By Jimmy Hyams
A caller to SportsTalk radio asked Friday if any score in the Tennessee-Georgia State game would alter my preseason prediction of a 7-5 season.
My response: Yes, if UT wins by only 10-9.
My new answer: Absolutely, if you can’t beat Georgia State.
My fears for the Vols were brutally evident in the home opener: UT isn’t very good along the offensive line and even worse on the defensive line. It didn’t seem to matter that Trey Smith returned at left guard and Aubrey Solomon was cleared to play defensive tackle.
Tennessee was outplayed and outcoached by a team that was 2-10 last year, lost its last seven games and joined the ranks of the FBS just three years ago.
Georgia State’s 38-30 win was so embarrassing for Tennessee, it had media types flipping through the pages of the UT media guide to find a more appalling upset.
Was it the 21-14 defeat to North Texas State in 1975?
Was it the 13-7 loss to Rutgers in 1979?
Was it the 21-17 faux pas against Memphis in 1996?
Or was it the 13-7 wilting against Wyoming in 2008, the game after Phillip Fulmer had been fired?
Predictions that Tennessee could win nine games were greatly exaggerated.
Predictions that Tennessee could win seven appear to be greatly exaggerated.
Tennessee’s lack of ability along the line of scrimmage is why I tempered my optimism about UT winning more than seven games. It’s hard to explain how UT could have 66 rushing yards in the first quarter, 27 the rest of the game and minus-2 in the second half – against a Georgia State team that allowed 37.4 points per game and 489.5 total yards last year.
When the Panthers marched 75 yards for a go-ahead touchdown (21-17) to open the third quarter, I knew the Vols were in deep trouble. When Jarrett Guarantano threw an interception with 4:14 left in the game, I knew it was over.
“Definitely, the best team out there won the game,’’ said Vols coach Jeremy Pruitt, who credited Georgia State multiple times. “They outcoached us. It starts with that.’’
Pruitt said the Panthers “confused us a little bit.’’
He added: “We didn’t execute to where it gave us a chance.’’
Georgia State hogged the ball in the second half – time of possessions was basically 18 minutes to 12 — and played keet away from UT’s offense by converting 10 of 17 third downs.
“We didn’t have guys ready to play in the third down package,’’ Pruitt said.
Asked how he would assess UT’s play at the line of scrimmage, Pruitt was pointed: “Look at the yards rushing. Georgia State had 213. Tennessee had 93. That tells the tale.’’
Tennessee led 14-7 after the first quarter, but was mired in missed assignments and mediocrity thereafter.
“I believe we were ready to play, but you’ve got to execute,’’ Pruitt said. “We have to be able to execute at a high level.’’
Translation: UT isn’t good enough to not execute and win – even against Georgia State.
One disturbing comment from UT involved effort.
“They had more want-to than we did,’’ safety Nigel Warrior said.
Senior receiver Marquez Callaway was asked if he agreed with Warrior’s assessment.
“It showed,’’ Callaway said.
It’s hard to explain why a Tennessee team, opening its second season under Pruitt, wouldn’t have more want-to. But clearly, it didn’t.
And when things began to slip away, UT didn’t have the poise to pull it out.
Warrior used the worth “flabbergasted’’ to describe one the greatest upset losses in UT history – the Vols were a 26-point favorite.
It’s worth noting that Warrior said UT knew what Georgia State was going to do, but outside linebacker Darrell Taylor had a different viewpoint.
“The defense didn’t play hard enough,’’ Taylor said. “I don’t think we were prepared for what they were going to run.’’
UT certainly didn’t look prepared. Often times the defense wasn’t lined up correctly. Once, both defensive ends were lined up on the same side.
Guarantano, who was 26 of 40 for 311 yards and two touchdowns with four sacks, was visibly angered.
“I’m disgusted, to be honest,’’ Guarantano said. “I’m not going to sugarcoat this. I’m really upset.
“I don’t even want to go outside now. I want to go in the film room.’’
That might be the answer to playing Brigham Young on Saturday.
That and more want-to.