Tennessee Football: Winners and Losers from Volunteers' Loss to Georgia
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A disappointing home loss to the Georgia Bulldogs on Saturday has left fans of the University of Tennessee's football program scratching their heads. After last week's drubbing of Buffalo in which the offense showed the ability to put points on the board, the game against Georgia took an alternate route for the men in orange.
Although the final score might indicate a tightly contested game throughout, the result was never really in doubt during the second half. Tennessee wasn't able to run the ball effectively, which allowed the Georgia defense to focus on shutting down Tyler Bray's passing attack.
Sure, UT struggled to find the end zone and had some trouble managing the clock, but there were bright spots to be found in the result. I'll take a look at the winners and losers from the Volunteers' 20-12 loss, because it wasn't ALL bad for the home team...
WINNER: Mychal Rivera
Rivera's athletic ability as a TE has never been questioned
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Mychal Rivera spent the first half of the game dominating the Georgia linebackers assigned to cover him. His chemistry with Tyler Bray on several key third down conversions allowed the Tennessee offense to lead extended drives against the Georgia defense.
Rivera finished the game with five receptions for a total of 85 yards, including a big grab on a crucial fourth down with three minutes left in regulation. His final catch set up the Volunteer offense at the one-yard line with a chance to pull within one score of Georgia.
Despite the fact that Rivera was Bray's safety blanket for the first two quarters, Tennessee seemed reluctant to target him in the second half. Rivera's disappearance late in the game certainly contributed to the Volunteers' inability to come back against the Bulldogs.
If the Tennessee coaching staff had adjusted their offensive game plan to make better use of Rivera, the final score might have been in UT's favor. As it stands, the team got away from utilizing their most effective offensive weapon and paid the price for it.
Regardless, Mychal Rivera made the most of his opportunities when he had them.
LOSER: The Tennessee Kicking Game
Volunteer fans wish they saw more of this during Saturday's game
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A subplot during Saturday's game was the ineptitude of the Tennessee kicking game. The field goal and punt units were both in the spotlight for the wrong reasons.
A missed field goal in the first half cost the Volunteers three points after a 13-play, 48-yard drive lasting just over six minutes. Although it was early in the game, the missed field goal prevented Tennessee from answering Georgia's field goal on their opening drive. It may not have seemed like much at the time, but it set the tone that would carry throughout the game: UT would be chasing the scoreboard all night.
Tennessee also missed an extra point with 2:45 remaining in the game; the result was that the Volunteers would trail the Bulldogs by eight points instead of seven. Even though it was still a one-score game at that point, had Tennessee recovered their onside kick and scored a touchdown, they would've still needed a two point conversion to tie the game.
Not to be left out of the conversation, the punt team nearly botched a play on their first drive of the second half. The snap was nearly over the head of punter Matt Darr, who was lucky just to get the kick away. Unfortunately, the punt only went for 31 yards.
Georgia used the resulting field position to their advantage. Starting at the Tennessee 38-yard line, they marched down the field for a touchdown and a 13-6 lead.
Not the best start to the half for the home team.
WINNER: Devrin Young
As a freshman, Young brings considerable talent to the Volunteers
Devrin Young saw relatively extensive action (by his standards) against Georgia as the primary return man. His production was a pleasant surprise to Volunteer fans and was possibly a sign of greater things to come.
As the primary kick and punt returner, Young amassed 108 kick return yards to go with his 19 punt return yards. As a true freshman, Young hasn't seen much of the field to date, but his performance in Saturday's game might sway the coaching staff towards giving him more reps on special teams.
If Young continues to wreak havoc on opposing kick coverage teams, his talents will be put on display more often. After all, why keep him on the sidelines when he can contribute to the team's success?
Young wasn't able to make much of an impact during the first two quarters of the game against Georgia, but that was a result of the lack of punts forced. However, the field position battle became more important in the second half, mostly due to Young's abilities in the return game.
LOSER: The Tennessee Defense
Solid defense wasn't on display against Georgia
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Georgia's offensive numbers were as follows: 227 passing yards, 139 rushing yards, and 33:43 time of possession. In short, they had balance on offense and were able to move the ball when it mattered.
At first glance, those numbers against Tennessee's defense might not seem atrocious. However, the quality of play from the Volunteer defenders didn't pass the eye test.
It was the Tennessee secondary that was most victimized by Aaron Murray, Malcolm Mitchell, and the rest of the Georgia offense. The cornerbacks and safeties in orange and white seemed to be constantly struggling to catch up to Georgia's receivers.
