The Tennessee Volunteers were still into the game well into the fourth quarter this afternoon but ultimately gave way to the No. 2 Georgia Bulldogs, 38-12.
The game got off to a typically ominous start for Tennessee when Darrell Taylor sacked Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm on third-and-9 and caused him to fumble. The two most likely outcomes of a play like that are a Tennessee guy falling on the ball or a Georgia guy falling on the ball and the Bulldogs settling for a field goal attempt. Instead, the ball bounced right into the hands of Georgia tight end Isaac Nauta, who ran 31 yards for a touchdown. Of course.
Tennessee’s offense wasn’t exactly stymied in the first half, but they certainly stalled out without anything to show for it and were scoreless in the first half. Similarly, the defense was doing some good things but wasn’t exactly keeping Georgia from gaining yards. They forced a couple of punts and held the Bulldogs to a field goal before finally giving up the game’s first earned touchdown late in the first half. The teams went to the locker room with Georgia leading 17-0.
Georgia opened the second half with a touchdown, making the score 24-0 and threatening to runaway with it like we’d all feared, but Tennessee put together a 10-play, 75-yard drive on its first possession of the second half, capped by a 37-yard touchdown pass from Jarrett Guarantano to Josh Palmer.
In the most interesting part of the game, the Tennessee defense then held, the offense punted, and the defense held again, and then the Vols added another touchdown when Guarantano hooked up with Ty Chandler for a 35-yard touchdown.
At that point, it was a 12-point game (Georgia 24, Tennessee 12) with 11:10 to go in the fourth quarter. The Vols had the last two scores and its defense had forced two short drives that ended in punts for Georgia. But the Bulldogs sealed the game on their next possession with a 13-play, 75-yard drive that drained 7:39 off the clock, and that was the end of that.
A fumble by running back Jeremy Banks on Tennessee’s next play signaled the beginning of garbage time, as it gave Georgia a short field, another touchdown, and a final score of 38-12.
Even though the outcome of the game was in doubt for a longer period of time than anticipated, it was clear to both the eye and the box score that Georgia was the much better team and it was still another 26-point loss for the Vols. Georgia had 25 first downs to Tennessee’s 11, and they had 410 total yards to the Vols’ 209.
The Vols still started slow, still found themselves victim to The Weirdness, and still made several crucial mistakes. Marquez Callaway going out with an apparent concussion is very bad news for him and for the team as well. Also, there’s at least one guy in the secondary who appears to be actively avoiding contact.
On the other hand, this is what the team looks like when they’re not turning the ball over an unnatural six times in a single game, and although it’s not yet up to standards, it’s not embarrassing. The guys appeared to be tougher. There was more falling forward, gaining a couple of yards at the end of a play rather than losing a couple. The offense scored some points against a terrific defense, and the defense held Georgia to a respectable 31 points until garbage time.
There’s still a lot of work to do, and there are still several challenging weeks ahead, but you can see the glimmers of something good beginning to take shape.