After a bold advance, Tennessee retreated meekly, stumbling badly at times, in making its way back to the status quo.
The Vols ended up early Saturday evening pretty much where they’ve been for the past 14 years, bowed in submission before one of the SEC’s and nation’s elite college football teams. With a 44-21 loss to No. 3 Georgia at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Ga.
Tennessee now has lost 33 consecutive games against Associated Press Top 10 teams, a run of futility that stretches back to 2006.
A four-point halftime lead was erased by a second-half meltdown that diminished UT’s early achievements and highlighted its weaknesses. Here’s some thoughts about what happened:
Offensive line: From this vantage point, this unit’s play was the biggest disappointment. The Vols were held to a minus-1 yard in net rushing and quarterback Jarrett Guarantano was sacked five times.
Wanya Morris, a sophomore who has missed considerable practice time because of the COVID-19 pandemic, suffered greatly at the hands of Georgia’s pass rush but so did his more experienced teammates. Cade Mays, a transfer from Georgia, was beaten for a sack that led to a fumble. Georgia linebacker Monty Rice split UT’s Trey Smith and Morris and blew by running back Eric Gray on his way to a strip sack, fumble recovery and 20-yard TD run to complete the rout.
Along with the physical abuse, UT’s linemen were tormented by Georgia’s shifts up front, which
resulted in several penalties.
Let’s ease off on the hype for the offensive line, for the time being anyway.
Guarantano: The book is written in large type by now on the redshirt senior. The more you ask of him, the greater the risk. And no running game and leaky pass protection was asking way too much of his performance.
Give him credit for the two first-half throws to Josh Palmer that resulted in touchdowns. Credit Palmer for the catches, too. Conversely, Guarantano should know better by now than to throw the pass that resulted in Eric Stokes’ third-quarter interception. The turnover led to a Georgia field goal and fed the momentum shift that was underway.
The mistakes: Guarantano’s interception and two lost fumbles led to 13 Georgia points. While the Bulldogs’ defense deserves considerable credit for helping create those turnovers, the Vols must shoulder their fair share of the blame as well.
UT’s coaches will pore over the game video in scrutinizing the 10 penalties and the occasional alignment problems. But Georgia also had its issues, beginning with a bad snap that gifted UT the game’s first touchdown. And Bulldogs receiver George Pickens squirted water on Guarantano. The resulting penalty aided a Tennessee touchdown drive.
Defense: Georgia’s 431 yards of total offense didn’t do justice to UT’s defensive effort. The Vols’ defenders got worn out in the second half by the 77-63 disparity in offensive plays.
The goal line stand to end the first half spoke highly on behalf of the linemen and linebackers.
Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett’s 238 passing yards and two TD passes didn’t say much for the secondary, however.
The Vols couldn’t afford to lose pass rusher Deandre Johnson, who was ejected early over a targeting call.
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Dan Fleser is a 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri, who covered University of Tennessee athletics from 1988-2019. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.