At one point during the second half, one of the ESPN commentators joked that the Tennessee defenders must be wearing lead shoes. If you're the defensive backs coach for the Volunteers, that's not something you want to hear. Ever.
Murray executed several play-action passes to wide-open Bulldog receivers, as the safeties were pulled toward the line and the cornerbacks were beaten in man coverage. Murray was able to connect on two big plays with his main deep threat, Mitchell. If Mitchell hadn't pulled up lame on his final catch, he most likely would've taken Murray's pass 70+ yards for a touchdown.
The Tennessee front seven didn't perform much better than the secondary; Isaiah Crowell, Carlton Thomas, Branden Smith, and Murray combined to run the ball effectively. In fact, the only Georgia touchdowns came via the run, courtesy of Crowell.
WINNER: Neyland Stadium's Home Crowd
Rocky Top isn't the most hospitable environment for visiting teams
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Home field advantage is a key component of college football, and Neyland Stadium in Knoxville doesn't disappoint. The Volunteers always have a strong advantage when they're playing at home, courtesy of their over 100,000 orange-clad fans in the stands.
At kickoff, the crowd noise was so loud that the announcers in ESPN's booth were struggling to be heard above the roar of the stadium. It's expected that the Rocky Top faithful will bring the noise for Tennessee home games, and the fact that Saturday's game against Georgia was a prime-time national telecast only made them louder.
The game might not have gone according to plan for the Volunteers, but the crowd never gave up on their boys. Down 20-6 late in the game, the crowd literally willed Tennessee to come back against the visitors.
When it looked like Tyler Bray and company wouldn't be able to mount another attack on the Georgia defense, the crowd seemed to put the team on its back. The subsequent drive resulted in a touchdown for Tennessee that restored some respectability to the final score.
LOSER: Derek Dooley's Clock Management Skills
Dooley's mismanagement of the clock potentially cost UT more points
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At the end of the first half, Tennessee had an opportunity to take the lead from Georgia. With 0:10 remaining on the clock, the Volunteers had driven to the Bulldogs' 26-yard line. Had Dooley called timeout immediately, his team would've had a chance to take a shot at the end zone before attempting the game-tying field goal.
Instead, Dooley called his timeout with only two seconds remaining in the half; the offense was forced off the field as the kicking unit made its way on to attempt a field goal.
Tennessee had the chance to take the lead but mismanaged its timeouts at the close of the half. A touchdown prior to halftime would've give the Volunteers the lead and sparked the home crowd into a frenzy.
Considering the way the action had played out to that point, a Tennessee lead at the half would've been a success. However, poor clock management prevented Tennessee's chance at heading to the locker room with the lead.
WINNER: Tyler Bray
Bray showed poise that belied his sophomore years
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Tyler Bray may not have had the best game from a statistical standpoint, but his composure on the field was an important factor in the action. Bray finished the game with 251 passing yards and didn't turn the ball over while effectively managing the game.
Most importantly, Bray's performance in the hurry-up offense at the end of the game was impressive. Before injuring his thumb and being forced to the sidelines, Bray was able to get his team to the line of scrimmage and call his own plays during a nine-play, two-minute drive that resulted in a Tennessee touchdown.
Bray's intensity was on display when he left the game too; after having his thumb splinted, he attempted to grip a football and lobbied the coaching staff to let him return to the field. For Volunteer fans, this is something to be proud of.
Having a young quarterback who possesses poise and determination is something many teams can't claim. Although the final score wasn't in UT's favor, the future for the volunteer football program is in good hands with Tyler Bray at the helm.
LOSER: Tennessee Volunteers
Even Dooley's flashy orange pants couldn't save the day
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Tennessee lost the game to Georgia, which means their chances at coming out of the SEC East took a serious hit on Saturday. The loss dropped them to 0-2 in conference play, leaving them only ahead of lowly Kentucky in the eastern division.
A prime time win on national television against a quality opponent would've gained the attention of the college football world, and possibly would've jump-started the Volunteers' play during the conference portion of their schedule.
Unfortunately, Tennessee wasn't able to add a signature win at home to their resume. The upcoming schedule is going to be tough: home against LSU, at Alabama, and home against South Carolina. Beating Georgia would've been the confidence-builder this young team needed to enter the next stretch of games.
As it stands, the Volunteers are likely staring at an 0-5 conference record by November. Hopefully head coach Derek Dooley can circle the wagons and have his team ready to play next week against the nation's top-ranked team; motivation for that game will likely not be an issue.
Maybe the season isn't lost for Volunteer fans just yet though. After all, upsetting the likes of LSU, Alabama, and South Carolina would certainly make for an exciting October in Knoxville.