CORY GUNKEL'S TAKE
You might have thrown in the towel after Jalen Hurd’s fumble at the 4-yard line that Georgia scooped and scored from 94 yards out in the first quarter. Maybe you mentally walked away when the Bulldogs built a 24-3 lead in the first half. You just knew what was going to happen when Tennessee gave up its fourth quarter lead in just seven short seconds, and for those few seconds when a gorgeous Greyson Lambert pass floated peacefully in the air before bouncing off Reggie Davis fingertips, you probably realized it was finally over.
But this Tennessee team simply refused to let you buy into the narrative it created for itself on this Saturday, as Team 119 rallied from the third-largest comeback win in program history, dispatching of No. 19 Georgia to seal its first win over its SEC East rival for the first time since 2009. As Jalen Reees-Maybin succinctly put it in his post-game press conference; "We don't get down. It's just not in our DNA."
Tennessee battled back after more adversity than I've seen the team face all season. The Vols lost starting guard Jashon Robertson, starting center Mack Crowder and the lead faster than an Alvin Kamara sprint. It seemed like Team 119 was headed to the gallows for most of the first half, before two unbelievably electric plays — a 39-yard touchdown strike to Josh Smith and an UGA fumble on the ensuing kickoff — brought Neyland Stadium from a wake to awake.
The offense has found its identity and it starts with the passtronaut Josh Dobbs. Dobbs cemented his Vols legacy by matching the thing only he has been able to do in a Power T helmet: pass for more than 300 yards while rushing for more than 100 yards in the same game as he accounted for five total touchdowns and served as the heartbeat of the offense. He made some truly bad throws, but made up for them with some amazing runs as he pinged off defenders and refused to be denied. Jalen Hurd overcame an extremely costly fumble on the goal line for 80 hard-earned yards, and his counterpart, Alvin Kamara, punched in two touchdowns near the goal line to jumpstart the offense's scoring. The receivers played well, specifically human Velcro Josh Smith. The offensive line lost three starters from an already-banged up unit and really didn't miss a beat plugging in freshmen Jack Jones and Chance Hall as the Vols racked up 519 yards. When Dobbs is running well and competent in the air, this Tennessee offense is dangerous. The defense took its typical bend-but-don't break approach that proved to be enough to win the game. The Vols kept Arkansas to just 4-of-14 on third down and pressured UGA's talented offensive line all afternoon. Greyson Lambert had his way at times with the secondary, but in the end it wasn't enough to overcome what Tennessee's offense was able to accomplish after holding an extremely effective running back unit (albeit minus Nick Chubb) to just four rushing first downs.
Special teams are special for a reason, and this is Tennessee's best overall unit and it ain't even close. Despite giving up a 70-yard punt return, the special teams gets a big, fat A from me after Trevor Daniel's unbelievable performance and Aaron Medley's perfect day kicking field goals. Daniel's boot that pinned Georgia at the 1-hairline was arguably the play of the night. He solidified his name in Tennessee lore with his leg, and the walk-on won't have much trouble finding a meal and a beer in Knoxville ever again.
Special teams: A
DANNY PARKER'S TAKE
Backs against the wall. Tennessee came out swinging.
Was it nearly a month too late? Depends on who you ask. However, the heart-breaking trio of losses in the first five games shouldn't take away from what this youthful, badly banged up group of Volunteers did Saturday night in their 38-31 win over visiting Georgia.
No Marcus Jackson. No Brett Kendrick. No Mack Crowder. No Jashon Robertson. That's an awful lot to stomach in terms of absences up front for a majority of this one but assistant coach Don Mahoney's bunch came through and did so with 18-year old Chance Hall and recently turned 19-year old John Claude Jones IV (also known as Jack Jones) holding down the right side of the line.
Trailing 24-3, the situation looked dire for Joshua Dobbs as throws were consistently behind receivers and the deficit continued to grow before the switch came on at the end of the second quarter. The junior speaks as though he never loses his cool, but he had to gain confidence with how the second quarter came to a close, including a fourth-and-four completion to Von Pearson and fourth-and-eight pass over the middle to Josh Smith. After Jakob Johnson's strip on the ensuing kickoff, Dobbs' first pass attempt went into quadruple (yes, quadruple) coverage but Georgia couldn't get the takeaway. The attempts went mostly horizontal the rest of the half and the Big Orange got the momentum they needed, cutting the Georgia lead to 24-17.
