Tennessee Game Grades Georgia Tech Edition
Tennessee opened the 2017 campaign the same way they opened 2016 — with an overtime win in a nationally featured contest. While the games were different, some of the same questions linger. We’ll look at some of those questions and, as we do after each game, grade each Tennessee position group in Tennessee Game Grades Georgia Tech edition.
Much of the story of this game will be Georgia Tech. They ran the triple-option offense nearly to perfection. Their two turnovers were clearly the difference in the game. And the decision to go for two at the end of the second overtime was both fateful and curious.
Tennessee Game Grades Georgia Tech Edition
Tennessee’s offense started slow, but managed to get into gear in the second half. Three of the four units struggled at times, with John Kelly being the most consistent performer tonight by a wide margin. When the four units played together, however, the offense started moving methodically and with a clear rhythm. Tennessee’s slow start almost cost them, as Georgia Tech is a team you need to jump on early.
Offensive Stat of the Game: Zero Offensive Turnovers.
There’s no doubt that Quinten Dormady started the game nervous. Dormady’s first half included missed reads, poorly thrown passes, and two critical dropped balls. Dormady was able to recover in the second half for a decent game stat line of 20-for-37, 221 yards, 2 TDs and 0 INT. Even with that pedestrian stat line, much of Dormady’s success (as well as many of his incompletions) can be attributed to the receivers. Dormady did just enough to win the game. The most noticeable quarterback performance of the evening was Jarrett Guarantano’s disinterested demeanor on the side line.
Running Backs: A
John Kelly was able to display the power running and toughness that Vols fans love. But he wasn’t able to show much elusiveness. That was about the only negative to Kelly’s night. Kelly produced four of the Vols touchdowns. As with the quarterback, the most compelling aspect of the night wasn’t the play on the field. Kelly had every Tennessee carry by a running back except for one on the evening. Tennessee will have to find a trusted RB2 to spell Kelly throughout this season if they want to continue to get “A” quality work from this position.
Other than Marquez Callaway, the receivers had a failing grade on the evening. There were several drops early in the game — two by Jauan Jennings and one by Ethan Wolf — that could have lead to first downs in the first half. Convert on those passes, and you could see Dormady get into rhythm earlier. You could also have avoided the Georgia Tech time of possession monster. Only Callaway’s efforts, including a 50-yard run after catch score, a leaping David Tyree-esque fourth quarter grab, and jump ball touchdown catch, salvaged an otherwise rough night for this group.
Offensive Line: C
They looked a lot like the 2016 version this evening. The one bright spot was true freshman Trey Smith. The youngster was moving Yellow Jacket defenders all over the line of scrimmage. While the zone run blocking was fairly good throughout the night, the pass protection early was non-existent. That did get better later in the game. Something to watch going forward was Jashon Robertson’s snapping. On multiple occasions the snaps looked off or erratic. He’s new to the position, but that’s got to be automatic for an offense that depends so much on rhythm.
You certainly don’t want to discount the efficiency with which Georgia Tech executed the triple option tonight. But you cannot give up a record 535 yards of rushing. It’s not like Georgia Tech is one of the top teams in the nation. The defense looked passive at times and lacked energy for most of the game. And the back-end breakdowns almost sealed the deal for a Yellow Jacket win.
Defensive Stat of the Game: No Question: Georgia Tech’s 41:27 to 18:33 Time of Possession Advantage
Defensive Line: C-
There’s reason the line played a whole yard off the line of scrimmage. You can react and it reduces the effectiveness of cut blocking. But Georgia Tech’s offensive line took advantage of that and established forward momentum that allowed them to move the line of scrimmage three yards every play. Great individual effort was the only reason the Vols had any negative plays this evening. The ends Kongbo and Taylor played well at times. And they were certainly more effective than the tackles. The scheme hurt them, however.
The first two series looked great for the linebackers, especially Colton Jumper. But Georgia Tech adjusted with a heavy dose of counter plays, exposing Jumper’s lateral speed. particularly in the second half, the linebackers were unable to get off downfield or outside blocks. The triple option is hardest for this group. And they got very little help up front or on the outside from the defensive backs. The absence of Darren Kirkland, Jr. was evident.
Defensive Backs: D
If you’re going to let Georgia Tech run for over 500 yards, you better be sure you shut down the passing attack. Justin Martin came out flat and Tennessee’s secondary gave up several critical deep balls. Only Nigel Warrior was able to produce a big stop in the second half. It’s unfair to judge Charlton Warren after this game, although the technique did look a little better. Run defense support wasn’t very good, either. If the Yellow Jackets made it to the corner, they usually turned the run into a first down.
Special Teams: A+
Evan Berry is an absolute weapon as a kickoff returner. And Trevor Daniel had a 70-yard punt in the first half. The Vols special teams repeatedly earned them good field position. The offense simply wasn’t able to take advantage. And the defense couldn’t keep the Yellow Jackets bottled up. Especially in the first half.
This unit is probably the reason Tennessee was able to hang in the game. It will continue to be a difference maker if the other two units don’t make strides quickly.
Tennessee, much like opening weekend last season, just didn’t look energized to start the season. That’s on the coaches. And there’s clear evidence of discontent in the quarterback room. The offensive play calling was well balanced. The struggles on that side were more about execution.
But on the defensive side, there were coaching decisions that were questionable. Having offside safety and corner responsibility for deep halfs and lining the defensive line up so far off the ball brief well in the meeting room. But they sometimes don’t quit pan out well on the field. The defense, after being gashed by Kentucky, Missouri, and Vanderbilt late last season, didn’t fare well against the rush tonight either.
It’s a win against a quality opponent that played very well. Tennessee will take it. And there’s plenty to work on. The good news is the Vols have the triple option out of the way and Indiana State headed to town. The bad news is there’s plenty to work on.
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