They aren’t what we thought they were. The Tennessee Volunteers came into the 2017 season with lesser expectations than the previous two seasons, but were still expected to contend for the SEC East Championship. Saturday’s loss to Georgia (5-0, 2-0) puts an end to any realistic hope of any meaningful competition for the remainder of the season.
It brings to a merciful end a disastrous September. The Vols needed overtime to overcome Georgia Tech and their triple option attack. Florida struck with a 58-yard touchdown pass to win on the final play. And a listless performance against winless Massachusetts last week was simply a harbinger of things to come one week later.
Tennessee Game Grades Georgia Edition
With all of the offensive struggles this season, it’s a bold statement to say that the first half against Georgia was the worst half of football all season. Quinten Dormady‘s three turnovers set the tone for the Volunteers, who couldn’t take advantage of two good defensive stands and a turnover deep in Georgia territory.
That was the biggest story of the day. Dormady threw an interception on the first play of the game. The defense managed a turnover deep in Georgia territory and then had a butt-fumble. And on the opening drive of the second half, after stopping Georgia, John Kelly fumbled after a 44-yard run after a catch. The turnovers absolutely prevented Tennessee’s offensive from gaining any momentum whatsoever.
Offensive Stat of the Game: 4 Turnovers.
Quinten Dormady was 3-12 for 11 yards passing in the first half. Yet, he still got the call to start the second half. Dormady clearly has talent, but he hasn’t moved the Vols offense effectively over an extended period of time (more than one quarter) yet this season. At some point, you have go to Jarrett Guarantano and see what he can do with the offense.
That’s not to say that he didn’t have chances. Dormady had two poor underthrown balls to receivers that were open deep. Dormady threw into triple coverage at least three times. He didn’t keep the ball on the read option one time. There was a play late in the third quarter where Georgia had eight defenders inside of the off-side guard at the read-exchange. Dormady still handed it to Kelly, who lost two yards on the play. In comparison, Jake Fromm had a rushing touchdown and at least two first down runs from a pro-style set.
For all of his talent, it’s just not working out. And this, on the day Peyton Manning is honored at halftime for his induction into the College Football Hall of Fame.
Guarantano finally entered in the fourth quarter. He didn’t fare any better. No big runs. Just a couple of short pass completions.
Running Backs: C+
When you don’t have passing attack, it’s hard to do anything on the ground. Tennessee couldn’t muster much on the ground. That’s after playing from behind for three quarters of the game. John Kelly still displays toughness. Carlin Fils-Aime and Ty Chandler are capable back-ups.
Again, with Dormady’s inconsistent play, there wasn’t much the receivers could do. You would like to see Brandon Johnson and Marquez Callaway go up and make plays on the two deep balls, but both were severally underthrown. Jeff George was the only receiver to record a reception until five minutes to go in the game. Ethan Wolf had a rough day in the run-block category as well.
Offensive Line: C
Jashon Robertson had a tough day. We’ve talked about the inconsistency of snaps in previous Games Grades, particularly against Georgia Tech and Florida (which wasn’t Robertson). Robertson’s butt fumble in the second quarter was the turning point of the game. Marcus Tatum got the start at right tackle, and had some glimpses of success. Overall, however, he struggled in both the run-blocking and pass protection. Offensive coordinator did go to a more pro-style scheme. This allowed the offensive line to fire off the ball, and they looked better. It’s important to remember that this Georgia defense is really, really good.
Yes, Georgia scored 41 points against Tennessee’s defense. Its awfully hard for a defense to stop a Top 10 team when the offense can’t do anything. Tennessee defensive coordinator Bob Shoop came out aggressive, and it was largely successful in the first quarter. But constant ineptitude from the offense and special teams put the defense in a tough position.
Jim Chaney, formerly of Tennessee, used Shoop’s aggressiveness against him starting in the second period. Chaney clearly won the chess match between the two coordinators. You could see the energy and the fight slowly dissipate from the defense.
Defensive Stat of the Game: 294 yards rushing for Georgia.
Defensive Line: C-
The defensive line were up-and-down all game. In spurts, they were able to shut down Georgia’s impressive rushing offensive. But at times, they could not contain the edge and let Fromm escape pressure — inexcusable — on multiple occasions. In the end, they just couldn’t withstand the Georgia rushing onslaught.
Daniel Bituli continued his strong season. But even he had problems on the day. Bituli took poor angles multiple times that enabled sizable runs for the Bulldawgs. Bituli wasn’t able to shed a running back block on Fromm’s touchdown run. Colton Jumper also had some good plays, but he too was up-and-down. Jumper’s problems was getting caught up in traffic several times.
Defensive Backs: C-
Another up-and-down unit. The secondary was decent against the pass. Justin Martin had easily his best game as a Vol. But the secondary, especially Emmanuel Moseley, weren’t very good in run defense. Nigel Warrior made several tackles coming up from his safety position, but was carried for extra yardage on most of those tackles. Of all of the units, the secondary is most culpable of the strip-not-tackle mentality.
Special Teams: D
Nothing on returns. No field goals. A blocked punt. Two shanked punts. Why would Tennessee move to a rugby-style punt when you have Trevor Daniel‘s hammer foot? Another questionable coaching decision. The coverage teams, for the exception of one punt, were average. That’s what keep this to a minimally passing grade.
Well, you can charge the coaching staff with not having the team prepared and some questionable strategy decisions. But there’s plenty of player responsibility here as well. It’s been 1923 since Tennessee was shut out at home against Georgia. The noise around Butch Jones over the next two weeks will be deafening.
Every game for this coaching staff from here on out is critical. As we’ve said before, we’re in the final throes of the Butch Jones era. It’s just a matter of time from here.
Tennessee goes in to a much needed bye week. In the immediate reaction, fans and media will speculate about Butch Jones being around for the South Carolina game. But it’s highly unlikely Athletic Director John Currie makes any moves before the end of the season.
Tennessee gets South Carolina, at home, after the bye. It’s unlikely Tennessee wins against Alabama, and that will give the Vols three loses. But with LSU looking more susceptible than normal, it’s not out of the question for this team to still get eight wins. But to get eight wins, every game from here on out — save Alabama — is critically important.
Tennessee is no longer playing for championships or playoffs, they are simply playing for survival.
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