Only Tennessee could lose a game to a Georgia State team that won two games a season ago. It was a loss in which the Vols led in each quarter (except the last), gained more total yards, committed fewer penalties, and punted just once.
But those wins on the stat sheet don’t matter when you lose to a Sun Belt team that had never defeated a Power Five team until they visited Knoxville. It’s especially glaring when the team clearly didn’t play with effort, and there were mental mistakes all over the field.
After watching the game live and rewatching the game twice, these are my final takeaways from a historical 38-30 loss to Georgia State.
As if a member of the Vol Navy’s boat sinking before the game wasn’t enough, Tennessee was playing from behind right out of the gate against Georgia State.
Ty Chandler’s fumble on a swing pass out into the flat killed all of the momentum two plays into the game — if there was any excitement to begin the season to begin with. Although Jarrett Guarantano could have maybe taken some heat off of the pass, Chandler has to catch it. He simply took his eye off the ball, and that can’t happen.
As a result, Georgia State turned that turnover into six points hanks to defensive confusion and missed tackles. The first defensive possession for the Vols was a sign of things to come.
Tennessee responded with a nice scoring drive following the Chandler fumble. Eric Gray showed why he generated so much buzz during the offseason, and Guarantano made a great throw to Marquez Callaway – who also made a nice catch – for a touchdown to tie the game at 7-all.
Despite the Chandler turnover, it was a solid first quarter for the Vols. On the ground, Tennessee rushed for 66 yards on 12 carries, and Guarantano was 7-of-11 passing for 56 yards. Defensively, the Vols held Panthers quarterback Dan Ellington to 0-of-1 passing. Georgia State ran for just 16 yards on nine carries.
The second quarter is where Tennessee truly started to play sloppy, and one play was the turning point — the Nigel Warrior defensive pass interference call — which I don’t believe was a penalty.
Georgia State was facing a third-and-8, and though Warrior had a nice pass break-up, the referee decided it was pass interference. So instead of getting off the field on third down and forcing Georgia State to punt, the Panthers took advantage of the break and put together a 16-play scoring drive. Capped by a 17-yard touchdown pass from Ellington to Cornelius McCoy, the drive took off 6:32 of the second quarter clock and totaled 81 yards.
Tennessee got the ball back with 3:11 remaining in the half and had a chance to reclaim the lead after Georgia State tied it up. The play-calling was too conservative, though. Jim Chaney’s offense ran the ball on the first four plays of the possession — Chandler nearly fumbled it away on one run — before deciding to push the ball down the field through the air.
Chaney’s decision to begin the drive conservative was the difference between a field goal and a touchdown at half, as Brent Cimaglia’s 19-yard field goal was on second down with one second remaining. It also would have helped if Guarantano makes a more accurate pass to Josh Palmer in the back of the end zone.
The second quarter was when Tennessee really started to play sloppy, but it was the third quarter that really did the Vols in. Georgia State just came out and punched Tennessee square in the mouth. As they did in the Missouri and Vanderbilt games to end the 2018 season, the Vols just laid down.
Georgia State scored on a nine-play, 75-yard drive that lasted 4:38 to open the second half. The Panthers ran all over the Vols and threw all over them, too. With Georgia State controlling the ball, Tennessee had two possessions in the third quarter. On its first possession of the quarter, UT turned it over on downs. On the second possession, Brent Cimaglia made a 48-yard field goal to give Tennessee the lead.
Offensively in the quarter, Tennessee rushed for 12 yards on six carries and passed for 28 yards on 4-of-6 passing.
Despite Cimaglia giving the Vols the lead, the fourth quarter was the worst quarter of them all.
Deandre Johnson’s forced fumble at the beginning of the final quarter was the only inspiring play of the second half. It gave Tennessee the ball back, but the Vols proceeded to convert it into just three points despite a 54-yard completion to Dominick Wood-Anderson.
