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Post Georgia 38 – Tennessee 12: “Our brand of football”

Tuesday October 2, 2018

Maybe it was Florida trouncing Tennessee a week ago in a game where an inept Volunteer team couldn’t get out of its own way. Maybe it was the historic 30+ point line following on the heels of that Florida loss. Maybe it was the recent memory of the 41-0 bloodletting in Knoxville a year ago.

Whatever the reason, not many people expected much from this game. You sensed it around tailgate. Tennessee brought an alarmingly low number of fans. Georgia’s crowd – particularly the ones in the sun – were anxious to get out of the heat as soon as possible. A win was a given, and about the only thing to watch for was how well Georgia addressed the issues that appeared at Missouri.

That’s an odd way to approach a rivalry game, especially a game in a series in which Georgia trailed. But that’s been the state of the Tennessee program recently, and unfortunately a game that’s meant so much in the SEC East barely moves the needle this year.

Tennessee, for their part, played about as well as they could. We know there are ties between the Georgia and Tennessee staffs, and of course there are always a bevy of Georgia natives on most SEC teams. The Vols were outmatched, sure, but they’re still a proud SEC program with a first-year head coach looking to prove something against a peer. They didn’t turn the ball over six times as they did a week ago. They didn’t throw a pick on the first play of the game. There was no butt-fumble. Tennessee wasn’t especially effective on offense, but they also didn’t make many costly mistakes until the end. We can almost say that Jeremy Pruitt had a game plan that we’d recognize from Kirby Smart: avoid turnovers, play field position, and prevent the big play.

It worked, sort of. For the first time this year, Georgia’s offense was kept in check. There were no pass plays longer than 23 yards. Nauta’s fumble recovery excepted, there were no runs longer than 16 yards. Without the benefit of 17 points from turnovers and special teams this week and without its trademark explosiveness, the Georgia offense was forced to put plays and drives together. The Dawgs struggled with that at times. With Georgia’s defense making a few costly mental errors in the third quarter, Tennessee found themselves in a game at 24-12. I don’t think many people expected them to be in that position in the fourth quarter, and things were going to get very interesting if Georgia went three-and-out again.

It’s a 60-minute game, and Georgia controlled the last ten minutes to finish the job. They responded to Tennessee’s signs of life with a soul-crushing 13-play, 75-yard drive that ate up over seven minutes of game clock. Brian Herrien, channeling Richard Samuel in the 2011 Florida game, put together four tough runs for 30 yards near the end of the drive to fire up the offense and crowd, and Swift finished off the Vols looking as sharp as he had in several weeks. D’Andre Walker forced a fumble on Tennessee’s next play, and Holyfield and Fields combined to extend the final margin.

Georgia’s defense took its lumps at Missouri, but they bounced back well in this game. Tennessee’s offense isn’t the best test, but it’s enough to say that the Georgia defense made sure the Vol offense remained unremarkable. The result was a stout 66 rushing yards allowed (just 2.6 yards per carry). The pass defense was once again effective, but some mental mistakes and poor tackling led to two long passing touchdowns in the second half. More than anything, the defense looked as if it was having fun and enjoying the opportunity to play the season’s first SEC game in front of a home crowd.

The defense played well enough in the first half that it was a bit frustrating to see the offense not make more of chances to put the game out of reach early. Swift’s dropped screen pass stands out, but there were other pass plays that could have gone for big yards or scores, and Georgia couldn’t capitalize. Fromm had another solid 16/22 day passing, but the rare lack of explosive pass plays led to a subdued 8.4 yards per attempt. The running game was solid, though not spectacular, and we’re still looking for some truly explosive runs from the backs and line without having to rely on the jet sweep.

I suppose fans were surprised to see Georgia pushed into the fourth quarter by such a decisive underdog. If the Florida result were the only thing you knew about this Tennessee team, that might be a reasonable response. Again, without the turnovers and self-inflicted mistakes, it was a more competitive game. It was more like Tennessee’s opener against West Virginia – a game in which the Vols trailed just 13-7 at halftime and 27-14 in the third quarter. Both West Virginia and Georgia were able to put the Vols away at the end. Still, Jeremy Pruitt’s mark on this team is fairly clear. Georgia responded to a physical challenge and had the talent and depth to earn a comfortable win.

  • It’s not that Georgia didn’t come to play, but they had little to draw off of in terms of big game atmosphere. It was a CBS 3:30 slot with a noon vibe. The athletic department did everything they could to get things going from the flyover to Herschel to Ric Flair to a parade of NFL Dawgs. Nothing against Herschel, but when that’s the loudest reaction from the crowd all afternoon…
  • Not only did Tennessee avoid the comical errors in this game, Georgia very easily could have had its own blooper reel. We can laugh at the Nauta and extra point operation miscues because they led to points and didn’t cost Georgia. In closer games, those plays become turning points. It’s remarkable to put the ball on the ground that many times and recover all of them. We know ball security is worked on in practice, but the Fromm First Half Fumble doesn’t need to become any more of a thing. He must do more in both ball security and getting rid of the ball on busted plays. He’s made some nice throws after going through progressions, but he also has to realize when he doesn’t have time to complete his reads.
  • Fields gave a nice spark, and his score just before halftime revived a struggling offense. He missed a few reads, but there’s no mistaking what he brings to the offense. Still, Fields can’t become Georgia’s “running quarterback.” I’d like to see him get a few more pass attempts to make defending him a little less predictable and also expose him to less contact.
  • Tennessee’s first touchdown was a bust from the start. The defense wasn’t set, and Tennessee shifting to five-wide caught the defense unprepared. LeCounte was shifting from the right sideline to the middle of the field. Reed was still trying to line people up and glancing to his right while backpedaling into position as the play developed to his left. Taylor, who ended up covering the intended receiver, had to sprint from the opposite hash to pick up his man. Georgia still had all of its timeouts at this point, and it would have been as good of a time as any to use one.
  • That whole drive was a bit of a mess. The Georgia offense looked crisp on its first possession of the second half, and there was an opportunity to open up some distance if the defense could continue its stranglehold. A third down conversion, an undisciplined personal foul, and an unnecessary pass interference on a fourth down conversion set up the disorganized scoring play that gave Tennessee a shot in the arm. It was a lapse of focus from a defense that had played so well in the first half.
  • D’Andre Walker said after the game that the defensive performance at Missouri, specifically against the run, “wasn’t our brand of football.” We know what that brand is meant to be defensively, and it begins with taking away the run. The offense’s brand is a little more muddled though. Playcalling and personnel groups can seem directionless, and you don’t want Kirby Smart’s “The plan is there is no plan” line about the quarterbacks to become an epigram for the entire offense.

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