It started off with a bang, but the last thirty minutes ended with a complete dud.
Tennessee was rewarded a touchdown on the opening drive, off a very bad snap to Georgia QB Stetson Bennett. Kivon Bennett rushed down the field to scoop up the fumble for seven points.
Things didn’t look terribly bad for this Tennessee team in the first half. Yes, they couldn’t run the football, but that’s been a trend for this Georgia defensive line.
Deandre Johnson was ejected early into the game for a helmet to helmet hit, which left Tennessee short handed along the edge. Roman Harrison and Bennett filled that void as much as they could, with help from Tyler Baron and Morven Joseph.
Tennessee came into the game with only three penalties on the season, but that was quickly eclipsed in the first half. The Vols finished with ten penalties on the day.
The offense had some explosive plays in the first half, especially the Jarrett Guarantano to Josh Palmer connections. But even with a few big TD’s, they still had such a hard time building any kind of cohesion on the offensive line.
The Vols crosses the 50-yard line just one time on their own doing, until the last drive in the fourth quarter. That’s just unacceptable football and definitely won’t win you many ballgames.
This OL, which has been the talk of the town over the past few weeks, couldn’t pickup the yards they needed on the ground. The nastiness of the Georgia defensive line showed most of the game.
Jeremy Pruitt discussed how he thought Georgia outplayed them in the second half.
“I thought they really outplayed us there in the second half. When you look at the game, of course you learn a lot when you look at the tape, but you can’t turn the ball over three times against anybody and expect to win. We turned the ball over three times in the second half, once for a defensive score and twice, I don’t think they [Georgia] got any first downs and kicked field goals. So, there’s 13 points there that really changed the game.”
But let’s not take away anything the Tennessee defense did either. They were getting pressure on the QB and also came up with some very big fourth down stops. None bigger than the one to end the first half. Georgia had it first and goal, and Tennessee never flinched. The Dawgs had it 4th and goal on the 1-yard line and the Tennessee defense came up with a huge stop as the time expired on the first half. The Vols headed into the locker room with the lead and momentum.
Then came the dreaded second half.
A Georgia defender came off the edge and strip sacked Guarantano, giving Georgia the ball at the 14. But Tennessee held the Dawgs to a field goal.
Then came one of the daggers. Guarantano was pressured up the middle and threw a very bad pass that turned into an interception. The second consecutive turnover for the Tennessee offense and hurtful one at that.
But again, Tennessee held the Georgia offense to a field goal. This group of defenders were trying their hardest to keep the team in the game.
The defense did everything they could to keep things as close as possible, but they were just on the field too much. The unfortunate turnovers by the offense were too much to overcome, though they tried their damndest.
Tennessee was 4-of-17 on third down, ended the night with -1 rushing yards and had three turnovers. Georgia had 13 points off those turnovers, which is a nod to the Tennessee defense. The Vols passed for 215 yards on the night, with two of those coming off the touchdown passes to Palmer.
When Pruitt was asked postgame if Georgia did anything in the second half differently, pressure was the key term.
“They got pressure on the quarterback. I don’t know exactly what pressures they ran. I know a couple of times we had people blocking them and they beat us in one-on-ones. Then we threw a pick, which was an ill-advised throw. You just can’t do stuff like that. It’s pretty simple. We turned the ball over three times and didn’t get any turnovers in the second half. That’s the difference in the ball game.”
They just didn’t show up in the 2nd half and it showed, which Guarantano credited to the Georgia defense.
“I thought they had a good pass defense. They probably have the best defense in college football. We stumbled a few times and that’s the reason for the loss.”
Pruitt was asked postgame if he thought about pulling the Guarantano in the 2nd half.
“I don’t know where that would’ve helped. It starts with protection and running the football.”
Finishing the day with -1 rushing yards isn’t going to win you many games this season, that’s pretty obvious.
“Yeah we didn’t run the ball very well at all. We didn’t seem to get in rhythm offensively, we created a couple of big throws there, but to win in this league you have to be able to run the ball. We didn’t run the ball tonight. It’s tough to win that way when you become one-dimensional.”
I know Tennessee fans don’t want to hear any excuses about an offensive line that is filled with 5-stars and I imagine they don’t want to give you any. It was just a decent opportunity that turned into a very bad thirty minutes. There aren’t words that will make Tennessee fans feel better, tonight was just a cluster of bad offense.
All images courtesy of Tennessee Athletic Communications