Tennessee Vols Football: Report Card Grades Following the Georgia Game
Saturday's game against the Georgia Bulldogs offered the Tennessee Vols a chance to get a big SEC win for the first time since 2009. Unfortunately for Vols partisans, things didn't go according to that script.
Georgia's defense just proved too strong for Tennessee to do what it has to do to win games.
Some aspects of Tennessee's game saw improvement Saturday night, while others were just as bad or worse as always.
Here's the breakdown in this week's Tennessee report card.
When a quarterback throws for 251 yards on 18-of-33 completions and it's considered an off-night, you know what kind of signal caller you really have, and unfortunately for the Vols, you know just how much you are going to miss him for a while.
Bray had a few passes sail on him, and it's not clear if he was just throwing away some balls or they just came out of his hand the wrong way.
One thing that was clear, however, is that Georgia's defensive backs cut off the deep pass all evening long. There were some big plays, but most of Bray's yardage came on underneath routes to the tight end and running back.
Losing Bray to a broken thumb on the only touchdown drive of the night was about the worst thing that could have happened to this young Vols team.
Senior Matt Simms came in and took the Vols into the endzone on 4-of-6 passing for 39 yards. His 4th-and-16 pass to the Georgia 1-yard line with a little over three minutes left was the play of the game for Tennessee.
The running game was, again, putrid. Tennessee's running backs combined for a whopping 22 yards on 16 carries.
This might be the worst Tennessee's ground game has been in decades. Senior Tauren Poole went down with an injured hamstring in the first half and did not return.
Sophomore Rajion Neal had a chance to run a couple of reverses and fumbled on both attempts. After his second attempt, on the first drive of the game, he didn't have another touch on the night.
Freshman Marlin Lane wasn't successful running, either, but he was brilliant on a couple of screens and showed an ability to make defenders miss with his 84 yards receiving on six catches.
Stop me if you've heard this before. The offensive line wasn't bad in pass protection. It did allow two sacks and ultimately allowed the rush to close in on Bray, which led to his smacking his hand on a Georgia helmet late in the fourth quarter.
There were a handful of terrible snaps from center James Stone again. One on a third down on the Vols first drive of the second half. Bray had to fall on it, and the Vols ended up punting from their own endzone, giving Georgia excellent field position and eventually their first touchdown of the night.
The other bad snap came on 2nd-and-10 from the Georgia 15-yard line with 3:45 remaining and ended up in an intentional grounding call.
Tennessee's wide receivers played well again. There were some difficulties with Georgia's coverage, but the unit still performed up to par. Credit Georgia's defense with allowing almost nothing big from the Vols receivers.
Every time Da'Rick Rogers got the ball, he was hit hard. He showed incredible toughness all night and still ended up with five catches for 71 yards.
Tight end Mychal Rivera was available most of the evening and led all receivers with 85 yards on five catches. His diving catch at the Georgia one-yard line on 4th-and-17 was amazing.
The Vols are getting almost no pressure up front on passing plays. But the unit played well against the run at times and held Georgia running back Isaiah Crowell to 58 yards on 19 carries.
It's just too bad Georgia had more than Crowell running the ball, though. The 'Dawgs ended up with 139 yards on 38 carries.
Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray had plenty of time to throw most of the evening.
Freshmen Curt Maggitt and AJ Johnson were quiet for most of the night, combining for just six tackles.
Austin Johnson tied for a team leading 11 tackles and put some pressure on Murray once. Daryl Vereen was charged with two drive sustaining pass interference penalties
As a result of playing to stop the run, the Vols secondary was burned all night long. Georgia's wide receivers just ran by Marsalis Teague and Izaeua Lanier on a couple of plays.
It was basically one on one with Tennessee's cornerbacks all night long with Tennessee's safety help committed to stopping the run.
The big play, Murray's 71 yard pass to Malcolm Mitchell down the middle of the field, on 1st-and-10 from Georgia four yard line, set up the 'Dawgs touchdown late in the third quarter to go up by 14.
Prentiss Waggner had a big night with 11 tackles, a forced fumble and two passes broken up. Eric Gordon had two tackles for loss.
On the bright side, there were no punt blocks or muffed kick receptions. On the realistic side, Michael Palardy missed his first field goal attempt, and his only extra point attempt of the night was blocked. The sophomore's onside kick attempt following the Vols' score with a little over two minutes remaining in the game went straight out of bounds.
Matt Darr's punt from Tennessee's end zone at the start of the third quarter went 31 yards, but overall, Darr had a decent night with two punts inside the 10 yard line.
Freshman returner Devrin Young continued to show his ability in the return game. He only had two punt return attempts for 19 yards, but had 150 yards on kickoff returns, including a 50-yarder after the 'Dawgs went up 20-6 in the third quarter.
It's hard to knock the coaching decision on defense to play the run against Isaiah Crowell and Aaron Murray, but it did cost the Vols on more than one occasion.
The decision to punt the ball on 4th-and-6 from Georgia's 46-yard line isn't so tough to question. Sure, Tennessee ended up pinning the 'Dawgs inside the five after the punt, but Georgia ended up running the next eight minutes off the clock on one of the most bizarre drives you will ever see.
Tennessee punted again on 4th-and-16 with only six minutes remaining in what felt like a must-go-for-it situation with time running out, down by two scores.
The defense played well enough to win the game, and the passing game, although a little off, was there most of the night.
The Vols' lack of the slightest ability to run the football continues to dumbfound us all.
Some aspects of the Vols special teams game are getting better, but those aspects that are not improving (kickoffs, onside kicks, extra points and field goals) are downright maddening at this point in the season.
Matt Simms played admirably after coming in for Bray late in the fourth quarter.
With Bray being out for at least the next four weeks, coupled with the Vols' inability to run the ball, Simms will be counted on to do quite a bit more than he was asked to do as a starter last season.