The Vols came close on Saturday to knocking off No. 5 Georgia in Sanford Stadium, but in the end, it's a loss and the Volunteers sit at 0-2 in the SEC this season. It's a tough road to climb with games against Mississippi State, Alabama and South Carolina coming over the next month. There were a lot of mistakes to look at in the game against the Bulldogs. But hey, there were positives that bode well for the Big Orange as the season progresses. Let's take a look.
1. Playing a full 60 minutes: There are no moral victories, in my opinion, but it was encouraging to see the Vols fight back from 17 down the first half to go into the locker room tied with Georgia 30-30. They had a chance to go in with the lead, but UGA kicker Marshall Morgan buried a 50-yard kick, and I tip my cap to him on that. The Volunteers responded again in the second half when they were down by 13 points with 6:32 left and again down by 14 with 3:06 left. They put themselves in a position to win the game in the end and that's all you can ask for in that environment. Turnovers at the end doomed the Vols' chances—more on that later.
2. Running game on track: Hopefully the talk about the running game's inadequacies will be over. Rajion Neal looked really good, to the tune of 104 yards on 23 carries. Other running backs Marlin Lane and Devrin Young added 22 and 14 yards respectively, and Cordarrelle Patterson added a 55-yard touchdown run as well. Tennessee had a balanced attack all day, 40 rushes to 45 passes, something that they didn't do against Florida, and it paid off. When Georgia's offense looked unstoppable in the first half, the Tennessee run game was able to slow down the game and help the Vols possess the pigskin longer.
3. Forced turnovers: As head coach Derek Dooley professes at nearly every press conference, turnovers win games. Tennessee lost the turnover battle—more on that later—but without some huge turnovers the Volunteers are blown out of the game in the first half. Byron Moore's pick-six was the first score for Tennessee and fumbles on consecutive drives resulted in two more Tennessee touchdowns. If you struggle with math, that equated to 21 of the Vols' 30 points in the first half. Talk about a boost.
4. Red zone efficiency: The Vols were 5-for-6 in the red zone Saturday, with their only time inside the 20 that they came away from with nothing was the 28-yard kick missed by Derrick Brodus. The Tennessee offense also scored four touchdowns instead of settling for field goals. Minor victories, but signs of improvement.
5. Daniel McCullers: The big man had a coming out party of sorts Saturday. McCullers had two tackles and was involved in six others. He also had a tackle for a loss late in the game on a running play. McCullers has been doing his job of clogging up the middle, now it's just a matter of the other guys making some plays. Don't expect the guy to put up huge numbers, but his presence is a help to the Volunteers' 3-4 scheme.
1. Stopping the run: Or, rather, lack of stopping the run. Time after time the freshman tandem of Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley, or "Gurshall," gashed the Vols for huge gains. The Vols were unable to stop the Georgia running backs for most of the day from bouncing runs to the outside. A prime example is Marshall's 75-yard touchdown scamper. The Bulldogs racked up 282 yards on the ground and if Tennessee is going to knock off one of the three ranked opponents coming up on the schedule they will have to shore up the run defense.
2. Secondary woes: It's an understatement to say that the Volunteers' secondary was bad against the Bulldogs. Outside of Moore's pick-six there was little to brag about on the Vols' third line of defense. It largely consisted of miscommunication, bad tackling angles and straight up missed tackles. Aaron Murray was able to throw the ball when he wanted, they just didn't need him to.
3. The kicking game: The job is up for grabs, again. After three good weeks from Brodus, he really struggled Between the Hedges. Both misses are inexcusable and looking back at the series of events they loom large. If he makes the extra point and 28-yard chip-shot, the Vols only need a field goal to tie at the end of the game. In order to win games that you aren't suppose to you need to execute, and missing gimmes hurts those chances.
4. Offensive turnovers: The team that wins the turnover battle usually wins, and Saturday fit that formula. Tyler Bray accounted for all four turnovers, but it's hard to get angry with him. His first interception was a tipped ball when he didn't see the linebacker coming over, which was a tough break. The fumble with 1:22 left in the game is hard to stomach, but the guy was just trying to keep the play alive and got stripped. The last interception was in pure desperation. The Vols had 15 seconds to go 65 yards and needed a big chunk of yardage, and how many times do you see an interception in that scenario? A lot. The second pick is the toughest one. The Vols were driving and Bray made a bad throw. Fans expect him to make that throw, and I'm sure he does too.
5. Eliminate big plays: It's been a killer all season for the Tennessee defense. Keith Marshall broke a 75-yard run for a touchdown in the first quarter and had a 72-yard run in the fourth quarter as well. Georgia had eight plays of over 20 yards, and that can't happen. Big plays demoralize a team—just look at the Florida game.