A pretty tightly contested first half ended sourly for Tennessee after Georgia Tech drove for over seven minutes to put the go-ahead score on the board and take a 14-7 lead into the half.
The Vols had previously tied it up on a short John Kelly run midway through the second quarter, but that was really the only offensive spark Tennessee saw.
The Vols looked like they were in all sorts of funk through a quarter and then some on offense, but things changed when Daniel Bituli forced a fumble early in the second quarter. The scoring drive that ensued was much, much better from Tennessee — especially up front. The Vols’ offensive line had really struggled up to that point, especially young tackle Marcus Tatum. Tennessee’s scoring drive was really productive on the ground, though. John Kelly was tough all half and when the holes opened up on that drive, he and freshman Ty Chandler found some room.
Quinten Dormady had a rough start, but multiple drops from receivers and the struggling line certainly did him no favors. Speaking of receivers…
Jauan Jennings left the game during the Vols’ scoring drive after taking hard hit to the shoulder/head area after catching a first down pass. There’s been no update on him, so there’s really no way to know what pain he might be dealing with.
9:51 UPDATE: Jennings is now out for the game.
The difference in the game has really come down to two things: time of possession and third down conversions. Georgia Tech held the ball for 21:10 in the first half. 21:10! A big part of that was the third down conversions — the Yellow Jackets were 8 for 11 on third down in the first half. Tennessee has to get backfield stops and keep Georgia Tech out of third and short.
Butch Jones said over and over during the offseason that we’d see both quarterbacks today… but where is Jarrett Guarantano? Dormady finished 8 for 20 with just 52 passing yards, never really looking that impressive. Much of those numbers are overblown with drops, but the offense mustered just 94 first half yards. If you can’t get off the field on defense, you have to move the ball on offense.
Daniel Bituli has played like a man possessed, and so has Darrell Taylor. Taylor has been lightning quick inside while Bituli has flown around the perimeter, forcing a fumble and accounting for 13 first-half tackles. The rest of the defense, though? Not great. Justin Martin was badly beaten twice after the catch while the interior of the Vols’ defensive line has failed to get much of a push. Again, something’s gotta change.
What happened before halftime? With just over 40 seconds to go, Dormady dumped a pass down to John Kelly, who went down in bounds. With two timeouts, Jones elected to let the clock run and run a screen play, which failed to fool Georgia Tech’s defense. The Vols failed on fourth down to whiff on a good end to the half.
Drops, drops, drops have been the name of the game for the receiving core. Jennings dropped at least one easy catch, Ethan Wolf another on fourth down and the offense just hasn’t looked put together at all. Guarantano doesn’t fix the drops, but he could provide a spark. We’ll see.
Bottom line: The Vols have to get off the field on defense in the second half or they’re going to be run out of the stadium in the fourth quarter. The offense has to move the chains or that may happen anyway.