The Vols’ trip down to Athens may have resulted in a loss, but many fans were not too disappointed with the performance. We got to see the defense look a little bit like a Jeremy Pruitt defense. We also saw what happens when Tennessee opens up the playbook on offense. It may seem dark right now, but the future seems bright for the Vols.
Jarrett Guarantano did surprisingly well versus a top-ranked Georgia defense. Despite only going 6-for-10 for 38 yards in the first half, he came out looking like a different QB in the second half (mostly due to play calling) and finished the game 13-for-21 for 143 yards and two touchdowns. After only throwing horizontally for the entirety of the first half, offensive coordinator Tyson Helton called a few deep passes which helped the Vols put points on the board. Guarantano still showed the inability to go completely through his reads and showed signs of indecisiveness. Hopefully, these issues can be ironed out.
Running Backs: C+
No matter who they played or what play they called, the Vols just couldn’t seem to get the running game going. Tennessee finished the day with a measly 66 rushing yards and zero rushing touchdowns. Their longest run of the day was only 17 yards. This statistic is just as much a compliment to Georgia’s run defense as it is a criticism of Helton’s play-calling. The calls were ignorant and predictable. It seemed like every drive they would try to run behind Trey Smith on first and second down then pass on third down. Tennessee needs to find more ways to get the running game going.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: A+
The receiver group continues to be a huge bright spot for the offense and team. This time it wasn’t Marquez Callaway or Brandon Johnson leading the way, but running back Ty Chandler. He had four receptions for 53 yards including a beautiful 35-yard catch and run touchdown from a screen pass. Josh Palmer also had a 37-yard touchdown catch where he made a Georgia safety look silly with a nice little move. One concern going forward is the health of Callaway. He left the game midway through the third quarter with what appeared to be a concussion after getting sandwiched between two defenders. The unit finished the day with 13 catches for 143 yards and two touchdowns.
Offensive Line: C+
Despite only giving up two sacks to a star-studded Georgia front-seven, the Vols’ offensive line still continued to struggle. The line never seemed to get a push and gave up six tackles-for-loss which resulted in the Vols only having 66 yards on the ground. The right tackle position occupied by Drew Richmond still continues to be a weak point. If he isn’t getting a false start penalty, he’s either getting pushed in or letting a defensive end run right past him. Because of this, Tennessee’s run game is one-dimensional. It seems like every running play they either run to the left or up the middle. I can’t seem to recall the last time the Vols ran behind Richmond.
Defensive Line: A+
The Vols’ defensive line probably had its best performance since the 2016 season. The unit racked up three sacks, four tackles-for-loss, and two forced fumbles. Three of those sacks and two of those TFLs were by junior Darrell Taylor. Shy Tuttle continued to impress despite only racking up three tackles. Alexis Johnson finished the game with seven total tackles. The performance was really reassuring to see since it seems the Vols have lacked a competent pass rush for the past couple of seasons. Consistently getting to the quarterback is one of the staples of the Pruitt defense and if the defensive line’s performance against Georgia was any indicator, the Vols’ defense has a bright future.
The linebackers played poorly. It seemed like every other play a linebacker was missing a tackle. This problem was very apparent in Darrin Kirkland Jr. Multiple times, the junior failed to wrap guys up. One play in particular that comes to mind is the forced fumble and subsequent Georgia touchdown. On that play as Georgia tight end Isaac Nauta was running to the end zone, Kirkland attempted to tackle Nauta and seemingly just slid right off him. Converted defensive end Jonathan Kongbo has yet to make any sort of impact on the field as a linebacker. He got exposed early on when he was asked to cover a receiver in the flats and proceeded to miss an easy open-field tackle that allowed Georgia to get a first down. Daniel Bituli had a decent day leading the team with eight total tackles, but the unit was very lackluster.
The secondary continued to disappoint. They shared a lot of the same problems with the linebacking unit: poor tackling and poor positioning. Bryce Thompson got picked on a lot. Multiple times during the game he would let his receiver just run right by him and get open for an easy pass. The safeties, Nigel Warrior in particular, continue to be the bane of the defense. On multiple occasions, Warrior failed to make an easy play, costing Tennessee touchdowns and yardage. Throughout the first five games, he just seems apathetic. He doesn’t seem to have the energy he once had. The unit gave up 190 passing yards and didn’t seem to give Jake Fromm too much trouble.
Special Teams: A+
Joe Doyle continued to impress. He kicked seven punts for a total of 330 yards (47.1 yards per punt) including a 71-yard bomb. He continues to be one of the best players on team. We didn’t get to see Brent Cimaglia against Georgia as the Vols didn’t attempt any field goals or extra points.