The game started with some excitement, but it ended with a fizzle.
Tennessee came out with energy and passion against No. 3 Georgia on Saturday night in front of 92,000-plus fans in Neyland Stadium. The Vols got punched in the mouth, took it, and punched back.
The Vols tied up the game 7-all on a 73-yard touchdown pass from true freshman quarterback Brian Maurer to senior receiver Marquez Callaway, and Tennessee would grab a 14-10 lead to begin the second quarter after Maurer found Jauan Jennings in the end zone for a 12-yard score. Tennessee would hold a lead against the Bulldogs for nearly the remainder of the quarter, but Georgia would end up taking a 26-14 lead into halftime.
After that, things got ugly.
Tennessee would never score again, and Georgia relied on their superior talent to come away with a 43-14 victory over the Vols in Knoxville.
Here are our five biggest takeaways from the Vols’ loss to the Bulldogs.
Showing Fight Early
Tennessee got off to an explosive start against Georgia and put a scare into the Bulldogs early.
After Georgia took a 7-0 lead on their first offensive possession of the game, Tennessee responded with a 73-yard touchdown pass from Brian Maurer to Marquez Callaway. But that wasn’t all the Vols would do in the first half.
The Bulldogs pulled back ahead 10-7 on a field goal, but Tennessee would grab a lead on their next possession. Maurer found Jauan Jennings on a 12-yard pass for a touchdown, giving UT a 14-10 lead. The Vols would hold a 14-13 lead after a Georgia field goal on their next possession, and Tennessee wouldn’t trail again until Jake From connected with Lawrence Cager on a 3-yard touchdown with two minutes to go in the first half.
Georgia wound up taking a 26-14 lead into halftime, but Tennessee’s offense looked much more potent than it had at any point this season against FBS competition, and the defense played better than expected as well.
Ultimately, that strong start couldn’t hold into the second half, but the Vols looked like a capable SEC team for the first time all season on Saturday.
The Freshman Debut
Brian Maurer made his first career start at quarterback for the Vols on Saturday night. After a blistering start, he slowed down and ended up not finishing the game on the field.
Maurer was 10-of-17 for 205 yards and two touchdowns late in the second quarter, but he ended the first half with four-straight incompletions. That would carry over into the second half, too.
The true freshman had a brutal third quarter of play, completing just one of three passes, and that pass was for no-gain to Jauan Jennings. Maurer got sacked twice and also threw an interception all in the third quarter.
Maurer ended up getting benched, but it didn’t look like it was because of his play on the field.
Jarrett Guarantano came in for one play after Maurer was shaken up, and he completed a 14-yard pass. Maurer re-entered, but then he threw an interception. Guarantano would replace Maurer again on Tennessee’s next drive, running for nine yards on a third-and-20. But Maurer would come back in for the fourth quarter, and he picked up some momentum again before getting destroyed on a sack. He fumbled the ball on that sack, and Georgia recovered it and returned it for a touchdown.
Maurer came out after that play and looked woozy on the sideline. He would not return.
All in all, the true freshman finished his first career start completing 14 of his 28 pass attempts for 259 yards, two touchdowns, an interception, and a fumble.
No Pass Rush…Again
Georgia’s offensive line is arguably the best in college football, and Tennessee’s defensive line has struggled all season. That match-up couldn’t have been more lopsided coming in, and it went about how everyone expected it.
Jake Fromm repeatedly had all day to throw, and he picked apart Tennessee’s defense. The star Georgia quarterback finished 24-of-29 for 288 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions. He wasn’t sacked on the night, and the Vols didn’t even have a defender credited with a quarterback hurry the entire game.
Fromm has still yet to throw an interception this season, and he’s only been sacked one time through five games.
On the run defense side of things, Tennessee’s defensive line wasn’t much better. The Bulldogs ran for 238 yards as a team, averaging 5.8 yards per carry. The Vols totaled two tackles for loss the entire game.
After that energized start to the game, Tennessee just got manhandled by Georgia in the second half.
It was evident from the start of the game that Georgia was the more talented and deeper team, but the Vols did enough in the first half to keep the Bulldogs off balance and keep the game close. But Georgia’s depth and premier talent made itself known after halftime.
After gaining a total of 239 yards of offense and averaging 7.7 yards per play on offense in the first half, Tennessee managed a paltry 104 yards of offense and only 3.4 yards a play in the second half. A lot of that came in the fourth quarter after the game was out of hand, though. Tennessee managed all of 15 yards of offense in the third quarter.
Not only were the Vols stymied on offense, but they coughed the ball up, too. Tennessee went the whole first half without a turnover, but they gave the ball away twice in the second half. Maurer threw an interception on a deep pass intended for Josh Palmer, and later he was hit hard, stripped, and Georgia returned the fumble 60 yards for a touchdown to make the score 43-14.
Tennessee held tight for two quarters against a much more talented team, but that talent and that depth eventually took over in the second half. After grabbing a 14-10 lead, Georgia scored 33 unanswered points to walk away with the victory.
Is There New Hope?
Tennessee didn’t pull off the upset, but they played much better and gave Georgia a lot more of a fight than almost anyone expected them to. Even with the big drop-off in the second half, does Saturday night’s performance give Vol fans (and the team) more hope moving forward?
Aside from a contest against No. 1 Alabama and a tough match-up with an improving Missouri football team, the rest of Tennessee’s 2019 schedule is full of winnable games, starting with next weekend’s game against Mississippi State.
Despite the loss, it was clear Tennessee looked better against Georgia than they have for most of the season prior to Saturday’s game. Now it’s time to see if the Vols can carry that over to next week and moving forward.