What an incredible game. Putting aside the fact that the Vols lost for just a moment, this game had a little bit of everything if you are a college football fan. There were great plays in all three phases of the game on both sides of the ball for each team, but, unfortunately, Tennessee had to come out on the losing end of yet another three-point game against Georgia.
There are certainly a ton of “ifs and buts” after this one, but I think that the progress of this team is clear to see. They were better in every phase of the game this week compared to two weeks ago in Norman. That being said, a loss is a loss, and this team is still right where most predicted them to be before the season.
Here are five observations from today’s game:
Cheap touchdowns: Tennessee has now given the opposing team a cheap touchdown in back-to-back games. The pick-six against OU and then the fumble in the end zone today that Georgia recovered for a touchdown were huge momentum shifts that went against Tennessee. The pick against OU was a 14-point swing and today’s fumble against Georgia proved to be the difference as the Vols would eventually fall 35-32. When the margin for error is as small as it is for a team like Tennessee, these kind of mistakes are often the difference between winning and losing – and right now Tennessee is losing. Tennessee has proven that they have the ability to be competitive deep into the second half against top teams, but to win these games they will have to stop giving teams an easy 7 in the second half, and maybe steal one of their own.
Cam Sutton: In case you missed the memo – and forgive me if I sound like a broken record – Cam Sutton is, without question, one of the best cornerbacks in the country. Hutson Mason tried to test the sophomore corner today only to find out the hard way that his success to this point hasn’t been a fluke. Sutton made the best of a rare pass being thrown his way and came down with his second interception of the season. For the first time in a long time, the Vols have a cornerback who can essentially shut down the receiver he is lined up against. It shouldn’t be long until you start hearing his name being thrown out for All-American recognition. He is that good.
Worley the warrior: Justin Worley proved, yet again, today that he is the right quarterback to lead Team 118. For all of his practice accomplishments over the summer, Nathan Peterman again looked like a deer in the headlights when he got his shot during Worley’s brief second-half absence. Worley went out in the third quarter with an apparent elbow injury, but was able to return to the game and throw two late touchdowns to keep the Vols in the game. Worley finished the day 23-of-35 for 264 yards and three touchdowns while Nathan Peterman went 4-of-9 for 20 yards and a fumble in his brief action. There is no way of knowing for sure, but one can’t help but wonder if Worley could have put the Vols in the end zone for the win had he been given one more opportunity to do so late in the game. Tennessee dodged a bullet with his injury today. Had it been significant, this season would have taken on a much darker feel.
Jalen Hurd: Few players have come in with as much hype as Jalen Hurd, and even fewer have met the expectations. In only his fourth game, Hurd has already shown that he is in the top-half of backs in the SEC and he appears to get better each week. Hurd was rushing behind his fourth different combination of offensive linemen in four games and – outside of the late fumble – turned in his best performance of the season with 24 carries for 120 yards and a touchdown. As this offensive line continues to gel and develop confidence and Hurd gains confidence in them, Tennessee should be able to have success running the football moving forward. It’s hard for freshmen to live up to the hype right out of the gate, but Hurd is off to an excellent start in 2014.
Mistakes: Through four games, this team has committed way too many mental errors, and those errors have cost them an opportunity to win each the last two games. Poorly timed interceptions an penalties against OU hurt the Vols in Norman, and poor tackling on Isaiah McKenzie’s first half punt return, Nathan Peterman’s fumble, Jalen Hurd’s fumble and multiple pre-snap penalties on offense really hurt Tennessee’s chances of pulling off the upset today in Athens. The good thing for Tennessee moving forward is that all of these penalties and mistakes can be corrected. This isn’t a lack of talent or a lack of skill; the majority of these mistakes come from a lack of focus (common among young teams on the road). Tennessee has great opportunity to end a nine-game losing streak to the Florida Gators next week, but they will have to put an end to the mistakes that have plagued them over the last two games. The game being at home should make a huge difference.