My instinct is however you felt about Tyler Bray, Derek Dooley, and this Tennessee team coming into this game is still kinda how you feel about things on the other side of it. We all tend to see what we want to see.
So if you want to kill Bray for three consecutive turnovers on one possession drives in the fourth quarter, you can. Although I'd suggest that last one on the play before a hail mary attempt doesn't really hold as much weight. If you want to scream at our defense, I'm right there with you: the Vols gave up 560 yards to an impossibly balanced Georgia team (278 for Aaron Murray, 282 on the ground, I tip my hat that sir). Big plays were the biggest red flag coming into this game, and they were red flags on fire this afternoon as the Dawgs routinely ripped off not just 20+ yard plays, but 50+ yard plays.
But the Vol defense produced three turnovers that turned into three touchdowns, and also made the two stops they absolutely had to have in the fourth quarter. It's becoming more clear the longer we do this that our talent in the secondary is simply not up to par, though seeing more of guys like LaDarrell McNeil hopefully means it won't always be that way. But I also think it's reasonable to still expect this defense to get better this season. We can't give up so many big plays to anybody, let alone Georgia, and expect to win.
And yet, there we were in the fourth quarter. It was where we said we wanted to be to feel better about this team and better about Derek Dooley, and make no mistake: Tennessee absolutely had a chance to win this game. That's not something you could say about almost all of Dooley's previous battles against ranked teams.
So say lots of things about this game, which would take a million words to describe in full and don't worry, we here at RTT will do our part filling it up.
But don't say, "same old same old." This was something new.
This was progress. And it became heartbreaking progress, to be sure. Losses like this hurt so, so much. But I'd forgotten that, because we haven't had a chance to win one of these in a long time.
I feel close (though not the same based on the opponent and their ranking) to how I felt when Alabama beat us in 2009: totally crushed because we had our chance and missed, but deep down, excited because we're growing. Keep in mind that this wasn't #18 Florida - this was a top five Georgia team with an offense that looked the part and a defense that was highly thought of and got Bacarri Rambo and Alec Ogletree back.
And the Vols lit them up for 478 yards. That included 197 on the ground! And that included a solid effort overall from Bray, even if he'll only be remembered for the way it ended. Credit Georgia's defensive playmakers for forcing the fourth quarter turnovers. But make no mistake, this was the most impressive performance Jim Chaney's offense has turned in so far.
And the Vols faced adversity, to be sure. And this time, Glass Joe got up off the canvas and delivered a wicked right hook, more than once.
So now, we face a new kind of adversity. This one is gonna hurt for a while, which is why it's so good we're off next week. And then we go to Starkville for the game Derek Dooley was always going to have to have no matter what happened today. The next Bulldogs on our schedule should be undefeated and ranked, just like today's Bulldogs.
Can the Vols get better from this and respond to such a painful defeat with a winning performance? Or will we fail to get better on defense, continue to make huge mistakes in the kicking game, and lose the game and our momentum? All roads lead to Starkville.
We grew today. And we hurt today. We didn't get the win to make you believe, but we did play well enough to make you think we're going to have the same opportunity against Alabama and South Carolina.
But before we get there, we must go through Starkville. If this team can keep getting better, grow and move forward from this loss, Derek Dooley will be fine and this team can still have a good, meaningful season. But we can't let today beat us in two weeks, we can't let our defense continue to give up big plays every other drive, and we can't fail to grow.
Today hurts. But I want to see progress, and I saw it today. Can this team keep moving forward?