Danny Parker's thoughts
T'was the best of times, t'was the worst of times.
If you'd told me prior to kickoff, Tennessee would hop out to a 10-0 first-quarter lead, get 119 rushing yards from Jalen Hurd and put 15 points on the board in the fourth quarter, I'd said my prediction of a 27-24 Vols victory would've been too narrow of a margin.
The column that matters most in the stat sheet (other than final score): turnovers. Although Tennessee intercepted Hutson Mason twice (and sacked him three times), two fumbles proved costly, most especially the one with 4:27 left in the game that Georgia's Josh Dawson pounced on in the end zone for a touchdown. Of course, the other fumble occurred with the Vols well within Aaron Medley's range.
Turnovers. Can't have 'em, especially when you're counting on a double-digit number of teenagers on the road in the Southeastern Conference.
From A.J. Johnson to Jalen Reeves-Maybin to LaDarrell McNeil, the Vols defense showed signs of being the defense I figured it'd be going into this one. In the end, Todd Gurley was simply too much. The Heisman front-runner toted the rock 28 times for 208 yard with two scores and a game-sealing first down with under a minute to play.
Don't want to finish this take without mentioning Tennessee's defense going 74 game minutes without allowing a third-down conversion between the two road contests versus top 15 teams.
Georgia's punt return unit is much improved over 2013 and Matt Darr picked a solid day to have possibly the best game of his career (8 punts, 44.6 average, 4 inside 20). Medley's 46-yarder to cap the first drive just barely went over the crossbar but was a clutch kick.
Two good things about being 2-2: the best defense on the schedule (Oklahoma) may be behind you and the best ground game (Georgia) is in the rear-view mirror.
Defense - C+
Offense — B-
Special teams —B
Randy Moore's thoughts
Tennessee lost a ballgame Saturday at Sanford Stadium but won a lot of respect in the process. Going toe-to-toe with a 12th-ranked Georgia team favored by 17 on its home field, the Vols came agonizingly close to pulling the monumental upset before losing 35-32.
Despite missing three second-half series with an injured right elbow, Justin Worley courageously came back in the game to complete 23 of 35 passes for 264 yards and three touchdowns. Tennessee was scoreless on the three possessions directed by backup quarterback Nathan Peterman, underscoring how much Worley’s cool head means to this youthful Vol offense.
Freshman Jalen Hurd showed why he was rated a five-star prospect by some recruiting services by running for 119 yards on 24 carries. He looked really good as a direct-snap tailback running the Vols’ version of the wildcat package. A fumbled handoff between between Peterman and Marlin Lane at the Georgia 21-yard line probably cost Tennessee at least a field goal in the third quarter, then another botched handoff between Worley and Hurd in the end zone gave Georgia its clinching TD in the fourth quarter. Other than those two mishaps, the offense played exceptionally well.
Tennessee’s defense did a good job of limiting superstar Todd Gurley until the fourth quarter, when he broke a 51-yard TD run and finished with 208 yards on 28 carries. Vol linebackers A.J. Johnson (17 tackles) and Jalen Reeves-Maybin (10 stops, 4 tackles for loss) were magnificent.
Tennessee’s kicking game was radically better than its recent performances. Aaron Medley hit a 46-yard field goal to open the game’s scoring and did a good job on kickoffs. Matt Darr averaged 44 yards per punt, nearly 10 yards better than his average in Game 3 at Oklahoma. Devrin Young broke a 38-yard kickoff return to set up a Vol TD after Georgia had gone up 28-17 and “up man” Justus Pickett had a 22-yard return to the 42-yard line to set up UT’s final touchdown.
Defense — B
Offense — B
Special teams — A
Josh Woodward's thoughts
Tennessee is better. How much better? A ton. It's hard to bring such a young team into a hostile environment and bring out a win, but that's almost what Tennessee did today. Butch Jones and his staff has his team playing good football. I mean they were 18-point underdogs going into this game.
Offensively the Vols were able to move the football. Jalen Hurd is showing why he was a high school All-American and had 24 carries for 119 yards. Justin Worley was again a warrior today. Worley made good decisions and didn't have an interception. Even after getting his funny bone hit and having to leave the game, he came back and led the team down the field for two touchdowns in the fourth quarter. The offensive line has to continue to work and improve for this team to make it to a bowl. I really like the play of Ethan Wolf. He is playing at a high level and could be considered one of the best tight ends in the SEC.
Defensively, the Big Orange played their heart out. Todd Gurley is a true Heisman candidate and really all that Georgia has at this point is a great stable of backs. When Tennessee forced Georgia to throw, the Tennessee secondary made them pay with two interceptions. A.J. Johnson had a huge day with 17 tackles. The senior was talking the talk on the field during the game and backing it up with his play. The Vols weren't able to get much of any pass rush. If they did it was from the end position. They need some more defensive lineman to generate some more pass rush. I guess the stat of the day is that Tennessee held Georgia to 1-for-10 on third down, which is very impressive.
Matt Darr stepped it up today on his punting, averaging 44.6 yards per punt. The cover team was much improved since the Oklahoma game. I believe they need to put some more speed back on kickoff returns, but Devrin Young did have a nice return on a kickoff, which led to a score by the offense. Aaron Medley stepped up on the road with some swirling wind and made the first score of the game with his 46-yard field goal. The freshman also had some nice kickoffs. The onside kick was inches away from being recovered by Tennessee.
Overall this is what I expected from Tennessee coming to Athens — a hard-fought game and tight loss. This team is still 2-3 players away from being an SEC contender and two of those guys are on the commit list at defensive tackle. If this team plays as well as they did today they will beat Florida next week.
Butch Jones post-game presser