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Big and Dumb and Shiny: Tennessee 42, Georgia Tech 41 (2 OT)

In order, here are some thoughts about the Tennessee vs. Georgia Tech game played last night in Atlanta, Georgia.

WHAT. Everything about last night’s game reads like a dumb first draft of a college sophomore’s fantasy short story. Tennessee had seven points through about 44 minutes of a game where they scored 42. Georgia Tech dropped 535 rushing yards on 86 attempts. I don’t know which number is more unbelievable. Tennessee’s best receiver, by far, wasn’t a listed or rumored starter at any point of the offseason. Tennessee’s quarterback had the footwork of Nick Stephens and then dropped a bomb to that same receiver on the game-tying drive. Tennessee had their backup quarterback sit there the whole time, looking like a future JUCO transfer. Tennessee got outgained by nearly 300 yards. The team that gained 655 yards recruits at the level of Rutgers and Colorado. The team that lost converted 13 of 18 third down opportunities. All of this happened in ONE GAME. Singling out the most insane of these moments is a futile task.

2016 DEFENSE. It did not leave; it remained. For the third (!) time under Bob Shoop, Tennessee set a new low in terms of a defensive statistic. This time, it was giving up 535 rushing yards. Oh, and this was Bob Shoop’s 14th game at Tennessee. He sets a new low once every five or so games. Huh!

CLOCK MANAGEMENT. Worse than ever. Georgia Tech had six seconds left on the play clock with 25 seconds left in the game. They looked baffled as to what their play call was. Butch Jones called a timeout. It’s a good season for charity and it’s a noble gesture. The Are You Serious What Is This Why How Charity receives yet another donation rescued by either a bad kicker or insanely good luck.

HORSESHOE. This item represents good luck to many. Sometimes you’ve got the horseshoe; sometimes they do. Butch Jones had that dang horseshoe firmly entrenched in his rear end. Firmly entrenched.

THE TRASH CAN. As perfect a metaphor for Tennessee football as any was the moment Tennessee forced a fumble and attempted to dunk it in a trash can…and missed. But the ball rimming out of the can still counts as a turnover.

BRADY HOKE. It’s one game but this hire appears bad. The Tennessee defensive line, minus three plays in the entire game, was consistently pushed back and obliterated into smithereens by players 40, 50, and 60 pounds lighter. The reason Daniel Bituli and Colton Jumper combined for 41 tackles (41 TACKLES) is because Tennessee’s defensive line was either on their butt or face-down on 75% of plays.

LARRY SCOTT. We also have no clue how much influence Larry Scott had on this game plan, but this was more or less also 2016: incomprehensible hieroglyphics sent from an ancient age that are supposed to mean something but just confuse everyone watching, followed by Oh Yeah John Kelly’s Here Right? for the final quarter. If you still have doubt this is a Butch Jones offense created by Butch Jones and orchestrated by Butch Jones…well, cool, I guess. Your call on that.

OFFENSIVE LINE. Yuck. Trey Smith’s good.

DROPS. Jauan Jennings and Josh Malone’s touchdowns covered up massive drop issues by the wide receivers in 2016, and it showed last night: Tennessee dropped SIX first half passes. Six! That’s pretty hilarious. Azzanni probably wasn’t the problem, and I don’t know how to fix this.

THE PLAYERS. It’s pretty cool to have sincerely rootable players at the university again. This feels like Donnie Tyndall in late 2014 to me: I want the players to do well even though I remain confident the coach will not be at Tennessee much longer. Having players as likable and enjoyable as Marquez Callaway and Daniel Bituli helps.

JOHN F. KELLY. He was the third-string running back behind Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara. He might be better than both. How does the coaching staff keep missing like this???

MARQUEZ. The best receiver on the team was probably fourth on the depth chart coming into last night. Uh, sure!

JG/QD. IDK. Dormady’s footwork is frightening, and Mike Canales desperately needs to correct that. But not giving Jarrett Guarantano a shot at any point is also frightening. It’s rare you see a player as openly disconnected to the game as Guarantano was. It makes me think he was promised serious playing time and…had that promise broken. He chose Tennessee over Ohio State because he thought this was the best chance for him to be a star. That’s not great.

GEORGIA TECH WILL BE FINE. They absolutely destroyed a preseason Top 25 team on the ground to incredible amounts. Tennessee is nowhere near a Top 25 team (or Top 35) right now, but still. Tech looked like the Orange Bowl teams at points. They’ve got serious potential. They were inarguably, thoroughly better than Tennessee at every single part of the game other than luck and kicking.

TENNESSEE? WHO KNOWS. I mean who knows. What can you take away from easily the weirdest game in Tennessee’s last 15 years? All we know that can translate is this: Tennessee’s defensive line (and entire defense) needs major amounts of work. Tennessee’s quarterback does too. There’s two serious offensive playmakers. There’s a good linebacker. That’s it. Figure the rest out in two weeks.

ELEVEN MORE. Whether fans survive this season is anyone’s guess. Whether the head coach does is another one. But there’s always players, and players are good enough to stick around and invest in. As someone who had Tennessee at 7-5 before the season, this game made me feel worse somehow. I also now have some new dudes to like. It’s not all bad. Weird wins are wins!

There are two stats circulating on Twitter that stood out to me from last night.

Here’s a third, from two years ago:

So, this sort of balances it out. Tennessee deserves to win a game they absolutely shouldn’t have won because they’ve lost shoulda-won games for the last ten years. It happens. It doesn’t skirt over the glaring, flaming issues with the team and with the coaching staff, but it happens. Tennessee stared down death in the form of a house-wrecking tornado and decided to run nude with a flag tied around its neck straight into it. The tornado threw it around for hours, after which it landed safely with a few scratches.

Here’s some other stats that give me pause.

  • Georgia Tech dropping 535 rushing yards on Tennessee somehow isn’t a program record. They dumped 604 DANG YARDS on a 2-10 Kansas team in 2011.
  • Quinten Dormady attempted, by my count, four passes longer than 15 yards in the game. He completed one, and that was because of a phenomenal mid-air adjustment by Marquez Calloway on an underthrown ball.
  • Georgia Tech has posted 450+ rushing yards against an opponent ten times now in the Paul Johnson era. Here’s the other nine teams: Alcorn State, Pittsburgh, NC State, Mississippi State, Virginia (3x), Presbyterian, Kansas, and Miami. One of those ten teams ended their regular season with a record better than 7-5. They had Dak Prescott.
  • Tennessee had 34 drops during the regular season in 2016, by my count. They had six last night. Who do we blame for this?
  • Tennessee gave up 33 first downs, allowed a 13 of 18 conversion rate on third downs, and had the ball for slightly over 18 minutes of the game. They won.

It really doesn’t get stranger or more inexplicable from here. Tennessee won a game they had zero business winning, and that’s fine. The expected turnover margin in this game was closer to 1-1 than 2-0; Dormady probably was lucky to escape without throwing an interception. The expected final score I have by my numbers was Georgia Tech 39, Tennessee 23. Even with turnovers included, it’s Georgia Tech 34, Tennessee 26. Tennessee really got away with one here, and – yes – that’s fine.

The real questions now begin. Is Tennessee’s defense still terrible or was it the product of one game? Does Tennessee have a legitimate starting quarterback? How’s the depth looking on both sides? Can Butch Jones call a timeout correctly? That and more in the next edition of The Young and the Restless: Tennessee.

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