Tennessee went on the road to Georgia and suffered its first loss of the season, falling to the No. 3 Bulldogs 44-21.
The Vols played a strong first half but couldn’t sustain it in the second half as Georgia’s defense dominated.
Here’s how the Vols graded out.
Jarrett Guarantano’s first half Saturday was likely the best of his career. The redshirt-senior signal caller went 11-of-13 throwing for 124 yards and two touchdowns.
Guarantano was even better in the first half than the numbers suggest. He threw a pair of beautiful fade routes to Josh Palmer for touchdowns including a 27-yard touchdown throw that was possibly the best of his career.
Guarantano also had a great feel for the pass rush, avoiding rushers and extending plays. That completely changed in what was a disastrous second half for the New Jersey native.
Guarantano was sacked five times in the second half, obviously not all his fault, but the third year starter fumbled on a pair of them, one of which was returned for a touchdown.
After not turning it over the first two weeks, Guarantano turned it over three times in the second half, including the first two drives of the second half while Tennessee was leading.
In the end, Guarantano totaled 215 yards passing on 23-of-36 passing.
Tennessee’s running backs weren’t able to get much of anything going Saturday against perhaps the nation’s best run defense.
Tennessee’s tailbacks Ty Chandler and Eric Gray each tallied eight carries with Chandler rushing for 11 yards and Gray going for 25.
There weren’t many running lanes open for the pair of running backs and neither are built to get the physical, tough yards between the tackles. The duo's longest run was an eight-yard carry from Gray.
Despite the struggles on the ground, Gray did make his mark in the passing game, catching a career high eight passes for 54 yards.
Receivers and tight ends
Tennessee’s receivers struggled to get separation all game long against a talented group of Georgia cornerbacks.
Josh Palmer led the group, hauling in a pair of long touchdown passes. The first of the two was an exceptional play and adjustment by Palmer who high pointed the ball over the defender. However, even Tennessee’s best receiver failed to create continuous separation as he hauled in four catches for 71 yards.
Fellow senior Brandon Johnson did some things well for Saturday too. Johnson caught just three catches for 28 yards but that included a first down catch he took a lick on and a third down catch short of the sticks where he made a man miss and got the first down.
Ramel Keyton also added two catches for 29 yards.
At tight end, both Jacob Warren and Princeton Fant combined for two catches and 14 yards.
It was a daunting task for Tennessee's receivers Saturday. The group was able to make some big plays but weren’t able to get consistent separation to help sustain drives.
Tennessee wasn’t shy about touting its offensive line, or “TVA”, ahead of a matchup with the best defensive front in the SEC. It backfired as Georgia dominated Tennessee’s offensive front all afternoon.
The Vols failed to establish a run game as their running backs averaged 2.25 yards per carry. Tennessee needed to run the ball better than that to leave Athens with an upset, but that wasn’t the biggest problem for the unit.
Georgia lived in Tennessee’s back field when the Vols were passing. Guarantano was able to effectively evade pass rushers in the first half, but that changed in the second.
Tennessee’s offensive line gave up five sacks as Georgia turned up its pressure, including some big hits on Guarantano.
Once the sacks were factored in, Tennessee ran for -1 yards in what was a dreadful day for the “Tennessee Valley Authority”.
The biggest bright spot for Tennessee’s defense was its defensive line and run defense which held Georgia in check Saturday.
Georgia’s three running backs averaged 3.9 yards per carry. That number drops to 3.2 yards per carry when you remove Kendall Milton’s 56 yards that came in the game's final minutes after the result had been decided.
Latrell Bumphus led the way for the group, recording five tackles including half of one for a loss.
Darrell Middleton played at the highest level he has this season as he continues to get in game shape. The senior recorded four tackles and two pass deflections. Middleton also got great push on the Vols’ fourth-and-goal stop right before the half.
Elijah Simmons and Matthew Butler also played well recording four tackles each.
Tennessee’s outside linebacker unit received a big blow early in the game as Deandre Johnson was ejected for targeting in the first quarter.
Johnson’s replacements stepped up and gave Tennessee solid play in the loss. Roman Harrison recorded his first sack of the season after being mostly nonexistent the first two weeks.
Freshmen Tyler Baron and Morven Joseph also earned a good amount of snaps with Baron recording five tackles and Joseph recording a tackle for loss.
On the other side, Kivon Bennett did some good things including recovering a fumble for a touchdown.
Tennessee’s pass rush could have been better though as the Vols got only one sack.
At inside linebacker, Henry To’o To’o was excellent recording a career-high 11 tackles including two for a loss.
Besides him Jeremy Banks and Quavaris Crouch continued to split time. Banks recorded eight tackles and Crouch recorded seven.
The Vols inside linebackers were good against the run but continued to get picked on in the passing game, specifically Banks and Crouch.
Tennessee’s secondary didn’t have a great day as Stetson Bennett completed 59% of his passes for 238 yards and two touchdown passes.
The unit also had a couple of unnecessary pass interferences. The first, gave Georgia a first down on a third-and-long despite the throw being way short of the sticks. The second was basically just a jump ball down the field where Alontae Taylor couldn’t find the ball and mauled the receiver. If Taylor could have found the ball it likely would have been an easy incompletion and possible interception,
Tennessee’s secondary also had a bust on a 21-yard Kearis Jackson touchdown that gave Georgia a two possession lead in the second half.
Safety Trevon Flowers was a bright spot, recording seven tackles and a pass breakup.
It was a mostly uneventful day for Tennessee’s special teams.
Brent Cimaglia didn’t have a field goal attempt though he did go 3-for-3 on extra points.
Paxton Brooks continues to look improved punting the ball this season. The senior averaged 47.2 yards on his six punts, including three he pinned inside Georgia’s 20-yard line and two over 50 yards.
Tennessee’s punt coverage was strong, but the Vols’ gave up a 42-yard return on Georgia’s lone kick return of the game.
Tennessee looked tight and nervous early in the game, making simple mistakes and committing five penalties for 50 yards in the first quarter.
Penalties would continue to be a struggle all night as the Vols would record a season high 10 penalties.
Tennessee also had to use two timeouts on two plays while on defense in the second half because they weren’t lined up right. It didn’t come back to bite Tennessee because Georgia pulled away but not having those two timeouts could have been costly in a close game late.
Lastly, Tennessee’s offense had no answers for Georgia’s halftime adjustments as the Vols tallied just 71 yards in the last 30 minutes.
Tennessee did some good things Saturday but they were overshadowed by the costly mistakes and second half implosion.
Saturday should be a good measuring stick for Tennessee compared to the top of the SEC east. The Vols have made a lot of improvements over the past year but they’re still not in the place where they can play close games while making an abundance of mistakes.
Tennessee has to be able to clean up the mistakes and play closer to mistake free football in these types of games going forward.