The Tennessee football team suffered their worst loss in program history on Saturday, falling 38-30 to a Georgia State team they were favored by more than 25 to beat.
Coming into the match up, the Vols had won 31-straight in games where they were favored by 15 or more points.
Tennessee struggled on all fronts in their season opener, as Georgia State’s option offense proved to be too much down the stretch for a defense that could not find consistency in their first outing.
Here are my grades for the Vols after week one:
There was plenty of optimism at this position after a promising 2018 season, but redshirt junior signal-caller Jarrett Guarantano showed more signs of regression than promise on Saturday.
Guarantano finished with over 300 yards passing, which included a touchdown toss to Marquez Callaway in the first quarter, but also made a couple of questionable throws, including two interceptions. The first was called back due to a defensive pass interference call, but the second came in a critical moment that all but sealed the game in the fourth quarter, down 35-23.
His second touchdown pass was thrown in the final seconds with the game out of reach.
A corner blitz in the fourth quarter also added Guarantano’s second turnover of the game on a fumble, but we’ll attribute that more to bad offensive line play.
The Vols run game got off to a shaky start, with a pass being thrown well behind the line of scrimmage being tipped by senior running back Ty Chandler into the hands of Georgia State’s defense and setting the Panthers up early.
Chandler went on to breathe a little life into the unit with a 31-yard touchdown run to give Tennessee a 14-7 lead late in the first quarter, and freshman Eric Gray ran hard in his seven carriers for 30 tough yards. But in all, the Vols rushing attack could only muster 133 total yards, 26 of which belonged to Guarantano.
But it wasn’t just the run game where the running backs struggled, they also missed on some key blocks that lead to sacks and QB hurries.
Wide Receiver/Tight End
Heading into the season, Tennessee’s receiving corps was supposed to be one of their strong suits. They showed only flashes on Saturday.
Senior wideouts Marquez Callaway and Jauan Jennings combined for 154 yards and a touchdown.
Senior tight end Dominic Wood-Anderson contributed with 79 yards, including a long pass and catch from Guarantano in the third quarter to set the Vols up deep in Georgia State territory.
Jennings’ yards were hard-earned and a large part were ate up after contact.
Tennessee’s passing attack became more limited as the game wore on when receivers were well covered, taking away their biggest threat.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Tennessee’s offensive line struggled.
Georgia State returned some talent along the defensive front and the Vols were forced to play a lot of bodies who had limited to no experience in a collegiate game.
The quarterback, wide receiver and running back grades can really come back to how the offensive line performed, which wasn’t enough to generate enough offense to win the game.
Guarantano was sacked four times for a loss of 36 yards, and the Panthers tallied six TFLs that set Tennessee back more than 40 yards.
No open holes, no time to throw the ball and no room to run obviously affected the play of the rest of the offense.
Defense is how Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt has made his name in college football, and that’s why it was a bit shocking that the Vols appeared lost at times on the defensive side of the ball.
Georgia State quarterback Dan Ellington and running back Tra Barnett burned Tennessee’s defensive line with their legs as the Panthers managed to rack up 213 yards on the ground and three touchdowns.
What was even more head-scratching was how many times the Vols defensive linemen were lined up wrong, even having two defensive ends on the same side at one point during the game.
Freshman Henry To’o To’o was one of the more hyped up players on the defense coming into the game and had a nice showing in his collegiate debut. To’o To’o tallied seven tackles, four of which were of the solo variety.
Still, the unit couldn’t find a way to stop Ellington and Barnett, who both scored at least once without even being touched by the linebackers.
It should be noted that senior leader Daniel Bituli was out with an injury so the Vols were missing a key piece at the position, but talent for talent, Tennessee should win those battles more often than not in this type of game. They didn’t.
Again, the Tennessee defensive backfield was missing 2018 Freshman All-American Bryce Thompson, but it should not have been that much of a factor.
The Vols still had players like Alontae Taylor and senior Nigel Warrior in the secondary and managed to give up two Georgia State passing touchdowns.
With a poor display from the defensive line and the linebackers, it was also up to the secondary to get on some tackles to help slow down the Panthers, but they contributed very little in that regard.
Here you go, Tennessee’s best group of the day next to the wide receivers.
The reason the Vols were in the game was due in large part to their kicking team, lead by Brent Cimaglia, who finished 3-of-3, including one from 48-yards to pull within one point in the second half.
Callaway also had a decent punt return, although he fumbled at the end of the run, but Tennessee luckily recovered it.
Outside of a few positions, the Vols look absolutely unprepared on Saturday.
Unprepared for the option, unprepared for Dan Ellington, unprepared on offense and defense, and all of that ultimately falls back on the guys paid (and paid well) to get them prepared.
There was a lot of attention paid to Jim Chaney’s offensive play-calling abilities, but in his defense, he had to try and work around the offensive line.
Defensive play-calling, however, is where the coaching grades will be affected the most. There was clear miscommunication throughout the game, especially on critical third downs which allowed Georgia State to take advantage.
How will Tennessee come back from a loss of this magnitude?
That’ll be the question among the program and those involved all week, but before they think of getting this turned around, the problems listed above are going to need to be fixed, and fast at every level.