ATLANTA — Tennessee approached Monday night’s opening game against Georgia Tech in pass-fail manner.
The statistics didn’t matter, nor did the highlights, nor the style of play required. It was all about finding a way to win.
The No. 25-ranked Vols did just that, rallying for a 42-41 double-overtime victory over the Yellow Jackets at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Here’s a look at how the players graded out:
Quinten Dormady stayed cool under fire, finishing 20-of-37 passing for 221 yards with 2 touchdowns and no interceptions. Dormady also ran twice for 13 yards, and avoided being sacked. His numbers would have been better if not for 6 dropped passes.
Running backs (A)
John Kelly didn’t have much room to run, but he took advance of the cracks he found, finishing with 19 carries for 128 yards and 4 touchdowns, along with 5 catches for 35 yards. Ty Chandler had just one carry, but his 7-yarder was impressive and sparked a scoring drive.
Receivers & tight ends (C-minus)
Tennessee had 6 dropped passes — 2 by Jauan Jennings, 2 by Ethan Wolf and 2 by Tyler Byrd. If not for Marquez Callaway’s second half emergence — 4 catches, 115 yards, 2 touchdowns — this group would have flirted with a failing grade.
Offensive line (C-minus)
Freshman Trey Smith was a road grader at left guard, and center Jashon Robertson handled the snaps and took care of his assignments. But there were other issues, from Jack Jones getting a motion penalty, to Brett Kendrick missing a blitz.
Defensive line (D-plus)
The “plus” is for Darrell Taylor and his game-winning defensive stop on Georgia Tech’s 2-point conversion attempt. It was a tough assignment, for sure, and the Vols were still without Shy Tuttle. But 535 yards rushing allowed was way too much.
Sophomore Daniel Bituli had 23 tackles and was all over the field, playing the sort of game coaches envisioned when they recruited him out of Nashville Christian. Colton Jumper managed the defense well, making 18 tackles, and Cortez McDowell had 13 stops.
Decent in run support, but not as explosive nor dynamic as expected in the play-making department. Rashaan Gaulden had a forced fumble that safety Micah Abernathy recovered, but there weren’t any good plays on balls thrown through the air.
Special teams (A)
They were great. Paul Bain had the huge blocked field goal, Evan Berry had a kick returns for 86 yards and Trevor Daniel had a 70-yard punt and averaged 47 yards per kick. It was a good night for Tennessee special teams, and they ultimately made a difference.
Tennessee had the right plans in place, but the execution was lacking on both sides of the ball in the first half. The Vols offense was efficient and turnover-free, even with the offensive line struggling and receivers dropping balls. The defensive plan was sound but Tennessee was missing key personnel, and it took time for others to adjust.
Overall (A, pass)
Remember that pass/fail deal? A win is an “A” because the Vols’ players will grow together and learn from this opener. The team was there for each other, or there was no way they could have sustained Georgia Tech’s triple-option punch.