Danny Parker's Take
ATHENS, Ga. — Different weekend and opponent. Same script.
Tennessee needs an alarm clock that goes off long before the opening kickoff and has been outscored 41-10 in five first quarters combined. However, the Volunteers are also 5-0 following Saturday’s 34-31 come-from-behind victory over Georgia.
No. 11-ranked Tennessee has ample experience playing from behind and seems to care not about double-digit deficits. It tacked on one more when No. 25 Georgia piled up 17 points before it smelt the end zone. Quarterback Joshua Dobbs dove across the pylon 12 seconds before halftime to prevent the visitors from going 30 minutes of action scoreless.
It’s just what they do. It’s almost a mechanism to finish strong after early advantages versus some of the nation’s best ballclubs resulted in losses a year ago. No matter the reasoning or worries, the Vols are 5-0 for the first time in the 21st Century, own the top spot in the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division and tiebreaker advantages over their top rivals in the East.
If there’s a glowing area where the Big Orange must improve before it boards the plane to play Texas A&M next week, it’s clogging the middle and getting more production both in run support and in space from backup linebackers Colton Jumper and Cortez McDowell. Bulldogs fans entered Saturday quite upset with the play of their offensive line but that group cleared holes for 181 rushing yards.
Senior defensive back Malik Foreman played solid defense in his return from a suspension and in the absence of both Justin Martin (suspension) and Cameron Sutton (ankle), but he got lost on Jacob Eason’s 47-yard touchdown bomb to Riley Ridley with 10 seconds to play. If there’s a moment where a defense cannot allow anyone to get behind it, it’s right there. Also question the lack of players that were deep to prevent such a moment.
In his final contest at Sanford Stadium, Peach State native Alvin Kamara put on a show for his family from the Norcross area. The Tennessee running back totaled 138 all-purpose yards, including 62 on the ground and an impressive display of balance and pad level on a 16-yard touchdown reception from Dobbs 7 seconds into the fourth quarter.
Josh Malone and Josh Smith both dropped catchable balls from Dobbs in a goal-line situation late in the opening half. Stronger teams are going to make Tennessee pay and have to settle for field goals in the red zone. Conversely, in an aspect we pointed out last week, sophomore Jauan Jennings continues to command the football. Teammates could learn from the Murfreesboro native who’s still learning the position.
A week after a game-changing performance with two sacks, defensive end Derek Barnett registered 2.5 more and continues to close in on Reggie White’s (32) all-time sack record. Barnett shed the block of both a back and a tight end in making his way to Georgia quarterback Jacob Eason. The hit that resulted in Corey Vereen’s end-zone fumble recovery with 2:56 to play. Barnett can play.
Sticking with the mid-state product theme, nickelback RaShaan Gaulden may have had his best collegiate game ever. The redshirt sophomore broke up a key third-down attempt by Georgia and contributed eight tackles.
The Tennessee defense was so-so on third-down conversions, allowing 5 of 14 but gave up two touchdowns on three red-zone opportunities. The defensive line didn’t affect Eason as much as expected. Freshman tight end Isaac Nauta abused the Vols and caught five passes for 83 yards, including a 50-yard score. Not counting Eason, coordinator Jim Chaney ran the football with seven different players in attempt to get the home team’s ground game chugging along.
Punter Trevor Daniel had arguably his worst game in an orange uniform. His longest attempt on six tries registered 47 yards and an average of 35.8 yards. Aaron Medley made his extra points but got just two touchbacks on five kickoffs.
Special teams: C
Scott Hall's Take
Running out of words to describe what is going on with this team. There really is only word to describe it and that is "winner.”
The Vols seemingly have found every way in the world to win and this one takes the cake on the Jauan Jennings Hail Mary grab as time expired to see the Vols win 34-31 between the hedges.
On the negative side of things, the Vols continue to come out slowly and that simply has to stop if the Vols want to win an SEC title.
The defense certainly showed significant weakness due mostly to injuries, especially in the backend of the unit and desperately need some guys to get healthy.
On the positive side of things, the team continues to grab the “next man up” mentality by the throat and embrace it. With Jalen Hurd out most of the second half, Alvin Kamara filled that role. The wide receiver corps continues to make game-changing plays and Jennings certainly did that.
Tennessee takes the driver’s seat in the SEC East and it's not too early to start thinking about a berth in the CFB playoff.
Special teams: A-