The Tennessee Volunteers will not play in the 2022 College Football Playoff but they do play Vanderbilt on Saturday.
By Matt Zemek
That is the disappointing reality for Josh Heupel and his team, and there’s no point in denying that. Tennessee had the inside track to the playoff with its huge wins over Alabama and LSU. Those two very big poker chips were going to help Tennessee in a debate with a 12-1 team from another conference, such as Clemson or (if they lose a game) the TCU Horned Frogs. Now, that’s all done and gone. Tennessee is out of the hunt for the playoff. The injury to Hendon Hooker is the final blow. There’s really no scenario in which Tennessee is likely to get in. Total chaos over the past few weeks might make it remotely possible, but no one should bet on anything happening.
The main focus now is to win this game against Vanderbilt and finish 10-2. If Tennessee wins this game and LSU loses to Georgia in the SEC Championship Game, Tennessee should feel fairly safe about getting a New Year’s Six bowl bid, either to the Orange or Sugar. That’s something Tennessee hasn’t done since the 2000 Fiesta Bowl against Nebraska. It has been 23 very long years since the Vols have played in a top-tier bowl game. If they get an NY6 ticket out of this season, that’s still a really big deal and a great validation of what Josh Heupel has done in Knoxville this year.
1 – Joe Milton under control
Joe Milton doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel as Hendon Hooker’s replacement at quarterback. Make the safe throw. Make the accurate read. Trust the talent surrounding you on offense. Get the ball out quickly to a receiver who is clearly open. That’s it. If the play is not there, check down and take the four-yard gain. It’s fine. Four yards on first and 10 is not a bad outcome. Force Vanderbilt to be perfect on defense. Josh Heupel should create good plays for the offense. Have faith that the plan will be good enough, and that the athletes at receiver will be even better.
2 – Contain Mike Wright
Mike Wright has eluded Kentucky’s and Florida’s defenses the past two weeks. Vanderbilt is getting quality performances from its signal caller. Tennessee was torched by Spencer Rattler. It needs to make sure Wright doesn’t bust loose for big runs in this game. Then the Vols have to be able to cover receivers better (a lot better) than they did against South Carolina. If Wright can run for big yardage, though, Tennessee will be scattered and scrambling in full desperation mode. Take away Vanderbilt’s balance and diversity. Turn the Dores into a throwing team.
3 – Play angry
Tennessee was aggressive and hungry against Alabama, but passive and fearful against South Carolina, as though it was worried it would lose … and it lost. You’re never going to win by thinking you need to prevent something bad from happening. Elite athletes seize opportunities and make good things happen by being proactive and choosing to do something about a problem. This is the hungry, attack-centered mindset the Vols need. Go out there and grab an Orange or Sugar Bowl bid.