Vols Flunk Road Test

Against Northern Illinois we discovered Tennessee's problems on offense extended beyond the play of its quarterback while against Georgia we learned the team's miserable start goes way beyond the play of it's utterly inept offense. Imagine what we'll learn in two weeks against the revitalized Crimson Tide of Alabama.

Georgia's combination of high motivation, upper tier talent, superior depth and superb balance exposed the Vols defense as no other opponent had this season. Florida's offense did some of the same things against UT's D but the Gators geared down after jumping to an early lead and were more content to kill the clock than mount an assault.

The fact Tennessee jumped back into the fray — via a couple of Georgia turnovers in the fire zone that denied the Bulldogs two touchdowns and set up both of UT's TDs — forced Mark Richt to keep his first team in most of the game. UGA's A squad seemingly moved the ball at will, piling up 458 yards, 29 first downs and a 13-0 second-quarter lead that essentially put the game on ice.

As usual Tennessee's offense didn't help matters by its inability to stay on the field with any sustained drives. This left the defense to languish for 42:48 of the contest, or nearly three-quarters, played between the hedges of historic Sanford Stadium. Such ball control pushed Tennessee's defenders to the point of exhaustion and exposed Its questionable depth in the front seven which the Dawgs exploited with regularity. Clearly having an added week of practice helped the Dawgs' cause as well.

Probably more than anything it showed the difference in the number and quality of playmakers Tennessee has compared to the elite of the SEC like Georgia, Florida, Alabama and LSU.

The only consistent quality demonstrated to this point of the season by UT's offense is a deplorable lack of discipline and execution. The Vols did play turnover free against Georgia which allowed them to hang close enough to keep the score respectable despite a better than two to one statistical advantage in every area besides turnovers.

Nick Stephens threw one perfect, long play-action pass for a 60-yard gain to Denarius Moore and connected on 25-yard play-action pass to start the game, but he only connected of 11 of his other 28 attempts for 112 yards. Stephens threw at least four passes that should have been intercepted and he lost 15 yards in sacks.

Any talk of the QB's play would have to include the Vols most startling statistic of the game 15 total carries for 1 yard. Without anymore of a running game than that Stephens couldn't be expected to do a lot more than he did.

Also disturbing was Tennessee's 97 yards in penalties and it's 4 of 15 conversion rate on third and fourth down. Compare that to Georgia which successfully made 10 of 18 conversions on third and fourth downs.

After the game Tennessee head coach Phillip Fulmer talked about his past success on The Hill and how the cycle would come back around to the Vols. That sounds a heck of a lot like Fulmer's spin cycle.

What follows is the top to bottom grades for each of UT's offensive and defensive units as well as special teams, and an overall grade for the game against Georgia. Marks ranging from 1 to 10 are given each position.

LINEBACKERS (9.0) This is the only UT unit to break the 90 mark thanks to MLB Ellix Wilson who compiled a game-high 16 tackles (10 solo). This group was on the field a long time but remained active and aggressive.

DEFENSIVE LINE (8.7) The defensive line held its own for most of the contest with the Dawgs doing their ground damage outside the tackles. Robert Ayers stood out with 9 stops, including three for losses and a outstanding interception.

DEFENSIVE BACKS (8.5) The lowest score awarded UT's DBs this season, the Vols gave up 310 yards on 25 of 36 pass attempts. The Bulldogs also dropped a TD pass in the first half that cost then points. Eric Berry made another interception in the end zone and broke the Vols single season return mark.

SPECIAL TEAMS (8.2) The Vols got a boost from the return of Britton Colquitt who punted six times for a 48-yard average. Overall coverage was fair but kickoffs were generally short and the return game produced little.

QUARTERBACK (80) Stephens has a big arm but he also has a tendency to put too much steam on his short passes and attempts to force too many balls into coverage. Still not bad for an inexperienced sophomore starting his first SEC road game.

WIDE RECEIVERS (6.8) Not a lot of drops but even less separation against press coverage. Moore is developing into the deep threat the Vols need but his lack of size may prevent him from becoming a go-to target.

OFFENSIVE LINE (5.4) Some may see this mark as unfair but those same people didn't have to run against UGA's junkyard dogs without any interference. Pass protection was also below par and what happened to line surge?

OVERALL (6.9) There's very little that is encouraging about UT's play, but with just a little help from the offense this team could still managed a solid second half of the season. Four out of the last six games are played in Neyland Stadium.

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