So, the result of Saturday’s SEC matchup shouldn’t have surprised anyone, except the oddsmakers who made Georgia only a 10-point favorite. UT’s home-field winning streak came to a screeching halt in a 38-10 defeat while the Bulldogs left Knoxville with a 28-game winning streak in tow and their hopes of a third consecutive national championship still alive.
And Tennessee’s record dropped to about where it belonged. The Vols are 7-4 and surely out of the top 25.
Eleven games have provided overwhelming evidence Tennessee was never as good as its ranking suggested, but more the product of an accommodating schedule. Only in a surprising first half against Alabama did the Vols hold their own against a nationally ranked opponent, and the Tide outscored them 27-0 in the second half of a 34-20 victory.
I won’t revisit the embarrassing details of the 36-7 loss to Missouri last week. Suffice to say: the Bulldogs picked up where the Tigers left off. Losing handily to Georgia is no aberration. The Vols have lost seven consecutive games to the Bulldogs, and none of those games have been close.
For what it’s worth, Tennessee struck first Saturday. But Georgia struck back − again and again.
Jalyen Wright raced 75 yards for a touchdown on the first play of the game. The play developed perfectly with key blocks from Cooper Mays and Javontez Spraggins springing Wright into an out-of-position Georgia secondary.
Give Tennessee coach Josh Heupel credit for designing a great play. Give Georgia coach Kirby Smart credit for preparing the No. 1 Bulldogs for another dominant performance.
You couldn’t have asked for a better start against the nation’s No. 1 team. But Georgia is No. 1 and has won back-to-back national championships for a reason. Trailing for the 11th time in its winning streak, Georgia didn’t get flustered.
And neither does first-year starting quarterback Carson Beck, whose play was right in line with that of former Bulldogs quarterback Stetson Bennett. Unlike Bennett, who bedeviled UT with his scrambling, Beck picked apart an injury-depleted secondary with NFL-like precision passes.
Beck completed 17 of 20 passes for 220 yards and two touchdowns in the first half as the Bulldogs took a 24-10 lead. He threw another TD pass on Georgia’s second possession of the second half as the Bulldogs upped their lead to 21 points.
By then, you had been reminded that Tennessee’s defense wasn’t as good as you might have thought in the first half of the season. It has been victimized repeatedly more recently.
Alabama rang up 27 second-half points in a 34-20 victory. Even though the Vols beat Kentucky 33-27, they gave up 373 yards passing to Devin Leary, who recorded his best game of the season by far.
UT’s beleaguered defense was at its worst in a 36-7 loss to Missouri, whose running back Cody Schrader entered the game as the SEC’s leading rusher. That was just a warm-up for his career performance against the Vols. He rushed for 205 yards and added 116 yards receiving.
Beck was merely the latest star to capitalize on a fading defense. He threaded the ball between defenders when necessary and was on target as well when connecting with open receivers.
The Georgia defeat, like the Missouri one, was a team effort, featuring mishaps on offense and defense. After UT stunned the Bulldogs on the opening play, its offense shifted into muddle mode. The Vols went three-and-out on their other first-quarter possessions but managed a field-goal drive in the closing minutes of the half.
Tennessee also made little offensive headway against Missouri and was shut out in the second half against Alabama. Only rarely – as on Wright’s TD run – have the Vols succeeded in producing sudden, long-distance scores, which were so prominent in last season’s success.
Quarterback play has much to do with that. Joe Milton is no Hendon Hooker. But this team didn’t have the talent of last season’s 11-2 team and that showed whenever it faced an upgrade in competition.
In fact, these Vols have little margin for error. They needed BYU transfer linebacker Keenan Pili to stay healthy, and he was injured in the first game. Veteran wide receiver Bru McCoy, who was a vital part of the offense, incurred a season-ending ankle injury in the fifth game against South Carolina.
But after being outscored 74-16 in back-to-back games, Tennessee can look forward to next week when it closes out the regular season against Vanderbilt.
Both Tennessee’s offense and defense should do just fine.
John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached at 865-342-6284 or email@example.com. Follow him at: twitter.com/johnadamskns.
This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: One blowout loss leads to another for Tennessee football, Josh Heupel