The next two drives for UT resulted in a forced fumble on a corner blitz that Guarantano and Brandon Kennedy didn’t recognize, and an interception in which Guarantano faced pressure up the middle and tried to force it to Wood-Anderson in triple-coverage.
By that point, Georgia State led 38-23 following a 22-yard rushing touchdown from Ellington and a 48-yard field goal from Brandon Wright. Everything following this point should be taken with a grain of salt, including Guarantano’s touchdown pass to Jauan Jennings, which came in garbage time.
In terms of analyzing the play of Tennessee’s starting quarterback, its a little more complicated than just looking at the box score. If you were to look at the stat sheet rather than watching the game, you’d assume Guarantano had an impressive outing. He threw for 311 yards and two touchdowns while completing 65 percent of his passes.
Now, Guarantano didn’t play as bad as people want to make it out to be. But he also didn’t have his best game. A lunch chunk of his passing yards came in garbage time (69 yards), and he made some very poor decisions. He also seemed indecisive because of the lack of protection and seemed to struggle with communication with the receivers.
By my tally, I deemed 14 of his passing attempts “bad throws.” The following were such.
- On 1st-and-10, an incomplete deep ball to Josh Palmer
- Overthrew Brandon Johnson on 2nd-and-4, though this appeared to be a miscommunication on Johnson’s part. Guarantano was looking for him to run a go-route, and Johnson simply didn’t run a defined route. Johnson was immediately pulled.
- Missed Callaway on 1st-and-10, though he was pressured
- Missed Callaway high on a deep ball towards the end of the half
- Incomplete to Gray
- Ball was tipped at the line of scrimmage as he was looking for Gray
- The interception that was called back due to defensive pass interference. This was the worst decision I’ve ever seen Guarantano make. Not only did he stare down the receiver, but he threw into a congested area of the field.
- Threw behind Palmer on 4th-and-3
- On a rollout, Guarantano missed Callaway because Austin Pope whiffed on a block.
- Tried to force to Dominick Wood-Anderson in triple coverage and threw an interception, though he was hit while throwing the football from a pressure up the middle.
- Tipped ball at the line of scrimmage
- Overthrew Jauan Jennings on a rollout on 4th-and-3. Only needed three yards to pick up the first down and keep the game alive, but instead, went for the big play.
- On the final possession, he overthrew Callaway on a deep pass.
In fairness to Guarantano, for as many bad decisions as he made, he was pressured on nearly every single one of his throws. Very rarely did he have a clean pocket to throw from. When he did have time, it was on quick throws or rollouts.
By my count, Guarantano was pressured on nearly half of his throws.
- On 3rd-and-8, Marcus Tatum missed his block, causing Guarantano to scramble.
- On 3rd-and-4, Ryan Johnson and Brandon Kennedy didn’t pick up a stunt, but Guarantano was able to find Wood-Anderson for a first down.
- On 1st-and-10, Chandler completely whiffed on his block, and Guarantano missed Callaway.
- On 2nd-and-7, Tatum once again missed his block.
- Smith whiffed on a stunt on his first snap of the season and as a result, Guarantano threw an incomplete pass to Wood-Anderson, though it should have been caught.
- On 2nd-and-10, Guarantano should have slid the protection to the right. He completed a pass to Jennings despite being pressured.
- On 1st-and-10, Darnell Wright missed a block, but Guarantano still completed a pass to Jennings.
- Guarantano finds Jennings for 15 yards despite Ryan Johnson failing to recognize a stunt.
- On Guarantano’s interception that was called back due to pass interference, Wright missed his block, creating pressure for Guarantano to deal with.
- Tatum was beat, and Guarantano faced pressure on an incompletion.
- Guarantano rolled out and was unsuccessful connecting with Callaway as Pope missed his block.
- Tatum missed, causing Guarantano to scramble.
- Guarantano didn’t see the corner blitz, was sacked, and fumbled.
- Guarantano was sacked because Gray was unsuccessful in pass protection.