The game plan for the second half altered for offensive coordinator Mike DeBord. Dobbs ran the ball over four times as much the final two quarters as he did the first two, and he threw it half as much. The Volunteers (3-3, 1-2) possessed the football longer in the fourth quarter (9:18) than it did the entire second half in the four-point loss to Arkansas.
In order for Tennessee to avoid succumbing to more fourth-quarter comebacks, it absolutely must find a way to move the chains with the lead to keep the clock ticking.
The defense bent much like it did the previous week but didn't break when it had to bow its neck. The Bulldogs only scored once on their six second-half possessions. The safety play for much of the first half was even worse than it was against Arkansas. Brian Randolph, where did you go (and that's with a team-leading nine tackles)? Eleven Vols had two or more tackles, including a big sack from Derek Barnett.
Special teams wise, Aaron Medley made 100-percent of his kicks, including a 22-yard field goal. Evan Berry continues to excite the crowd and piled up 103 return yards on just three attempts. Giving up the 70-yard return for six to Reggie Davis drops the teams grade a full letter.
The gold star goes to Dickson native and redshirt sophomore punter Trevor Daniel, who averaged 45 yards per punt on seven attempts, including a fantastically clutch 56-yarder that rolled out of bounds on its own on the 1-yard line. If Trevor Daniel isn't first-team All-SEC and under consideration for the Ray Guy Award, then I don't know what an all-star punter looks like. The marketing and sports information departments need to do some campaigning for Daniel.
Thoughts go out to Nick Chubb. Met him at Chad Simmons' MVP Camp in McDonough, Georgia, when he was entering his junior season at Cedartown (Ga.) High School. We kept in touch through portions of the recruiting process, and he's always been extremely respectful. Hope like heck he comes back bigger, faster and stronger.
Special teams: B+
JOSH WOODWARD'S TAKE
This one was a big one and will make this off week a littler easier on Vol Nation. This was the second largest comeback in Neyland Stadium history. That says something about this team after the heartbreaking losses they have been through. I know that a lot has been made of the losses, but the crowd was outstanding for a 2-3 team.
Offensively, the game plan was solid. Joshua Dobbs was off with his passing some, but when it counted he was money. Dobbs and Jalen Hurd have been outstanding this season. They both make things happen when nothing is there. The offensive line was a patchwork affair after Mack Crowder and Jashon Roberston went down, bringing in Jack Jones and Chance Hall. I thought both played well considering the environment and were impressive for true freshman. Let's bring it back to Dobbs: I thought he ran the ball outstanding. It is unbelievable to see him go head-to-head with an SEC linebacker and win the battle. My hat is off to him because that isn't easy. I thought the receivers played better. They dropped a couple of balls, but made up for them with key blocks and catches in the second half.
Defensively, I thought the Vols hung with a good Georgia offense. They were able to stop the run and got some pressure on Greyson Lambert during the game. Lambert was able to complete some deep go routes in one-on-one coverage, but that is a weak spot with this team and teams will continue to try to do this. I thought the defensive line played their best game of the season, Georgia has a good offensive line. Georgia is likely the best screen team in the country and they caught Tennessee in a blitz and it worked for a big gain. Other than that, they held their own against a quality SEC offense.
I believe this could be the best special teams I have seen at Tennessee. I know they gave up a touchdown on a punt return, but I clearly saw a block in the back on the return that was called and then waived off as a block in the side. When Trevor Daniel punted that ball in the fourth quarter that kicked out of bounds on the half yard line, I knew it was Tennessee's night. That kid is likely the third biggest asset on the team behind Dobbs and Hurd.
Overall, I like the way the game plan went on both sides of the ball. This win is big for this team, staff and Vol Nation. It will make this next two weeks easier on us all. Grades: Offense: A Defense: B- Special Teams: A