ATHENS, Ga. — For the second straight Saturday, Derek Barnett drank some of ‘Michael’s Secret Stuff’ at halftime and turned into a Monstar from Space Jam.
With Tennessee trailing Georgia, 17-14, the Volunteers All-American pass rusher took over the game in the second half, recording 2 sacks, 2.5 tackles for loss and a forced fumble that led to a touchdown.
“I just made plays,” said the always reserved rusher.
After another slow start, Barnett and fellow defensive end Cory Vereen combined to disrupt Georgia’s offensive rhythm, as Bulldogs tackles Greg Pike and Tyler Catalina looked like turnstiles in pass protection.
Vereen had 4 tackles, a sack and recovered Barnett’s strip-sack of freshman quarterback Jacob Eason in the end zone late in the fourth quarter.
Deep in their own territory, the Bulldogs strangely tried to block Barnett 1-on-1 with a tight end, and the junior made the them pay. Vereen dove on the loose football and thought he’d won Tennessee the game.
Barnett/Vereen/Shoop magic pic.twitter.com/qyPkwzarHk
— Rocky Top Insider (@rockytopinsider) October 1, 2016
“We were getting pressure the whole time. We just capitalized and started getting sacks. We just made sure we stayed relentless,” Vereen said.
“I thought I scored the game-winning touchdown. It turns out I didn’t.”
Also true, but Tennessee’s defensive line changed the game for the second week in a row. The work by Barnett and Vereen was a major reason why the Volunteers staved off the upset and moved to 5-0 for the first time since 1998. After going sackless the first three games of the season, Barnett now has 4 sacks in the last two weeks and suddenly is back within striking distance of breaking Reggie White’s all-time record at Tennessee.
Tennessee’s defensive line, Barnett included, struggled with Georgia’s ground game early, as the Bulldogs schemed around the Volunteers pressure front with trap plays, misdirection and lots of pulling linemen.
Barnett said the unit adjusted after halftime and amped up the pressure.
“The Georgia offensive lineman were saying they had it and they were going to get the ‘W,’” Barnett said.
“I knew there was still time on the clock. They didn’t have nothing yet. We just played Florid last weekend and you saw what he did. This was more enjoyable because they thought they had it. We just took it from him.”