Tennessee Keeps Slim SEC East Hopes Alive in Epic Comeback Win vs. Georgia

Justin Ferguson@@JFergusonBRCFB National AnalystOctober 11, 2015

Tennessee HC Butch Jones (center)
Tennessee HC Butch Jones (center)Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Tennessee was supposed to be dead.

With just a few minutes left in the first half Saturday, the Volunteers were staring down a 24-3 deficit to No. 19 Georgia. This, of course, was coming after back-to-back losses to Florida and Arkansas in which Tennessee blew a two-score lead in each—and a few weeks after the double-OT defeat to Oklahoma.

But Butch Jones' team didn't fold, and it didn't even take a rousing halftime speech to spark a turnaround.

"I thought their character showed through," Jones said, per Dustin Dopirak of the Knoxville News Sentinel. "They had a different look. This football team was not gonna be denied."

With 3:16 left in the second quarter, quarterback Joshua Dobbs led the offense on a quick drive capped by a touchdown pass to Josh Smith on a gutsy fourth-down call. After Georgia fumbled the ensuing kickoff, Dobbs found running back Alvin Kamara for a short touchdown pass. Coach Jones described the fumble recovery and subsequent touchdown as the game's most crucial play sequence, per Dopirak:

Just like that, the Volunteers were only down 24-17 heading into the locker room. In the third quarter, they scored two touchdowns, which helped to give them 28 unanswered points and an unbelievable lead.

Most importantly, Tennessee retook the lead in the fourth quarter on Dobbs' fifth touchdown of the game and didn't let it go for the 38-31 win.

Sure, Tennessee had caught some breaks in the thrilling victory.

Georgia didn't have superstar running back Nick Chubb past the first play of the game, when he went down with what appeared to be a devastating knee injury. Reggie Davis dropped what would've definitely been a game-tying touchdown pass from Greyson Lambert in the fourth quarter.

Wade Payne/Associated Press

But none of that matters for Tennessee. Butch Jones and his team just desperately needed a win of any kind after a challenging few weeks on Rocky Top.

The win over Georgia resurrects a Tennessee season that started with high expectations but appeared to be on life support.

"Any SEC win is a good win, but Saturday was a huge win for Butch Jones' Vols, and it was a bad loss in more ways than one for Mark Richt's Bulldogs," Wes Rucker of 247Sports wrote. "Saturday's game couldn't have started or ended much differently from Tennessee’s 2015 script."

Instead of three straight losses in SEC play, the Volunteers are still mathematically alive in the race for some of their biggest goals—the SEC East division title and the right to play in Atlanta for a championship. Jeff Patterson of the Kansas City Star predicts that a Florida loss Saturday night coupled with Tennessee's win would make the SEC "interesting":

Of course, Tennessee is going to need some help in addition to a possible winning run through the rest of the SEC schedule. That includes a road win in two weeks over Alabama.

Undefeated Florida, which faces Missouri on Saturday night, will have to lose at least a couple of games down the stretch. Two would potentially set up a number of chaotic three-way ties for the division, and three could be enough for an outright title.

While those chances seem slim and even unimportant for Tennessee at the moment, they provide some hope for a program that needed it after a tough opening half of the season.

The win over Georgia gives Tennessee a blueprint for success in the season's second half, and it all starts with Dobbs.

Tennessee QB Joshua Dobbs
Tennessee QB Joshua DobbsWade Payne/Associated Press

Tennessee turned Dobbs loose Saturday against the Georgia defense. After entering the weekend with a season-high 294 yards of total offense, Dobbs had 430 yards and five total touchdowns in the upset win.

After Tennessee's first three drives resulted in a deflected interception, a three-and-out and a fumble that turned into a long scoop-and-score, Dobbs and the offense maintained composure. The unit kept moving the ball and found a way to finish its drives.

"Dobbs willed us to this win," Jones said, per Patrick Brown of the Chattanooga Times Free Press. "Many players willed us to win. This whole team was poised. I think we grew up a little bit."

For the first time since last season's 45-42 win at South Carolina, Dobbs had a game that featured excellent production in passing and rushing.

He completed 60 percent of his passes for 312 yards and added 118 yards on 18 carries, including a powerful touchdown keeper that turned out to be the game-winner. Coach Jones commended Dobbs on his performance, per Dopirak:

Defensively, Tennessee found a way to finish off the game after the frustrations of the last two weekends.

Sure, Davis' improbable drop aided the Volunteers in the fourth quarter. But they also stood tall on the final drive of the game, killing off a potential 99-yard Georgia scoring drive that was started by Trevor Daniel's punt-of-a-lifetime.

In the second half, Georgia punted the ball four times and only entered Tennessee territory twice. Defensive end Derek Barnett acknowledged his team's win, but he emphasized his focus is to keep "winning ballgames," per Rivals.com's John Brice: 

When safety Brian Randolph slapped away Lambert's last-second toss toward the end zone, the script was officially flipped for Tennessee.

Instead of ending another game as the heartbroken, Tennessee got to be the heartbreaker for a change.

Now with momentum heading into a crucial bye week, the trip to Alabama doesn't look quite as daunting. The final few games appear to be stronger opportunities for Tennessee to push even higher in the standings.

The Volunteers have new life again in what has been a wild SEC so far in 2015. Now they must take advantage of it.

Game statistics courtesy of StatBroadcast. Unless otherwise noted, other statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com.

Justin Ferguson is a college football writer at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR.

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