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Can Josh Heupel’s Vols win a big game on the road?

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Tennessee has won three straight games since a disappointing loss at Florida on Sept. 16.

The Vols have a 5-1 record and look like a better team than the one that lost in Gainesville.

But Tennessee has looked better while playing at home.

The Vols haven’t traveled away from Neyland Stadium since that loss at Florida.

Is Tennessee better prepared to play on the road now?

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We’re about to find out.

The Vols will play at Alabama on Saturday, a place Tennessee hasn’t won since 2003.

That’s led almost everyone to ask: can the Vols really win this game away from home?

Some people are asking if Tennessee can win any big game on the road.

And how big of an issue might this be for coach Josh Heupel? Does he have an issue winning away from Neyland Stadium?

Well, let’s look at how Heupel’s teams have done away from home since he took over Tennessee’s program in 2021.

Tennessee’s best road game

The most impressive showing from a Heupel-coached Tennessee team came last year in Baton Rouge.

The Vols went to LSU and took over Tiger Stadium, winning the game 40-13.

LSU hadn’t yet tapped into its potential when the two teams played, but that was a Tigers team that went on to win the SEC West.

Tennessee dominated LSU in all phases of the game.

The Vols put up 502 yards of offense while the defense allowed only two scoring drives by LSU.

For anyone pointing to Tennessee’s struggles on the road last season, the LSU game is the counter.

It’s hard to play better away from home than Heupel’s team did that day.

There’s one note worth mentioning: the LSU game was early.

The game kicked off at 11 AM local time.

While it was still a tough place to play, Tiger Stadium at night can become a different animal.

LSU’s fans hadn’t had the proper “prep time” with the early kick. So the Vols caught a break.

But that shouldn’t take away from how well Tennessee played.

The Vols didn’t just win; they dominated.

Tennessee’s worst road game

Tennessee’s worst showing on the road came when it mattered most for the Vols last season.

Tennessee went to Columbia as 22-point favorites against South Carolina.

The Gamecocks were coming off a brutal 38-6 loss to Florida the week before.

South Carolina proceeded to drop 63 points on Tennessee, beating the Vols by 25 and ending their College Football Playoff hopes.

Tennessee was affected by the crowd and never could keep up with South Carolina, which fed off the energy of its home stadium.

The South Carolina game brought out the concerns of Heupel’s teams on the road.

Many people pointed to Tennessee’s bad showing at Georgia a few weeks earlier – maybe it wasn’t just Georgia’s players? – and would bring the South Carolina game back up when Tennessee lost at Florida this season.

Tennessee also escaped on the road at Pittsburgh early last season, winning in overtime after the offense sputtered through the second half.

So against Power 5 teams in 2022, Tennessee had a great showing against LSU, two ugly games against Georgia and South Carolina, and less-than-inspiring performance at Pittsburgh.

Tennessee also won 56-0 at Vanderbilt – but is anyone bragging about that one?

So what does this mean?

We can’t ignore the 2021 season, either.

That season included a 62-24 blowout win at Missouri and a 45-42 win at Kentucky.

Those were two of Tennessee’s most impressive performances of the season.

The Vols also suffered blowout losses at Florida and Alabama in 2021.

But there was a talent issue Tennessee couldn’t overcome in those games.

Tennessee will have to overcome a talent disadvantage this week against Alabama.

But the gap isn’t where it was two years ago.

The Vols have legit playmakers on the defensive line and several players on offense who should be confident.

One of those confident offensive players: Cooper Mays, who didn’t play at Florida earlier this season.

Would Tennessee have beaten Florida if Mays could have played?

There’s no way to know, but there’s reason to believe.

Tennessee has reason to believe it can beat Alabama this week.

The Vols will have to limit mistakes and not allow the crowd to overwhelm them early.

“End of the day, we gotta do a great job of communicating,” Heupel said this week.

That won’t be as easy at Alabama.

When Tennessee went to Georgia last season, the Vols were No. 1 in the College Football Playoff ranking.

Georgia’s crowd was determined to affect the game – and affect it they did.

While this Alabama team doesn’t look as good as Georgia, the Crimson Tide crowd will try to have a similar effect.

Alabama is trying to avenge last year’s loss. The Tide’s crowd will do all it can to help.

Are you still skeptical about Tennessee’s chances of winning at Alabama?

You have plenty of reasons to be.

It’s up to Tennessee to change the conversation

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