots. Pretty much, they’d better suck it up, grab some oxygen and get back on the field if the offense scores in under two minutes. But Heupel does understand that sometimes the situation that they are in changes things, such as the need to break off a five-minute drive to eat some clock.

“I think you care about time of possession in the situations where it matters,” Heupel said. “When it’s time to drain the clock, it’s important that you’re able to do that and play situational football at the end of halves, the end of ball games. The score predicated that you continue to play the way that you’re able to play.”

There was also a glaring reason why Kentucky had success against the the Vols’ defense: poor tackling. When Alontae Taylor was asked about the defensive performance against Kentucky, he didn’t try to sugarcoat the situation, but he also stated the obvious: They have to finish the play.

“When you look at the film, you can see we were a little extra aggressive and we got out of our gaps a little bit and overplayed a run too much. The other back was strong and other guys ran with good pad level, which made them get extra yards after contact. We also have to make sure we just wrap up, but I thought we had good hits in the backfield, we just didn’t finish the play.”

So now, Georgia comes to town with a rushing attack that is averaging 190 yards per game, while also averaging 9.9 rushing first downs per game. Simply put, this isn’t going to be easy for the Tennessee defensive unit. At all. But, no matter how well Georgia runs the football and how much time they eat off the game clock, Tennessee cannot get away from pressing on offense.

Sure, Georgia has the second best defensive unit in the country, giving up only 231 yards per game and allowing only five offensive touchdowns all season. But this defense won’t stop Tennessee from trying to score quickly. They might prevent them from succeeding, but they won’t stop them from trying. This Tennessee staff knows they must put a quarterback like Hendon Hooker in situations where he can flourish, even if that means getting the ball out of his hand as quickly as possible.

This Dawgs defense is going to do everything they can to make Hooker uncomfortable, while bringing multiple looks on defense. It won’t be easy for Tennessee to run the football, and if the Vols are going to have success, they must spread the field out with their receivers. Even if Tennessee does all of these things well, it still might not be enough. There is a reason why Georgia is ranked No. 1 in the country and why they are a 20.5 point favorite, according to FanDuel.

Tennessee DL Matthew Butler said it best this week about playing the No. 1 team in the country, no matter who it is.

“When I was 16 or 17 and decided I was gonna come to the University of Tennessee. That’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to knock some No. 1s off and become No. 1. Obviously you know that’s not exactly how it went, but that’s what we’re planning to do, knock a No. 1 off. That’s not a billboard statement to anything like that. I think everybody who plays the No. 1 team wants to knock ’em off, so that’s what we’re gonna do. It’s just a matter of doing the little things right and consistently.”

But No. 1 or not, the Vols are damn sure going to try and push the tempo on Georgia, while also having the defense ready to go. If things don’t turn out their way on a drive, guess what? Heupel is going to send his offense back on the field to do it all over again. Because the only way you beat Georgia is to catch them napping or off-guard, which no team has succeeded in doing this season. But this Tennessee offense is still going to throw everything at them but the kitchen sink.

Forget the time of possession. Go out and have some fun — and try to shock the world.

Written by Trey Wallace

Wallace started covering the SEC in 2012, as the conference landscape was beginning to change. Prior to his time in Knoxville, Wallace worked in Nashville for The Read Optional, where he first produced content that garnered national attention. His passion for sports is evident in his work and has led him to break some of college football’s biggest stories. His social media reach and natural podcast proficiency continue to make Wallace one of SEC’s most trusted sources.

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