All-SEC linebacker Henry To’o To’o had an intriguing take after Tennessee was tamed in the second half by Georgia, 44-21.
The matchup of top 15 teams proved to be a mismatch in the final two quarters.
But To’o To’o did not seem discouraged.
“This is not a loss,’’ he said, “It’s a learning lesson.’’
Actually, it could be both.
Indeed, it is a loss, dropping the Vols to 2-1 and knocking them down to No. 18 in the AP poll.
The lesson learned? That remains to be seen.
Maybe UT learned it can’t turn the ball over three times in a half against a quality team and win.
Maybe UT learned its offensive line is overrated and that offensive coordinator Jim Chaney will have to call plays to protect the line’s deficiencies.
Tennessee was doomed primarily by three things: A poor performance by the offensive line, three second-half turnovers and 10 penalties.
If the Vols don’t improve in those three areas, Kentucky could spring an upset and take down Tennessee for only the third time since 1985.
It’s time to throw our weekly flags: Green for good job; Red for “stop doing that.’’
- Defensive stops in the first three quarters. UT had an impressive goal line just before halftime, stopped a fourth-and one at Georgia’s own 36 on a questionable call by Dawgs coach Kirby Smart and twice forced field goals after UT turnovers in UT territory in the third quarter. UT also scored a defensive touchdown on the game’s second play as a snap sailed over Georgia’s quarterback and Kivon Bennett recovered in the end zone.
- Wideout Josh Palmer had touchdown catches of 27 and 37 yards in the first half – the only 20-yard plays the Vols had in the game. Palmer’s first TD tied the score at 14-14. His second game UP a 21-17 halftime lead.
- To’o To’o recorded 11 tackles. He did a nice job stopping the run but got beat in pass coverage, which appears to be his only weakness. He should have a big game against a Kentucky team that likes to pound the rock.
- Offensive line. The five stars played like two stars as they were dominated by Georgia’s front seven. UT’s running backs had 16 carries for 36 yards, a whopping 2.25 yards per carry. The net was minus-1 yard on 27 carries, thanks to minus-40 yards in sacks. UT also did a poor job in pass protection. It’s one thing to run for 232 yards against Missouri. But an offensive line acclaimed as one of the best in the SEC must man up against the big boys. Against Georgia, they got a failing grade. Georgia also recorded five sacks. (I will also remind you that UT was NOT as dominant against Missouri as some suggested. Taking out the QB sneaks and short scoring runs, UT had 45 run plays with 18 gaining 3 or fewer yards, and 11 of 1 yard or less. Not is not domination.).
- Penalties. Tennessee had 10 penalties for 84 yards against Georgia, several in the first half that extended Georgia drives. One was targeting on UT’s best pass rusher, Deandre Johnson. Another was pass interference on Jalen McCullough, who was making a play on the ball but ran through the receivers. Six penalties came on illegal procedure when Georgia, shifting its’ defensive line, might have been barking out cadences. UT isn’t good enough to beat a good team while incurring that many infractions.
- Turnovers. After going 10 quarters without a turnover, UT had three in quick order in the second half against Georgia, all by quarterback Jarrett Guarantano, who had three fumbles (losing two) and an interception. Unfortunately, he has proven to date that he is a mediocre quarterback leading a mediocre team. Unless the QB play improves immensely, UT won’t finish above .500 this season. And you can say the same thing about turnovers as penalties – UT isn’t good enough commit three turnovers and beat a good team.
Note: UT has now lost 34 in a row to top 10 teams. The last such win was over Georgia in Athens in 2006. … Smart is now 8-8 as Georgia coach when his team does not score first. … Palmer had three career TD catches entering his senior season. He has three in three games.