KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- To says this Tennessee football program has struggled in SEC play of late would be an understatement. The Vols have won just twice in conference going back to the end of the 2016 season, which culminated with a loss to Vanderbilt. Now in his second season as top Vol, Jeremy Pruitt brings with him a 6-10 overall record into Saturday night's showdown against SEC East rival Georgia. Yes, a Tennessee win over the nation's third ranked team would shock the sports world, not to mention give this program the boost it so desperately desires. In order to even have a chance the Vols must accomplish the following:
TURNOVERS: Tennessee has done a better job the last couple games in forcing turnovers, but the Vols have given the football away far to often including four times in a loss at Florida their last time out.
GUARANTANO: For starters, Tennessee needs improved play out of their red-shirt junior quarterback. Jarrett Guarantano has not looked as sharp as he did at times last season. His leadership and in gamer decision making will be crucial against one of the better defenses in the country. I'm interested to see if offensive coordinator Jim Chaney's familiarity with the Bulldog program will help Guarantano navigate there Vols through the Georgia secondary. And that brings me to my next key.
BIG PLAYS: Tennessee has big, physical receivers in Jauan Jennings Marquez Callaway and Josh Palmer and the Bulldogs could be minus cornerback Tyson Campbell, who suffered a right foot injury earlier this season. Can Chaney and Guarantano work that to their advantage and exploit any potential mismatches? So far this season the Vols offense has struggled to come up with those "Big Splash" plays.
SPECIAL TEAMS: If there's one area the Vols have done pretty well at this season, it's on special teams. That could be a way this young Tennessee squad finds an advantage against the Bulldogs. Any break the Vols can garner in order to build momentum will be key, especially in front of the home crowd at Neyland Stadium.
RED ZONE: Tennessee's red zone woes really extend to their opponents side of the field. The Vols have been unable to cash in once they cross the 50. Yes, place kicker Brent Cimaglia has been terrific on field goals, a perfect 9-for-9 this season, but the Vols would love to give his right leg a rest and score some touchdowns. Tennessee has struggled with third down conversions and is just 2-for-8 on 4th down conversions once in enemy territory. Helping that cause would be a break out performance by UT's offensive line and running backs, who's efforts can certainly keep that Georgia defense honest while taking a lot of pressure off Tennessee's quarterbacks.
This the 49th meeting between these storied programs, a series that's split right down the middle with each team winning 23 times and two ties. We'll see which team breaks that tie in their favor Saturday night under the lights at Neyland. ESPN will have the broadcast of the 7 O'Clock kickoff.