The Tennessee Volunteers needed their off week to regroup, reset, and develop players for the second half of the college football season. This is a rebuilding year, free from the pressures of having to make a bowl game and having to reach certain goals.
By Matt Zemek
This is less about goals and more about making progress so that 2019 can acquire genuine aspirations (which it should and must). Obviously, along the way, Tennessee would like to post a big win or two on the board to show its roster that it is capable of achieving something memorable, capable of translating work into a tangible reward which builds confidence. This is how cultures get transformed, and this is how programs emerge from the basement to become relevant on a national level once again.
Growth is the point of emphasis, but how can Tennessee potentially beat Auburn? The Vols opened as a 19-point betting underdog, but we have seen far bigger point-spread upsets over the years, including Old Dominion over Virginia Tech just a month ago as a 28-point underdog. Tennessee fans will also recall that the Vols were massive Las Vegas underdogs in the 2001 game at Florida, probably the second-sweetest win of Phillip Fulmer’s life after the 1999 Fiesta Bowl national championship victory over Florida State. Let’s lay out the key points for UT in this one:
1 – KEEP THE BALL
Great plan, right? Let’s flesh out the plan. Sometimes an underdog must focus on scoring a lot to reduce the burden on its defense. Tennessee is not equipped to do that. The Vols have to reduce the pressure on their defense by keeping it off the field. Tennessee needs to play this game in four-yard segments, getting four yards per play and rarely looking down the field – maybe taking a shot when available, but only when something is expected to bust wide open and seems ready to exploit based on film study and an analysis of Auburn’s tendencies. For the most part, Tennessee should try to play offense in small increments, with safe passes and mixed running plays which reward basic execution and reduce the need for the quarterback to do something spectacular. Shortening the game by running the play clock inside five seconds on live-clock plays will help… that requires being close on the scoreboard, but as lon as the game IS close, that is a recommended tactic.
Brass tacks here: Mississippi State held the ball for over 41 minutes against Auburn… and barely passed the ball. It’s true that Nick Fitzgerald is a better running quarterback than anyone Tennessee has, but the principle of keeping the ball and not focusing on the downfield play can work against Auburn.
2 – DARE YA!
The Auburn passing game has been surprisingly poor this season, a big part of Auburn’s woes. Jarrett Stidham has regressed as a deep-ball thrower. He was better at Baylor, and he has regressed at Auburn. Force Stidham to win this game with the home run – he will probably strike out.
3 – FIRST THINGS FIRST
This is a late-morning kickoff. Auburn fans are through with Gus Malzahn. There will be lots of empty seats. Winning the first quarter gives Tennessee a chance to make Auburn more miserable and ultimately gain leverage.