The Tennessee Volunteers fell to 1-4 after a 43-14 loss to their rival Georgia Bulldogs. The Vols entered Saturday’s game as heavy underdogs to the third ranked Bulldogs. Tennessee managed to put up a fight for much of the first half. The Vols actually led 14-13 with less than two minutes to go in the first half, before Georgia took the lead and never looked back. Despite a 29-point loss, the game was within reach until late in the fourth quarter when turnovers put the game away.
Takeaways from Tennessee – Georgia
True freshman Brian Maurer started his first game for the Vols. Many, including Tennessee fans, thought that Coach Jeremy Pruitt had made a mistake by throwing Maurer to the dogs against one of the top defenses in the country. However, Maurer caught everyone by surprise and ignited a Tennessee offense that has struggled mightily in recent weeks. The freshman ended the first half with 205 passing yards and two touchdowns including a 73-yard bomb to senior Marquez Callaway that was also Maurer’s first career completion.
His second-half performance was less than stellar as he passed for just 54 yards and had two turnovers. His performance and ability to lead the offense was a welcomed sight after Jarrett Guarantano struggled through his four starts to open the season. The freshman will continue to improve as he sees additional playing time. During the post-game interview, Jeremy Pruitt said that he was impressed with Maurer’s play but that the quarterback had “8-15” plays that he can learn and grow from. Pruitt did not name Maurer the starter next week against Mississippi State but the freshman certainly earned his second career start.
Related Article: Tennessee’s All-Time Offense (Click Here to View)
Tennessee’s Dynamic Duo
Seniors Marquez Callaway and Jauan Jennings made Maurer’s night a lot easier. Callaway ended the night with three catches for 105 yards and a touchdown. The only downside to the numbers was that they all came in the first half. Callaway was on the receiving end of the 73 yard touchdown that ignited the Vols and their fan-filled stadium. Fellow receiver Jauan Jennings ended the night with seven receptions, 114 yards and a touchdown. As always, Jennings was clearly the emotional leader for the Vols but his play-making skills were the highlight of his night. Callaway and Jennings were the first receiving duo to reach 100 yards in the same game since Cordarrelle Patterson and Justin Hunter against Troy in 2012.
The Second Half
To the surprise of many, Tennessee had a very impressive first half against Georgia. However, the success didn’t carry into the second half. Both sides of the ball struggled against the Bulldogs. The Volunteer offense looked like a completely different team after halftime. A lot of the credit should go to Georgia for the halftime adjustments but Tennessee showed that they still have not found a way to play four quarters of complete football.
The defense seemed tired and slow throughout the second half after containing Jake Fromm and D’Andre Swift for most of the first two quarters. If the Vols find a way to play four quarters like they did the first two then their season could see a turnaround and possibly a bowl game. The problem with that is that it has been a problem the first five games and there doesn’t seem to be any indication of that changing.
Part of Tennessee’s issue with playing four quality quarters is their lack of depth throughout the roster. The biggest glare is the defensive line and linebacker groups. When facing a physical offense that runs the ball effectively, like Georgia, it is nearly essential to have quality defensive lineman to sub in-and-out. The line, as a whole, lacks quality playing time. The line has very few players that have proven they can play consistently against SEC opponents.
The linebackers may be one of the most talented groups on Tennessee’s entire football team. Senior Daniel Bituli and freshman Henry To’oto’o have been the anchors of the defense thus far. Highly touted freshman Quavaris Crouch has also seen quality playing time in recent weeks and has shown good potential. Transfer Aubrey Solomon left Saturday’s game with an injury and the defense immediately struggled to stop Georgia’s run game as the Bulldogs rushed for 238 yards. If Pruitt and DC Derrick Ansley can recruit talented players to join a defense that already has enormous potential then things could get fun in Knoxville.
Related Article: Tennessee’s All-Time Defense (Click Here to View)
Tennessee came out swinging against Georgia and put on a show for the 93,000 fans in attendance. There were many bright spots in Tennessee’s performance, especially Brian Maurer’s first start. However, their performance was far from good. Despite impressive stats, Maurer showed that he was a freshman and will have plenty of film to improve on. Tennessee must find a way to get quality reps out of their starters and subs in order to be competitive in SEC play. Overall, their performance was a major improvement from previous weeks. But they are far from where the coaches, players and fans expect the program to be.
Tennessee host the Mississippi State Bulldogs in Neyland next week. The Volunteers of the week as a 6.5 point underdog in Neyland Stadium. Brian Maurer will likely get his second start as the Vols look to get their second win of the season. A win is almost a must if Tennessee wants to make a bowl game in 2019.