Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports
The pregame atmosphere was electric.
‘Checker Neyland’ was executed flawlessly and the Smokey Grey uniforms soaked up the gorgeous East Tennessee sunshine. Peyton Manning, several other notable VFLs and a ton of top recruits were in the house.
But then the Vols exited the locker room and proceeded to pull a Charlie Brown and fall flat on their face.
Time and again.
Tennessee opened the game against Georgia with an interception on the first snap from scrimmage and things only got worse from there. There was a butt-fumble and a blocked punt off a Georgia player's facemark.
By the end, Saturday was one of the darkest days ever for a storied program, losing 41-0 to the Bulldogs and only ramping up the heat on Tennessee’s head coach. It was Tennessee's worst loss ever in Neyland Stadium.
“There’s no excuses,” fifth-year coach Butch Jones said afterward. “There’s no hiding behind it.”
After scoring just 17 points last week in a listless effort against UMass, Tennessee was shutout for the first time in 23 years — and the first-ever scoreless game for Jones as a head coach. The Vols (3-2) were anemic offensively, gaining just seven first downs to four turnovers. They averaged less than 2.3 yards per carry and went 1-of-12 on third downs. They had two plays all game over 10 yards.
“That was as bad as an offensive performance as I've ever been part of, and it's inexcusable," Jones said. "We never established any rhythm. We did not establish any tempo.”
The Vols defense played valiantly for a quarter before their old issues — explosive plays and stopping the run — reared their ugly heads again.
Jones, as well as several players, talked candidly about needed to move forward from Saturday's game, but the scariest part for the Vols? They didn’t see the performance coming.
"I thought we had a good week of preparation," Jones said. "I thought our kids were ready to play. I think it's a accumulation effect, when you have opportunities to make plays relatively early in the game and you don't, I think you lose those opportunities."
The Vols had chances early in the game to make plays, but receivers dropped 50-50 balls and the defense squandered turnover opportunities. By midway through the second quarter, Georgia started running the ball down hill and Tennessee never recovered.
“We had some opportunities for some big plays on offense that we didn’t,” Jones said. “We dropped a couple of interceptions.”
The game definitely “snowballed” on Tennessee in the second quarter, as Georgia scored two touchdowns on Jake Fromm runs and the Vols wasted an interception with a fumble.
By then the game was effectively over, and very likely, Tennessee's chances in the SEC East race. For now, the bye week couldn't come at a better time.
“This week is going to show a lot about everybody’s character and what type of men we have in that locker room," senior defensive tackle Kendal Vickers said.
"We’ve got guys that are going to go and look at the film and look at their identity on film and come in this next week and work. It’s not an off week, it’s a work week. We got to learn from our mistakes. We have to get better. That includes everybody, including me.”