May 27, 2024

Position group grades for the Vols’ 34-31 win over Georgia

Tennessee topped Georgia, 34-31, in an instant classic. Here is how each positional group performed on Saturday.

ATHENS, GA - OCTOBER 01, 2016 - wide receiver Jauan Jennings #15 of the Tennessee Volunteers during the game between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Tennessee Volunteers at Sanford Stadium in Athens, GA. Photo By Donald Page/Tennessee Athletics

For the fourth time in five games, the Vols found themselves trailing by double digits. And for the fourth time in five games, Tennessee found a way to mount a comeback, overcoming a 17-0 first-half deficit before topping the Georgia Bulldogs, 34-31.

Here is how each positional group graded out.

Quarterback

Joshua Dobbs had by far his strongest performance of the season, displaying downfield accuracy and evading a number of sacks throughout the game. In the first half, Dobbs was exceptional, throwing only four passes off target and converting on a pair of beautiful passes down the field. Whenever the pass protection broke down, Dobbs was able to maneuver around prowling Georgia defenders and gain valuable yards. He should’ve had a touchdown pass, but running back Jalen Hurd committed a mind-numbing fumble just one yard before crossing the goal line. In the second half, Dobbs wasn’t as effective, under-throwing a pass in the fourth quarter that ended up being intercepted, and throwing another near-pick in the third quarter. All together, Dobbs only threw eight of his 26 passes off target, fell victim to a number of drops and scored four total touchdowns. And of course, there was the Hail Mary to end the game.

Grade: B+

 

Running backs

It was a solid day in the backfield for Hurd and Alvin Kamara. Although the final stats won’t impress—26 carries and 104 yards between the two—both did an exceptional job finding holes and gaining yards in tough situations. Both also finished with a receiving touchdown, with Hurd darting into the end zone after a perfect throw from Dobbs on the run, and Kamara evading a tackler before scoring a key touchdown to trim the lead to three in the fourth quarter. Both are docked points for first-half fumbles, especially Hurd’s, whose nonchalant prance toward the end zone resulted in a costly fumble.

Grade: B

 

Wide receivers

Aside from Jauan Jennings’ miracle touchdown reception to end the game, the receiving corps was average throughout the game, dropping three passes and failing to create separation consistently. After catching a touchdown pass in each of the first four games, Josh Malone finished with only two receptions for 23 yards, while Jennings only reeled in a pair of receptions for 28 yards before the final play.

Grade: C+

 

Offensive line

No position group has received more criticism than Tennessee’s offensive line. Against Georgia, they easily had their best performance of the season. The front five didn’t provide as much push in the ground game in the second half as they did in the first, but they still provided enough room for Hurd and Kamara to navigate through more times than not. In pass protection, the offensive line was brilliant. Dobbs received plenty of time in the pocket throughout the game to go through his reads and make the proper decisions. In total, the offensive line allowed a pair of sacks and only five pressures naturally, with five other pressures being the result of excellent coverage by the Bulldog secondary.

Grade: A

 

Defensive line

Over the final minutes of the fourth quarter, the defensive line was vicious, recording four-consecutive pressures, including a strip-sack by Derek Barnett in the end zone that was eventually recovered by Corey Vereen for a go-ahead touchdown. However, the performance over the first three quarters was a completely different story, as Georgia’s offensive line had their way with the Vols’ healthiest unit. Too many times, the Bulldog running backs were provided gaping holes to run through in the first half, which allowed Georgia to establish control of the game. The performance was especially concerning considering the back seven of Tennessee’s defense was hobbled by injuries, meaning that if the Bulldogs reached the second level, mistakes were going to be made. The unit gains bonus points for playing its best when it was needed the most, but the performance in the first half was inexcusable given their depth and talent.

Grade: C+

 

Linebackers

It was a rough day for the Orange and White’s linebackers. While the defensive line didn’t do much to help—and injuries to Darrin Kirkland Jr. and Jalen Reeves-Maybin certainly played a role in their struggles—the linebackers struggled with tackling in the open field and coverage all evening long.

Grade: D

 

Secondary

The secondary wasn’t challenged all that much. That was by design though, as Georgia opted to control the game on the ground rather than depend on the arm of freshman quarterback Jacob Eason. When Eason did decide to challenge the injury riddled Vol secondary, his receivers often won their battles, but Tennessee was fortunate that a number of Eason’s passes sailed over his target. On Isaac Nauta’s 50-yard touchdown reception, despite receiving no help for the linebackers in coverage, the Vol safeties ran too wide and allowed the middle of the field to part like the Red Sea. Malik Foreman’s interception in the fourth quarter nearly sealed the game, but his inexplicable decision to quit covering Riley Ridley resulted in the game’s first Hail Mary.

Grade: C-

 

Special teams

Punter Trevor Daniel had an average performance overall, but pinned the Bulldogs at the six-yard line late in the fourth quarter. Two plays later, Tennessee took the lead on a recovered fumble in the end zone. Kamara also had three productive punt returns, but Evan Berry’s 20-yard kickoff return was the pivotal special teams play. Without that return, Dobbs might not have possessed enough arm strength to convert on the Hail Mary.

Grade: B+

Edited by Dalton King 

Featured image by Donald Page, courtesy of Tennessee Athletics

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