Well, it was better than we all thought it was going to be. After Georgia scored their first touchdown on a fluke fumble recovery that was scooped up and ran in from 40 yards, I was prepared to get on here and write something like, “I’m running out of ways to say how bad Tennessee is every week”. Because it just looked like one of those Saturdays, a game we’ve grown all to accustomed to seeing from this program, full of weird plays, strange bounces, more physical manhandling, bad coaching, poor offense, missed tackles, and atrocious blocking.
And sure, some of that happened. The Vols screwed up a ton of tackles behind the line of scrimmage, blew some coverages, and ran the worst version of the clogged toilet bowl offense in the first half. And then there was the Georgia TD drive that put them up 31-12, which was infuriatingly bad because everyone in the stadium knew the ‘Dawgs literally had no interest in throwing it and Tennessee still couldn’t stop them.
Then again, if I’d told you the Vols would still be hanging around in the 4th quarter, you would've taken it. With as bad as they looked last week against Florida, a 50-0 beatdown looked completely probable, with Georgia -31 looking like the lock of the year. No one thought Tennessee would be making the ‘Dawgs work hard that late in the game.
Look, I’m not excited they lost, and I’m certainly not a believer in moral victories, but they at least had life throughout an entire game for the first time since Pruitt arrived. They competed for most of the game and didn’t get completely taken out of it when seemingly all the breaks were going against them early. I'm grasping for straws here, ok?
The flip side of all of this, of course, is that if not for a few missed Jake Fromm throws on deep passes in the first half, Georgia would’ve been up by thirty at halftime and well on their way to another depressing defeat for this Vol program. Sure, I think Tennessee did some things to make them uncomfortable, but I’ve watched every Georgia game they’ve played against a legitimate opponent this season and this was the sloppiest they’ve looked so far. They screwed up the quarterback-running back exchange a few times and Tennessee's defensive front annihilated Georgia's O-line a few times. If the 'Dawgs played the same way today as they did three weeks ago at South Carolina, or last week at Mizzou, the feel of this entire post is different and I’d start asking questions like, “Are we sure Jeremy Pruitt should be an SEC head coach?”
This is a minor point, because the Vols ended up losing by 26, but how dumb was it for Tennessee to go for two after their second touchdown when they were down 24-12? What’s the point of that? If you don’t make it (like they didn’t), you’re down 12 and you still need three scores. Just kick the extra point, make it 24-13, cut it to a two score game, and worry about the two point conversion later. If it’s 24-12 you’ve completely eliminated kicking a field goal as a scoring option for the rest of the game with as little time as you had left, which now forces you to punch it in the end zone twice against a defense you've struggled to move the ball against all day. That’s a little gym teacher-esque there Coach Pruitt. Do you even math, bro?
Highlights? A few:
Darrell Taylor became the first Vol to have three sacks in a game since Derek Barnett did it in 2016. He was disruptive up front all day, and he was the first guy on a Tennessee defense that’s really stood out in a single game since Barnett.
I don’t know if Jarrett Guarantano is the long term answer at quarterback, but I love that dude’s toughness. There can’t be a quarterback the last season-plus who has taken more brutal shots than he has, but he’s never relented or been afraid to stand in there, protected by what is still an awful offensive line. I really believe we’d think much higher of him if he had any semblance of help up front, because he’s been extremely accurate and thrown a nice ball down the field when he’s had time to stand upright.
The rest of the season is going to hinge entirely on how well the offensive line plays. They had some stretches in the second half today where they were half-decent, but the fact that they didn’t run a single play in Georgia territory until under 9 minutes to go in the third quarter can be directly traced to the O-line’s inability to hold blocks consistently from play to play. 66 rushing yards just won’t cut it week to week, and Guarantano won’t make it through the season if he continues to get beat down like he did this afternoon. I’ve seen a lot of people whining on the internet and asking why the Vols won’t take more shots downfield. This is curious to me, because haven’t we all been watching the same offensive line? That unit is about as flimsy as paper mache, and there’s no way they'd be able to hold their blocks long enough to let anything develop down the field. Guarantano’s got rushers in his face two seconds after he gets the ball on almost every play.
Tennessee gets their bye week next Saturday, and then has a three game stretch of at Auburn, home for Alabama, and at South Carolina. The only one of those three they realistically have a chance in is their October 27th visit to SC; Auburn’s front seven is going to eat the Vols offensive line alive, and Alabama is, well, Alabama. A 2-5 start with a trip to Columbia in late October is the most likely outcome of the next three weeks. Who knows after that? If they continue to play as well as they did for stretches of today's game, then 6-6 and a bowl game could happen. If not, we're talking about 4-8 again, or (gulp) 3-9.