- He was sacked because he held on to the ball too long.
Guarantano did have a great deal of good throws, however. By my definition of a “good throw,” 28 of his 40 pass attempts were good. When he had a clean pocket, he was money, completing 17-of-21 pass attempts. That was good for 194 yards and a touchdown — the touchdown pass to Callaway came from a clean pocket.
It was a different story when Guarantano was pressured. He was just 9-of-16 for 117 yards and a touchdown — his last-second touchdown to Jennings came under pressure.
With five-man protections, Guarantano was 17-of-24 for 219 yards and a touchdown. Behind a six-man protection, he was 4-of-7 for 29 yards. He was also 4-of-7 with a seven-man protection, though he threw for more yards (58). With an eight-man protection — two tight ends, one running back — Guarantano was 1-of-2 for eight yards and a touchdown. His touchdown pass to Callaway was behind an eight-man protection, while his touchdown to Jennings was with a five-man protection.
When throwing on third down, Guarantano was a perfect 6-of-6 for 88 yards. He picked up a first down on four of his six third down pass attempts. On fourth down, Guarantano was 0-for-2.
Guarantano was in the shotgun 52 plays, under center on 17 plays, and in the pistol twice. Tennessee ran two-tight end sets 15 times and worked with one tight end 51 times.
Rushing the Football
In terms of running the football, Guarantano was fairly successful taking off and gaining some yards. When protection broke down, he picked up gains of eight, four, one, five, and seven yards.
The jumbo package was used four different times and was successful on three different occasions. Guarantano, Tim Jordan, and Ramel Keyton all had conversions out of the package, while a Guarantano sneak was stopped once.
On the first three jumbo packages, the lineup from left to right was Jerome Carvin, Jahmir Johnson, Trey Smith, Brandon Kennedy, Riley Locklear, Darnell Wright, and Marcus Tatum. The fourth time the package was used, the lineup consisted of Andrew Craig, J. Johnson, Morris, Kennedy, Locklear, Wright. and Austin Pope.
While the offensive line was able to generate a push during most of the jumbo packages, they had a rough day on simple runs overall. I deemed just 14 runs “successful” from Saturday’s game. Most of the running backs’ yards came after contact rather than before contact. The big issue with Chandler, Gray, and Jordan was their performance in pass protection. It was abysmal.
These were the following mistakes I saw from the offensive line in the run game:
- Jordan rushed for two as Ryan Johnson and Morris whiffed.
- Jordan rushed for four on 2nd-and-12, but Locklear didn’t climb to the next level.
- Kennedy was beat, forcing Gray to bounce to gain six yards.
- Kennedy was beat again, limiting Gray to a 3-yard gain.
- Locklear missed his block while pulling, and Pope missed on the lead-block from the fullback position as Chandler gained just one yard.
- Gray picked up six yards after spinning out of a tackle because Smith and J. Johnson missed.
- In jumbo package on 3rd-and-1, the offensive line got no push.
- On 1st-and-10 with 3:11 to go in the second quarter, Carvin missed his block, though Gray rushed for seven yards.
- On Chandler’s second fumble, Kennedy and Carvin missed their block.
- Wright missed his block on a 2-yard rush from Jordan
- On Gray’s no gain, Wright was manhandled, and Morris was in no-man’s land.
- On Gray’s 2-yard rush, nobody generated a push.
- J. Johnson missed his block on a 5-yard rush from Gray.
In terms of offensive line reps, Kennedy played nearly every snap. Smith played around 40, Morris played over 30, Wright played around 25, J. Johnson played over 40, R. Johnson was over 30, Tatum played nearly 45, Locklear played near 60, and Carvin played just over 10 snaps. Pruitt mentioned he wanted to play 8-10 guys along the offensive line, and he played nine.
When the game was on the line, however, it was J. Johnson at left tackle, Smith at left guard, Kennedy at center, Locklear at right guard, and Tatum at right tackle.
