The Tennessee Volunteers took a lead into halftime against the Georgia Bulldogs, and then never scored another point. Georgia rallied defensively, turning Tennessee over three times in the second half to bury the Volunteers.
At the buzzer, the scoreboard read 44-21. Here’s what stood out in the loss.
Georgia won the battle up front — on both sides of the ball.
Despite the fast start on the scoop and score to kick things off, we were immediately reminded of how good Georgia was up front. Offensively and defensively, Kirby Smart’s team settled in and dominated the line of scrimmage from the get-go.
Georgia responded with an easy touchdown drive after the opening blunder, then again with another easy drive aided by Tennessee penalties.
Defensively, Georgia’s front absolutely whipped Tennessee’s hyped-up offensive line. After branding themselves as the Tennessee Valley Authority, this offensive line fell flat for most of the afternoon on Saturday. Cade Mays particularly struggled in pass protection, consistently allowing pressure to the pocket.
It’s difficult to be too down on this group overall, considering who they played. Georgia has the best defense in the country, so take what you saw on Saturday with a grain of salt. Still, I’m not sure anyone expected that trench battle to be quite that lopsided.
Jarrett Guarantano needed to play one of his best games in order for Tennessee to win. He was on his way, then things fell apart.
In the second quarter, Jarrett Guarantano and Josh Palmer were the best thing that Tennessee had going. Back to back touchdown strikes put the Volunteers out front before halftime, which was a welcomed sign considering the struggled of the rushing attack.
But then it all fell apart.
Guarantano opened the second half with a lost fumble, then tossed one of the worst interceptions of his career on what appeared to be a broken play. Guarantano capped the day off with another lost fumble after being pressured from behind.
Clearly, Guarantano was under intense amounts pressure. His offensive line didn’t do much to help him out, but Guarantano — now a fifth year senior — can’t make the mistakes that he made. He ended up gift-wrapping Georgia six free points, something that could have been much had the Vols’ defense not stood tall in those spots. Eventually the defense gave way after multiple three and outs from the offense.
It’s a tough spot for this staff, because I’m not sure any quarterback was set up for success with the amount of pressure Georgia was generating. But at the same time, it’s frustrating to see your veteran quarterback get so careless with the football.
Tennessee is starting to put the pieces together, but their still a few steps away.
The resiliency of this program was once again on display, clawing back from several first-half penalties to get back into the game. You could feel Georgia taking control, but to their credit, the Volunteers found a way to claw back.
However, pure talent eventually won out. Georgia put the clamps down defensively and that was that. Tennessee just didn’t quite have the pieces in the front seven to battle for four quarters.
Once again though, the flashes were there. Several pieces of the puzzle are there. Darnell Wright and Wanya Morris will only grow from this and get stronger. Younger defenders like Tyler Baron and Morven Joseph flashed. Tennessee just doesn’t have the game-changers across the board like Georgia seemingly does. The defensive line eventually was pushed around and the secondary proved to be leaky at times. Georgia attacked the middle of the field and picked on the Tennessee linebackers in pass coverage, exploiting a weakness.
Clearly, there are places where Tennessee has some growing to do and some depth to create. Unfortunately, as we’ve said for seemingly the last decade, they’re just not there yet. Nobody wants to hear that and Jeremy Pruitt won’t tell you that, but it’s the truth. The gap between the top 3-4 programs in college football and the next 10-12 teams is massive, as evidenced by the lack of parity in the College Football Playoff.
The good news is that Georgia is probably the most complete team Tennessee will face this year. Alabama has big time defensive issues, along with Florida. Saturday may end up being as bad as Tennessee will look all season.
As frustrating as it is, Tennessee is still on the right track. They’re being built the right way — there aren’t taking any shortcuts. They’ve just got to keep working, and you know Jeremy Pruitt will make that happen.