ATHENS, Ga. — Tennessee’s last-second win at Georgia had the Vols’ players and coaches elated, another step in what they hope will be a championship season.
But when the lights go down and the film comes on, there will be plenty of areas for coach Butch Jones to address for the No. 11-ranked Vols (5-0, 2-0 SEC).
“The thing is,” UT defensive end Derek Barnett said, “we haven’t even played our best football yet. Not even close.”
Tennessee’s 34-31 victory against the No. 25-ranked Bulldogs (3-2, 1-2) will long be remembered for the late-game heroics of quarterback Josh Dobbs and receiver Jauan Jennings, who connected on a 43-yard TD pass on the final play of the game.
But there was plenty of other action that took place.
Here’s a look at how the Vols, now winners of 11 straight dating to last season, graded out:
Other than an under-thrown, late-game interception, Dobbs was mostly sensational. Dobbs’ 16-yard run on third-and-14 late in the first half keyed Tennessee’s first TD — a 4-yard Dobbs run. Dobbs was 16 of 26 passing for 230 yards with 3 TDs and an interception. He rushed for a net 26 yards on 11 carries — losing 21 yards on two sacks.
Running Backs (C-)
Jalen Hurd’s first-half fumble led to a 14-point swing, as it appeared he slowed down before the goal line to taunt a Georgia player and got blindsided, leading him to fumble the ball into the end zone. The stadium was ignited, and the Bulldogs responded with a TD drive. Alvin Kamara’s first-half fumble led to a Georgia field goal. Hurd averaged 4.2 yards per carry, Kamara 3.9.
Receivers & Tight Ends (C+)
A big plus for Jauan Jennings’ late-game, 43-yard Hail Mary reception, but the Vols receivers dropped 3 passes in the first half. Jennings had 3 catches for 71 yards, Josh Smith had 2 for 30 and Josh Malone had 2 for 23. Preston Williams had a catch for 19 yards. The tight ends did not have any receptions.
Offensive Line (B-)
Not a dominant performance by any stretch, but steady improvement is evident, particularly on the right side of the line where Jack Jones and Chance Hall have a good chemistry. Brett Kendrick got beat for a sack at left tackle, and center Dylan Wiesman had a low snap to Dobbs late.
Defensive Line (B)
Tennessee had trouble containing the perimeter, and Georgia rushed for 181 yards on 46 carries. The line came through in the clutch, however, collapsing the pocket on Jacob Eason with Corey Vereen in position to fall on the young QB’s fumble in the end zone to put UT up, 28-24. Derek Barnett had 2 sacks and a forced fumble to lead the way, and Kendal Vickers had 5 stops.
Colton Jumper had a team-high 11 tackles and forced a fumble, and Cortez McDowell had 6 tackles and a pass break-up. The linebackers seemed a step slow getting to the perimeter in pursuit, however.
Cornerback Malik Foreman seemed to let off on Georgia’s 47-yard TD pass and safety Micah Abernathy was late rotating over. The safeties did not play well in run support on the Bulldogs’ opening drive, the intensity not at a winning level until the second half. Todd Kelly Jr. finished with 10 tackles, while Abernathy had 9 and Rashaan Gaulden 8.
Special Teams (A)
The Vols won the game in this area, with Evan Berry’s 20-yard return to the Georgia 43 proving critical, along with Trevor Daniel’s 37-yard punt to the Bulldogs’ 5 two plays before the Eason fumble. Kamara averaged almost 17 yards on 3 punt returns.
Butch Jones had the right plays dialed up late, and the Vols had obviously practiced them enough to execute in the clutch, but something must be done about the slow starts. UT has been outscored 41-10 in the first quarter of games. Also, the Vols have a fumbling problem, now with 14 (and three lost) through five games.