Tennessee came in as massive underdogs on the road against No. 2 Georgia for Saturday’s contest, and for about two and a half quarters, it looked like the oddsmakers were right.
But then the Vols found some rhythm on offense finally, and they made it a little close for comfort in the fourth quarter. But the Bulldogs were still the superior team on Saturday, and they muscled their way to a 38-12 victory over Tennessee.
The Vols got shut out in the first half, and Georgia scored on their opening possession of the second half to make it 24-0. But then Tennessee finally found some big plays and eventually some running room on Georgia’s defense, and they cut that lead to 24-12 after two failed two-point conversions.
But then Georgia had a hard-nosed scoring drive late in the fourth quarter that lasted just over seven and a half minutes, and that was all she wrote.
A Jeremy Banks fumble in the fourth quarter gave the Bulldogs another late possession, and Georgia was able to make the Vols pay and scored off their lone turnover of the game. That made the score 38-12, and that was the final blow.
Tennessee had man chances to capitalize off several Georgia mistakes, but they never could come away with a potential game-changing turnover themselves, and that was one of the big differences in this game.
Here are our five biggest takeaways from the Vols’ 38-12 loss to No. 12 Georgia.
Can’t Cash In
The Vols had multiple opportunities to come away with a turnover against the Bulldogs, but they just couldn’t manage.
Darrell Taylor had the best game of his career on Saturday, sacking the quarterback three times and forcing two fumbles. But the Vols didn’t recover any of those fumbles, and the first forced fumble actually got picked up by UGA tight end Isaac Nauta and returned 31 yards for Georgia’s first touchdown of the game.
Tennessee also had an interception slip through their hands. Nigel Warrior had the perfect chance to pick off a Jake Fromm pass, but he dove too soon and couldn’t come up with the interception. Later, Tennessee did pick off a Justin Fields deep pass, but it was called back because the Vols were offsides. Fields knew that, and he used that play as a free play and just tried to score.
Regardless, the Vols had plenty of chances to change the momentum of the game but never could come up with the key takeaway. Justin Fields dropped the ball in the fourth quarter as well, but he recovered it himself even after taking a shot from a Tennessee defender.
Georgia fumbled it four times and had two potential interceptions thrown. But the Vols could never come up with the ball.
Playing Keep Away
Both Tennessee and Georgia like to keep possession and play a slower style of offense in games, but this game was all about the Bulldogs playing keep away from the Vols.
Georgia held the ball for 37 minutes and 27 seconds in this game compared to just the 22 minutes and 33 seconds the Vols held it. Tennessee came into Saturday’s game averaging the second-longest time of possession per game in the SEC, averaging 32 minutes and 44 seconds of possession per game so far this year.
But Georgia turned that stat on its head, and they rarely let Tennessee have the ball on offense. And when the Vols did have it, they went three-and-out far too often, especially in the first half.
The Bulldogs ran 74 total plays compared to just 46 run by the Vols.
A First Since 2016
Tennessee’s first score of the game came with 5:14 to go in the third quarter, and that marked the first points the Vols managed to score on Georgia since their Hail Mary to end the game in 2016.
Since Josh Dobbs found Jauan Jennings for the game-winning Hail Mary to end the 2016 contest between the two schools, the Vols had gone scoreless for six quarters against Georgia before that touchdown in the third quarter. The Bulldogs pummeled the Vols 41-0 last year and were ahead 24-0 on Saturday before Tennessee found pay dirt with a 37-yard touchdown reception by Josh Palmer.
Too Little Too Late
The Vols couldn’t overcome yet another slow start in this one, and it might’ve cost them a chance at making this game even closer or potentially pulling out a huge upset.
Don’t get it wrong; Georgia was as much to blame for the game being as close as it was to start the fourth quarter as anything. They weren’t playing crisp on offense, and the Vols just couldn’t capitalize.
But the Vols managed a mere 68 yards of offense in the first half and had more punts (5) than first downs (3) in the first half of play. They trailed 17-0 at halftime and were down 24-0 after Georgia drove down the field for a score on the first possession of the second half.
Tennessee managed to score two touchdowns in the second half and totaled 141 yards of offense in the second half, but their efforts were undermined by their poor start to the game and inability to make Georgia pay for their mistakes.
Once again, a slow start came back to haunt the Vols. That’s been the story in all three of their losses this season so far.
A Much-Needed Break
With this game now over, Tennessee will head into a much-needed by week. The Vols will get a week to rest before they take on another top-10 team on the road when they travel to Auburn. After that, they’ll host No. 1 Alabama and then head back onto the road to face South Carolina.
Saturday’s game was just the beginning of the gauntlet for the Vols, but now they at least get a chance to catch their breath before resuming.