After a 35-32 loss to the Georgia Bulldogs in Athens, Tennessee Volunteers fans are trying to figure out whether to be proud or upset. The right answer: a bit of both. We try to sort out our feelings in this week's trending report.
- Justin Worley Appreciation. Justin Worley played 12 series. The offense gained 351 yards and scored 32 points on those series. Nathan Peterman played 3 series. The offense gained 50 yards and scored 0 points on those series. Worley didn't make every throw, and his UT offense really struggled through much of the second and third quarter. But the offense just runs better with him in the game. And there were times where he looked legitimately good--like on his fourth quarter touchdown pass to Pig Howard. Worley had 7.5 yards per attempt, 3 TDs, and 0 INTs. His replacement had 2.2 yards per attempt. It's beginning to look like the most difficult Tennessee senior to replace will not in fact be A.J. Johnson. Who would've guessed that in preseason?
- The defense (starters). The final stats may not flatter the defense, but make no mistake, Georgia's offense is very good, and their run game is flat out elite. And on 9 of 15 possessions, that Georgia offense went for fewer than 20 yards. On ten third down attempts, that Georgia offense converted once. Once. It's no longer true to say that Cameron Sutton is turning into an elite corner. He already is one. Todd Kelly Jr. grabbed the first interception of his college career. A.J. Johnson made nine solo tackles and assisted on eight others. Curt Maggit had two sacks. And Jalen Reeves-Maybin, with eight solo tackles and 3.5 TFLs, might've had the best game of anyone on the defense. The starting defense is already good, and with another influx of talent next year, they could be elite in 2015.
- Jalen Hurd. 24 carries. 119 yards. On the road. Behind an abysmal offensive line. That's the most yardage by a UT freshman since Jamal Lewis. Jalen Hurd is your unquestioned starter at running back right now.
- Tight end involvement in the passing game. Ethan Wolf led the Vols with 69 yards on five catches. Daniel Helm pulled in one ball to convert on a two-point attempt in the fourth quarter. Both players are true freshmen. The more weapons Tennessee has in the passing game, the better, and with the Vols' talent at receiver, the TEs should have plenty of space to make plays as they grow up.
- Matt Darr. Eight punts, 45 yard average, four downed inside the 20. Darr has struggled with consistency in his Tennessee career, but against Georgia, he was good.
- Resiliency. Two weeks ago, the Vols fought to the end in Norman. This week, they did even better. Twice, Georgia stretched their lead to double digits with less than ten minutes remaining in the game. Twice, Tennessee fans began to concede defeat. Twice, the Tennessee offense scored a touchdown and gave the team a chance to win. The play was not perfect, but the fight was.
- Taking care of the football. Two fumbles. One inside the Georgia 30 prevented the Vols from scoring. One in their own end zone gifted Georgia seven points. Georgia won by three. Hard not to look at that and see ball security as the failure that turned a signature win into a heartbreaking loss.
- Penalties. The Vols were flagged seven times against Georgia, after having just nine in the first three games combined. And the Tennessee offense is not good enough to give away yardage and still move the ball.
- The defense (depth). The defensive starters are very good. As you saw in the previous section, then held Georgia below 20 yards on 60% of the Bulldogs' offensive possessions. On the other six? The Bulldogs scored four touchdowns, punted once, and took one knee to end the game. Johnson and Reeves-Maybin are just playing too many snaps, and the depth on the defensive line also leaves plenty to be desired. When they're out there too long, they struggle.
- Big players stepping up in big games. Marquez North is probably still the best player on the Tennessee offense. Last year, he made the big play that put the Vols over the top in their one big win against South Carolina. Saturday? Three catches for 15 yards. Two penalties for 25 yards. It's hard to win without production from your star.
- Clock management. Late in the game, Georgia had the ball with two minutes to go. Tennessee had three timeouts. After a six-yard carry by Todd Gurley, Butch Jones elected to keep a timeout in his pocket, only to use it after Georgia converted a first down. It didn't ultimately matter after Georgia converted a second first down, but all that does is waste the 10-20 seconds it takes to move the chains. There's no defense for it. While Butch Jones being bad at clock management doesn't make him unusual (Bill Snyder did the same thing on Thursday), it still does nothing but inhibit his team's chances to pull an upset.
- Excuses. The Vols have played admirably two games in a row against two very good teams. They've been playing elite opponents, and they've been playing more true freshmen than anyone else in the country. Next week, they are not playing a very good team. There have been lots of reasons for positivity despite a couple losses in a row. There are no reasons for positivity if Tennessee loses again. There are six wins on the schedule. Tennessee should make a bowl this year. It starts Saturday. After ten years, it's time to beat Florida.
- The offensive line. They are holding steady only because it would be hard for them to get worse. While Georgia only managed three sacks, they were teeing off on both Worley and Peterman all game. For a while, it seemed as though Tennessee was able to scheme around their offensive line issues, but eventually Georgia realized that they could get to the quarterback before the receivers could get. . . anywhere. Honestly, do not ask me how the Vols managed 400 yards and 32 points with this line. On the plus side, or on the minus side, depending on your perspective, the freshmen on the right side didn't look any worse than the fourth-year juniors on the left. This is the biggest thing holding the Vols back from immediate success. Tennessee may be competitive now, but they won't be good until they get something from the offensive line.