UT vs. Georgia State University

Tennessee linebacker Will Ignont (23) celebrates after a Georgia State fumble in the third quarter on Saturday. The Vols lost, 38-30. 

As of 8 p.m. Saturday, four Power Five teams had lost to Group of Five teams on the opening weekend of college football.

The Tennessee football team became one of them, losing in historic fashion to the visiting Georgia State Panthers in arguably their worst loss in program history.

The Vols (0-1) struggled to generate offense and had no answer for Georgia State quarterback Dan Ellington and the Panther’s option offense that carved them up in the second half.

Here are the takeaways from the loss:

Third Down, then what?

The killer for the Tennessee defense came on third down.

The Panthers were able to converted 10 of 17 third downs in the game, keeping the Vols on the field and extended drives while burning up valuable clock.

“We obviously didn’t have the guys ready to play in that package on third down,” Pruitt said following the game. “We let Georgia State convert some third downs there. Third down, getting off the field, killed us today.”

With Tennessee leading 23-21, Georgia State was able to march downfield early in the fourth quarter and take the lead on a 19-yard Tra Barnett run on third and one to go up 28-23.

“We had some mental errors on defense,” Pruitt said. “We have to be able to execute at a high level. We weren’t far away, but we weren’t where we needed to be. We know we got this guy ‘man-to-man,’ but maybe the alignment was not exactly right. That comes back to me.”

Defending the Option

That subhead can be deceiving because the Vols seemingly could not do just that.

Tennessee struggled all day to find an answer to Georgia State’s option, and paid for it on more than a few occasions.

Between Ellington and the Panthers’ rushing attack, the Vols gave up more than 210 yards on the ground.

Despite the coaching staff putting in emphasis on covering the option in the weeks leading up to the game, it Georgia State’s approach to it that was too difficult.

“We run option drills everyday,” Pruitt said. “To me, the zone read didn’t hurt us as bad as the insert. They were creating an extra gap. It’s always an emphasis because it’s what the college game has become. Everybody’s got running quarterbacks. You have to be prepared for it.”

Special teams lone bright spot

Coming in, Pruitt was pleased with the way the Vols’ special teams unit performed in fall camp, particularly in the kicking game.

Junior kicker Brent Cimaglia finished 3-for-3 on field goals, even notching a second career long with a 48-yard boot that pulled Tennessee within one, 21-20 late in the third quarter.

“I thought one positive in the game was our special teams,” Pruitt said. “We got a little bit going there, our kickers kicked the ball well.”

Cimaglia also finished 3-for-3 on extra points, bringing his career total to 37-of-37 all-time. 

Up Next

Both Tennessee and BYU will be looking for their first win of the season when they meet in on Sept. 7 at Neyland Stadium. The Cougars fell to No. 16 Utah on Thursday, 30-12.

The game is set to kickoff under the lights at 7:00 p.m. on ESPN.

“We obviously didn’t have the guys ready to play in that package on third down,” Pruitt said following the game. “We let Georgia State convert some third downs there. Third down, getting off the field, killed us today.”

With Tennessee leading 23-21, Georgia State was able to march downfield early in the fourth quarter and take the lead on a 19-yard Tra Barnett run on third and one to go up 28-23.

“We had some mental errors on defense,” Pruitt said. “We have to be able to execute at a high level. We weren’t far away, but we weren’t where we needed to be. We know we got this guy ‘man-to-man,’ but maybe the alignment wasn't right. Again, that comes back on me."

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