It was an ugly afternoon inside Neyland Stadium. In fact, for the home team, it has to go somewhere on the short list of the worst afternoons in the history of a storied program. Here are four quick takes on a disaster.
1 — Oh my, that start — It would have been difficult to script a more unfortunate start to this game for Tennessee. With Neyland Stadium adorned with a checkerboard and a sold out crowd that was ready to explode behind the home team, the Vols came out and immediately sucked the life out of the stadium.
Quinten Dormady stared down his receiver and threw an interception on the first snap of the game, setting the tone for the disastrous afternoon that was to come. Georgia took over on the Vols’ 28-yard-line, in scoring position before they’d even run an offensive play.
The Vols’ defense rose up and held Georgia to a field goal on that possession, but they wouldn’t be able to hold up for long in a first half that saw them repeatedly put in awful spots.
On the Vols' first three drives of the game, they managed no first downs and a total of nine yards to go along with that interception.
By the time Georgia punched in its first touchdown of the game on a 12-yard pass from Jake Fromm to Javon Wimms for a 10-0 lead, the ‘Dawgs had all the points they would need on the day.
Tennessee was going to have to minimize mistakes today against Georgia’s defense if they were going to pull the upset. Clearly, they weren’t able to do that with three first half turnovers, two of which the Bulldogs turned into points.
2 —That offense… — Combined with last week’s performance against UMass it’s clear now that the Vols’ have some major issues on offense that probably aren’t fixable in the short term. For some perspective, today was the first time that Tennessee has been shut out since 1994 when Florida pulled the trick in a 34-0 win, a span of 23 years.
Sure, quarterback play is the most glaring of those issues and it’s going to get plenty of attention after a day when Dormady was 5-of-16 for 64 yards and two interceptions before getting benched, but there are problems on this offense that go beyond the quarterback.
It would appear now that last week’s struggles against UMass were about more than a ‘Florida’ hangover.
Dormady’s struggles today certainly handicapped the offense, but this is also an offensive line that hasn’t gelled yet and we’re almost halfway through the season. The Vols have been searching for answers at left guard and today Tennessee shuffled things around in an effort to address that. Brett Kendrick moved over to left guard and Marcus Tatum was inserted at right tackle.
That didn’t really seem to fix anything. Tennessee struggled to run the ball with any consistency, finishing the day with 62 yards on the ground and just 142 yards of total offense.
Toss in the fact that Jashon Robertson killed Tennessee’s best scoring chance of the day with a shotgun snap off his own butt that Georgia recovered, and it wasn’t exactly a banner day for the offensive front.
Lastly, it’s hard to know if the receivers are playing poorly or if they just have zero chance to make plays because of the quarterback play. They had few chances to make anything happen today.
Today, Tennessee had two—TWO—plays of over 10 yards. One was a 10-yard run from Carlin Fils-aime. The other was a 44-yard catch and run from John Kelly, at the end of which he fumbled the ball away, which pretty much summed up the Vols’ day.
Furthermore, the Vols have now gone six quarters without scoring a touchdown. Remarkable. In a bad way.
Larry Scott is going to catch plenty of heat after this performance, but frankly I really don’t know what he could do to fix things with the kind of play the Vols are getting out of key positions.
3 — Defense not the problem today — Tennessee’s defense didn’t cover itself in glory today to be sure, but compared to the offense, they were superb. The stop on the first series to hold Georgia to a field goal was solid, and despite being put in some horrible positions in the first half, they at least played good enough to keep the Vols within striking distance for most of the first two quarters.
Tennessee’s offensive ineptitude eventually caught up with the D though, Georgia found its stride in the ground game as the game wore on and the Vols seemed to lose some fight.
Early on I thought Bob Shoop had a nice plan. The Vols were aggressive, making liberal use of run blitzes and keeping big plays to a minimum. Tennessee looked like it did some things to confuse Jake Fromm a little early and got some pressure on the Bulldog’s true freshman.
I wouldn’t exactly call the defense’s play a silver lining today, but until things got out of hand they were easily the only thing that Tennessee fans had to feel good about. Which is a little strange to write after a 41-0 loss for the Vols. In my mind though, the offense was so bad that they never had a chance.
4 — What now? — Don’t count me as someone who thinks Tennessee is about to make a midseason coaching change, but it seems naive to think that it’s not at least in the realm of possibility.
The Vols could have easily lost the Georgia Tech game, and if that had happened, I think a drastic move of that nature might be in play. Certainly that might be true if UMass finds a way to score a fourth quarter touchdown last week.
Is Jones coaching for his job the rest of the way? I normally try to stay away from knee jerk reactions, but I think given what we’ve seen the last three weeks that might be the case. Losses to either South Carolina or Kentucky in the next four weeks could irreversibly turn the tide against him.
Jones talked last week about the ‘overwhelming negativity’ from the media regarding his program. Well, I’m guessing he’s not seen anything yet after falling 41-0 to a division rival in their second year under a new coach.
I think this is a good time for an open week because clearly the staff needs to go back to the drawing board and circle the wagons.
I don’t think Jarrett Guarantano is ready yet, but at this point in the season I think you have to make the change and ride with him. As noted above, the offense has problems outside the quarterback position, but five games in I just don’t think you’ve seen Dormady make any progress at the position and that should be alarming.
A first time starter should benefit greatly simply from the experience of finally getting game reps. We pretty clearly haven’t seen that.
Will that save the season? I have no idea but it at least it shows that you’re being proactive in searching for a solution.
This season has a real chance of going off the rails in October and taking Jones with it. This is about to be the most important open date of his Tennessee tenure.