Tennessee gave up four sacks on the afternoon. Three of them were on a five-man protection, while one came on a seven-man protection. Here’s what went wrong on the four sacks, with three of them coming in the fourth quarter:
- Morris didn’t recognize a blitzing linebacker and allowed him to sack Guarantano untouched.
- Guarantano was sacked on a corner blitz in which he or Kennedy didn’t recognize, and as a result, Guarantano fumbled the football. Georgia State recovered.
- Eric Gray, who struggled in pass protection, was just bull-rushed and couldn’t stand his ground, allowing Guarantano to be sacked.
- Guarantano simply held on to the ball too long on his final sack.
Mass Confusion on Defense
The defense turned in an abysmal performance on Saturday. It was a performance that even Sal Sunseri would be disgusted with.
I counted 19 missed tackles from the Tennessee defense as it failed to stop the Georgia State rushing attack on nearly half of its 53 attempts. Setting the edge was a clear issue, as was generating any pressure. The Panthers had a clean pocket on half of their pass attempts.
By my count, Tennessee primarily used a four and five-man pass-rush. The Vols brought four pass-rushers 45 times, while they brought a five-man pass-rush 30 times. I did not see a situation in which Tennessee rushed more than five.
The theme for the defense against Georgia State was mental mistakes. These were the mistakes that stood out to me the most:
- On 3rd-and-2 with 12:16 remaining in the first quarter, Tennessee had to call a timeout because of confusion on its own 4-yard line. Based off the TV camera, it appeared Pruitt was upset with how Shawn Shamburger was lined up.
- On 3rd-and-1o with 8:40 remaining in the second quarter, Tennessee had three pass-rushers lined up on one side of the field, ready to rush the quarterback. As a result, there was a monumental gap up the middle of the field. Darrell Taylor would pressure the quarterback, but Ellington spun out and picked up nine yards to gain the first down.
- On Barnett’s 19-yard touchdown with 8:56 remaining in the game, Deandre Johnson was late getting on the field, and the defense had no clue what to do. Trevon Flowers guessed the run play was coming through the wrong gap, and Barnett scampered freely to the end zone.
At linebacker, Henry To’oto’o impressed, tallying seven tackles. According to Pro Football Focus, three of his seven tackles ended a Georgia State drive. To’oto’o did not miss a tackle. PFF also declared through their grades that Jeremy Banks, Shannon Reid, and Will Ignont all graded out with some of the lowest grades on the team.
Warren Burrell was thrown at seven times. He allowed three completions for 43 yards, a touchdown, and two first downs.
- I thought it was interesting that on the broadcast, Ryan Leaf mentioned that the plan for Trey Smith was to play 30 snaps. Smith ended up playing around 40 snaps. Leaf also mentioned that Pruitt said during the broadcast meeting that there was no doubt about the offense being ahead of the defense.
- Leaf also mentioned that Pruitt said To’oto’o was good enough to start at Alabama.
- Kurott Garland and Savion Williams were quickly put into the game — the second drive of the game to be exact. I was stunned to see Garland out there so much compared to others after he missed nearly all of fall camp because he was in the transfer portal.
- Shawn Shamburger did a great job of timing his corner blitz, which resulted in a sack.
- Smith and Jahmir Johnson entered on the third drive.
- The inside linebackers did a terrible job of lining up defensively.
- Every time I noticed Quavaris Crouch in the game, it was in pass-rush situations.
- I was surprised by how little Jim Chaney and Guarantano tried to push the ball down the field via the deep ball.
- Tennessee was simply lazy in everything it did — particularly on defense. Zero effort.
- Brent Cimaglia was money and should prove to be a very key weapon in close football games this fall.
- Pruitt said following the game that his defense prepared for the option in practice leading up to the game, but it sure didn’t look like it. The linebackers had no clue where the ball was nearly every time.
- Why Tennessee continued to roll out two-high safeties while struggling against the run is beyond me.
- The performance was pathetic — especially the effort displayed.