The big beginning had a small start with Cedric Houston losing one yard in two carries to bring up third and 11. That's when Erik Ainge found a wide open Derrick Tinsley on the sideline and connected for 39 yards which was Tennessee's longest play of the game. The next longest UT gain was the 22-yard Ainge to Brett Smith TD completion which capped the opening salvo. Ainge also hit fullback Cory Anderson for 10 yards on the drive and completed a short pass for a gain of 3.
The Vols ran six times on the 80-yard march and only gained eight yards on the ground, but they gained something more important. They gained the lead, a measure confidence, immediate momentum and respect from Georgia's defense which had no fear of UT's passing game until the Vols proved they could defeat the stacked defensive alignment.
The next time Tennessee touched the ball it drove 49 yards in 13 plays before settling for a 35-yard field goal. The drive consumed 6:25 of the clock and began with an 11-yard run by Gerald Riggs who added runs of 9 and 11 yards in the possession. In those two drives, the Vols established the pass and run and built a double-digit lead before Georgia picked up a single first down. They took the pressure off their freshman signal caller and put it all on David Greene, who never appeared comfortable against an opponent he had tormented for three years.
It was a very sound game plan and a total team victory.
Here's the top to bottom offensive ratings for the Tennessee-Georgia game. Grades of 90-100 are regarded as championship quality. Grades of 80-89 equate to top 25 worthy, grades of 70-79 are average marks. Grades of 60-69 are passing but problematical. Any grade below 60 is considered failing. (We have broken down the units this week to offense and defense.)
OFFENSIVE LINE (94) Tennessee's O-line protected the quarterback and pounded out tough yardage into the teeth of the Bulldogs' 4-3 front, which was usually supplemented by a safety, or linebacker, or both. The two long drives in the first quarter consumed 11:25 of the opening 15 minutes of play. The Vols had a better than 10-minute advantage in time of possession. Moreover, the O-line's size and strength wore on Georgia's defense while helping keep the Vols D fresh. Despite the loss of left tackle Michael Munoz, and an injury that kept right tackle Arron Sears from starting but not from replacing the fallen Munoz, Tennessee maintained continuity and kept mistakes to a minimum. Imposing Albert Toeaina drew a start at right tackle and used his size to good advantage against Georgia All-American David Pollack, who was limited to three tackles in the game. Tennessee neutralized Pollack's quickness and full-throttle motor by running a lot of the ground game right at him. There wasn't a lot of relief for UGA's defensive tackles and it showed on Tennessee's scoring drive that culminated in the fourth quarter, as Riggs ripped off runs of 9 and 14 yards and Houston ran for 7. Jason Respert has been reborn at center where his size and quickness are ideal. Rob Smith is exceptionally strong and extremely physical. Cody Douglas was slowed by a leg injury during the game but kept grinding it out like a champion. The return of tight end Victor McClure added some muscle to UT's front. All told it was one of the more inspirational efforts by a Tennessee O-line in some time.
QUARTERBACK (86) An excellent rebound performance by Erik Ainge in his first college road game and only second start. He connected on 12-of-21 attempts for 150 yards and two touchdowns. Both TD passes were outstanding throws in which he displayed a deft touch. Ainge showed poise when he was under pressure and made good decisions with the football. He also managed the offense well, getting the team out of the huddle and up to the line with time to spare. Most importantly, he reduced his turnovers to zero after losing five against Auburn. Ainge moves well in the pocket and gets rid of the ball quickly. Brent Schaeffer played just one series, throwing an incompletion and running once for no gain as the Vols went three and out.
RECEIVERS (84) Seven different wide receivers caught passes against Georgia, led by Derrick Tinsley with two for 42 yards. Tony Brown, Jayson Swain and C.J. Fayton also had two catches each. Bret Smith and Chris Hannon accounted for both of the Vols touchdowns with catches of 22 and 4 yards, respectively. This group is producing consistent results, but no one has yet to break out from the pack. Smith is leading the Vols with four touchdowns and 175 yards. Hannon is top in catches with 13 while Brown is second with 12. Smith, Swain and Fayton each have nine catches on the year. Five UT receivers have over 125 yards for the season but no one has more than 175. The Vols need one or two of the receivers to raise their game to draw double-team attention. Tennessee also needs to establish a couple of deep threats to stretch the defense. Robert Meachem has five catches for 81 yards on the season, an average of 16.2 yards per game. It's not the type of numbers fans anticipated based on his high school all-American status and exploits in practice. On balance, it's a talented group with good depth, lacking a feature component at this point. Any Volunteers?
RUNNING BACKS (79) Riggs carried the load for Tennessee, gaining 102 of the team's 127 rushing yards. His total came in 26 carries which meant that UT's other 21 carries netted just 25 yards. Houston finished with 28 yards in 16 carries and wasn't nearly as quick to the hole as Riggs. Cory Anderson is becoming a force at fullback, battering linebackers with his 270-pound frame and catching a 10-yard pass for a key first down. The Vols need Houston to pick up his game or they run the risk of wearing Riggs down. There's no other back getting significant reps at this point as Corey Larkins has been working with the defense. Take off 15 points for a pair of fumbles lost by Houston and Riggs.
OVERALL (82) Tennessee's offense was steady but far from spectacular. Of course, much of that had to do with the conservative game plan that produced such good results last season in Miami. A good general knows his troops, the enemy and the terrain on which they must battle and he makes adjustments accordingly. It's hard to argue with the results, although one could debate whether UT was a little too conservative late in the game when a couple of first downs would have put the issue out of reach.