Talk about deflating: It was as if someone had fired a cruise missle through the Goodyear Blimp as all the air went out of a fired-up Neyland Stadium crowd that had tried to will the team to victory throughout a closely contested first half.
Clearly the team was just as demoralized. It was as if the shadow of defeat had blanketed the Tennessee sideline. The players trudged off the field at intermission and you knew there would be no recovery.
That set the stage for the third quarter which was more like the flight of the Hindenburg — a disaster of epic proportions that will be replayed in the minds of Vol fans for a long time to come. "Oh the humanity!" If UT's performace was like the ill-fated air ship, Casey Clausen was its captain. He followed the fumbled exchange at the goal line with two interceptions in the third quarter as Tennessee had four turnovers for the game compared to one for Georgia which was committed by the second team QB long after the issue was settled.
Georgia may have come out and dominated the second half without the assistance at the end of the first, but it wouldn't have been the unmitigated disaster this game turned out to be. The impact will also have long term effects. Tennessee's title hopes are finished and the team's hopes of regaining national respect after a poor 2002 season are gone with it.
A home defeat this one-sided will not soon be forgotten as it enters the archives along with last season's 31-13 loss to Florida, the 34-14 defeat to Alabama and the 26-3 setback against Miami. The difference is the Vols had an excuse with an uncommon number of injuries to key players impacting those contests.
Sure the 41-14 setback featured 24 Georgia points off Tennessee turnovers along with a UT TD called back for a holding penalty. But those are the type of excuses the Vols are accustomed to hearing from Vanderbilt after a loss. Good football teams simply don't make those type of mistakes.
Tennessee will have two weeks to lick its wounds before traveling to Tuscaloosa to take on Alabama. That contest will set the tone for the remainder of the campaign, if the Georgia contest hasn't already. Right now Tennessee is a program slipping in the eyes of high school football prospects, the national media and more importantly it's own fans. That's a loss the Vols can't afford in what the UT has designated the "Year of the Fan."
With that rather lengthy qualifier out of the way, we go now to the top to bottom grades for each unit along with brief comments. Remember that 60 or above is a passing grade with anything 90 or above considered championship caliber.
DEFENSIVE BACKS (69): The Vols allowed David Greene to complete 22-of-27 attempts for 220 yards and one touchdown but didnt' allow a gain over 20 yards and came away with a brilliant interception from true freshman Corey Campbell. Free safety Rashad Baker was an early casulty which makes the performance that much more impressive. Improved tackling by the secondary was apparent. UT is still looking for a second corner to complement Jabari Greer.
WIDE RECEIVERS (64): They only caught nine passes but scored both of UT's touchdowns. Mark Jones made a great catch to score a 90-yard TD to keep Vols in the game and Bret Smith added a 15-yard scoring reception late in the game from C.J. Leak. Still the Vols had several drops and there were mix up on patterns.
LINEBACKERS (62): Tennessee's linebackers were active and physical especially in the first half. Kevin Simon, Kevin Burnett and Robert Peace made some big hits and got after Greene who showed why he's the SEC's best by avoiding pressure to get off accurate throws. Omar Gaither continues to impress in limited duty. What has happened to high school all-American Daniel Brooks? What has happened to Jason Mitchell?
DEFENSIVE LINE (59) Although they don't get a passing score the line played the run better this week and showed some flashes by Mondre Dickerson, Jason Hall and J.T. Mapu. Justin Harrell was rusty in his first appearance but should helped down the road. Scores for the defense may seem high in light of the points Georgia scored but offense left the stop troops with a short field too many times because of turnovers and did nothing to give defenders a rest. Tennessee is down 26 minutes in time of possession the last two weeks.
SPECIAL TEAMS (55): This has been a strong suit all season but wasn't on Saturday. Colquitt averaged only 38 yards on eight kicks and had a couple of uncharacteristic clunkers. Coverage was okay at best and the field goal unit never got on the field. Gerald Riggs was a plus on kickoff returns and there were a lot of them.
OFFENSIVE LINE (48): Tennessee managed only seven first downs in the first half and gained just 61yards on the ground in 27 rushes. Pass protection was also spotty from a group that has underachieved this season despite being healthy. The Vols 248-yard total is the worst of the year and 90 of those yards came on the reception by Jones of a pass that was underthrown. Tennessee hasn't had a running game the last three weeks.
RUNNING BACKS (40): This group continues to flounder after a promising start. Cedric Houston had a key fumble in the game that led to points and Davis gained four yards on three rushes. Gerald Riggs showed promise with seven second-half carries. No one has stepped up to the level of former Vol greats.
QUARTERBACK (39): Perhaps the worst game Casey Clausen has played at Tennessee. His failure to get the team in the end zone before the half was compounded by his tendency to panic in the second half with forced throws that had no chance of being completed. Leak's TD pass raises this grade but by that point it only made a cosmetic difference and it was against Georgia's reserves.
OVERALL (51): Add it all up and you don't have much. This was a discouraging performance. The effort seemed good at times but the lack of execution was a killer.