Riley Blevins' thoughts
It’s hard to remember the positives in a loss so heart breaking. But the positives were certainly plentiful.
Tennessee battled with sixth-ranked Georgia until the very end. Head coach Butch Jones and players will tell you there’s no such thing as “moral victories.” Saturday evening should be an exception. The Vols nearly won a game they had no business winning.
The loss leaves a bitter after taste. One this hair pulling always does. But if you allow yourself to forget the score for a moment, just a moment, the future looks bright.
Neyland Stadium was a weapon again. The crowd roared. Seats shook. The energy was infectious.
Players jumped and hollered on the sideline, waiving towels and hands toward the crowd. There was passion. Natural, raw passion. It’s part of building a culture. The team bought in Saturday.
The play on the field was equally inspiring. Tennessee’s defense was the first team to hold Georgia under 20 points in the first half all season. Daniel McCullers came out rejuvenated in the second half. The young secondary made Georgia fight for every passing yard it gained.
However, the group’s only blemish was a big one. One that won’t soon be forgotten. Back-to-back penalties – one from true freshman Corey Vereen - inside the goal line gifted Georgia a chance at victory in overtime. The group is young, but there’s no excuse for penalties.
There were even rare positives from the quarterback position. Justin Worley stumbled out of the gates, yes, but he drove the offense down the field when it mattered. Worley stepped into throws, hit targets out of their brakes and gave the Vols a chance. He managed the game. He didn’t turn the ball over. You can’t ask for much more. Not yet, at least.
Statistically, Worley out performed Aaron Murray – the SEC’s newly crowned all-time yardage leader. Worley was 17-of-31 for 215 yards. Murray was 19-of-35 for 196. It could be the result of young receivers starting to figure it out. There was no shortage of splash plays Saturday.
No one is walking away from this loss with a smile. But if anyone had the right it would be special teams coach Mark Elder. His unit played lights out. Michael Palardy is playing like an All-SEC kicker. Jalen Reeves-Maybin and Devaun Swafford changed the outcome of the game. It’s a young group. It’s certainly not playing like it.
Defense — B
Offense — B
Special teams — A +
Danny Parker's thoughts
Mercy. What a football game? Afternoons like the one we just witnessed make this job and this career that much more worthwhile.
The outcome wasn't what Big Orange County hoped for and wasn't what so many amongst the 102,455 expected after Rajion Neal's 7-yard touchdown to give Tennessee the go-ahead with 1:54 to go.
Neal was a man this Saturday. With no Marlin Lane, the senior knew he had to step up and the Georgia native did just that with 167 all-purpose yards and two scores. His effort alone was worth a letter grade. Mike Bajakian's play-calling on three executed fourth downs was sheer wizardry. Alton Howard was upset after the game but that shouldn't be the case as the sophomore played a major role in this offense grinding out 404 yards.
Defensively, many will point to the Bulldogs going 75 yards in 1:49 to tie the game in the fourth quarter but penalties played a role in nursing that drive on along. Georgia's Aaron Murray is a seasoned vet and he did exactly what a fifth-year quarterback is supposed to do. He's just good and you tip your hat.
If Jalen Reeves-Maybin turns into even half the linebacker that he is special teams performer, look out. The Clarksville kid is lights out and has a nose for the football. Michael Palardy had one of his best games ever in orange and is looking more and more dependable. Four Georgia punt returns yielded minus-2 yards.
Defense — B
Offense — B
Special teams — A
Randy Moore's thoughts
There are two ways to judge success: You can measure yourself against others or you can measure yourself against yourself. Measured against the Georgia Bulldogs, the Tennessee Vols were 34-31 overtime losers Saturday. Measured against themselves, the Vols were just about the best they can be.
The offense played well. The defense played well. The special teams, led by Michael Palardy, played brilliantly.
Georgia won only because it is a better team. Tennessee played the better game, however, and probably deserved the victory. As we all know, however, you don’t always get what you deserve. Sometimes your best isn’t quite enough. That was the case for the Vols. They need not hang their heads. They did themselves proud for 60 minutes, plus an overtime.
Vol receiver Pig Howard was brilliant all day but will remember this game sadly because he lost the ball lunging for the end zone in overtime, turning an apparent touchdown into a touchback. He shouldn’t mope for long. He has many great games in his future.
Tennessee’s defense hung tough against one of the best quarterbacks and finest offenses in college football. The stop unit showed far more resilience and toughness than it did a week earlier in a sloppy defeat of South Alabama.
Palardy was first-team all-world. He recorded touchbacks on five of six kickoffs. He punted brilliantly and he made all of his PATs.
Ultimately, teams are judged by whether they won or lost but I think there’s a higher standard to be considered: It’s far more difficult to play your best than it is to play better than your opponent on a given day. Tennessee played its best, and for that I think the Vols deserve tremendous credit.
Defense — A
Offense — A
Special teams — A-plus
Josh Woodward's thoughts
Tennessee has a chance and that is more than I expected going into this game. The Vols played as well as I have seen them play in a long time. Neyland Stadium was a true home field advantage. You could see how proud Coach Jones was for his team after the game. Tennessee really shouldn't have been there. It was well worth the price of admission tonight.
Offensively the it was the Rajion Neal and Alton Howard show, those two guys combined for well over half the offense. They look to be the playmakers along with Marquez North that need to be fed the ball going forward. The playing calling on 4th down was spectacular, the misdirection to Neal and the pass to AJ Branisel were top plays of the game. I liked how Justin Worley came out in the second half, he wasn't as slow getting rid of the ball and didn't turn the ball over. Overall I was very impressed tonight with the offense. I can't fault Alton Howard for trying to make a play on the turnover.
Defensively the Vols kept Georgia in check, Tennessee did have a hard time adjusting to slants, but part of that is not having the athletes to cover the play. I liked how A.J. Johnson and Cameron Sutton are playing football, they are a force on defense. Tennessee just needs to get some more push in the middle of the defensive line, they just lack that big motor they need in the middle. I know that Corey Vereen got a personal foul, but the kid is going to be a player on this defense.
Special Teams was special tonight, Palardy was as good as it gets
tonight, his kickoffs where perfect and he was a weapon punting
tonight. Jalen Reeves-Maybin has become a force on special teams
coverage, he gets down the field as well as anyone. The freshman had the play of the night blocking the punt that led to the touchdown in the third quarter.