Tennessee's football team may not be very good but at least it's entertaining. The Vols are virtually unstoppable on offense and virtually incapable of stopping anyone on defense ... a combination that makes for a lot of points and a lot of excitement. Heck, one Tennessee game can fill a SportsCenter highlights segment all by itself.
Saturday's 51-44 loss at Georgia was a prime example. Tennessee rushed 40 times for 197 yards, an average of nearly 5.0 yards per carry. Quarterback Tyler Bray threw for another 281 yards and helped the Vols convert 8 of 15 third-down tries. The Big Orange's total offense figure of 478 yards should be enough to win every Saturday.
Unfortunately for Tennessee, there are three phases of play in football, and the Vols aren't very good in the other two. The Big Orange defense provided only token resistance as Georgia's Keith Marshall ran 75 and 72 yards for touchdowns. While Marshall was catching his breath, Todd Gurley bolted 51 yards for a score. Tennessee's special-teams play leaves a bit to be desired, as well. The Vols missed a PAT, missed a 28-yard field goal and had a punt blocked versus Georgia. Tennessee has now missed a mind-numbing four PATs this season.
It's true that Tennessee (3-2) has lost to both quality teams it has faced, Florida and Georgia. It's true that the Vols are porous on defense and inconsistent on special teams. Still, they're entertaining, and that should make the rest of the schedule fun to watch.
Where the game was lost
Most offenses stop themselves. Putting together a 12-play march without a drive-killing penalty, sack or turnover along the way is very difficult. Tennessee's defense isn't forcing teams to put together 12-play drives, however, and that spelled doom versus Georgia.
Every time the Bulldogs needed a big play they got one. One snap after Tennessee tied the score at 7-all, Marshall burst 75 yards to shift the momentum back to Georgia. After a Vol field goal trimmed the deficit to 14-10, Aaron Murray hit Tavarres King with a 31-yard pass to spark a touchdown drive that bumped the lead to 21-10. Moments later Gurley sped 51 yards for a 27-10 lead. Tied 30-30 at the half, Georgia got a 39-yard completion to tight end Arthur Lynch that ignited a touchdown drive and produced a 37-30 third-quarter lead. Moments later Murray hit Michael Bennett with a 32-yard TD pass that widened the gap to 43-30. Two plays after Tennessee closed to 43-37, Marshall raced 72 yards to restore order.
The big picture
Tennessee has enough offense to beat everyone left on the schedule except top-ranked Alabama. The Vol rushing attack was exceptional against Georgia. The offensive line blocked well and Rajion Neal ran hard against a very good Bulldog front seven. With a ground game to take some heat off of him, Bray is capable of putting up 300 passing yards every time out.
The key for Tennessee is obvious: The Vols must get their defense and their special teams to play at the SEC level. The stop unit must stop giving up so many explosive plays; the kickers must stop missing PATs and chip-shot field goals. If those two things happen, Tennessee has enough offense to go 6-1 the rest of the way.
Players of the game
Offense: Rajion Neal
Blessed with 4.36 speed and a muscular 5-foot-11, 211-pound frame, Neal has the physical tools to be a star. Fumbling problems doomed him in 2011, however, and tentative running cost him earlier this season.
Neal looked much more decisive and aggressive against Georgia, however, suggesting he may be developing a knack for making the right cuts instinctively. His 104 net yards included eight runs of six yards or more, with a long of 20. He also recorded five receptions, one being a spectacular diving catch of an 11-yard pass from Bray.
Defense: Daniel McCullers
Although Georgia backs ran through Tennessee's defense like flour through a sifter, the Dawgs found the going tough up the gut. That's because massive Vol nose tackle McCullers used his 6-foot-6, 362-pound frame to clog the middle quite efficiently.
McCullers finished the game with 8 stops, including a tackle for loss. He also blocked a Georgia point-after conversion. Honorable mentions go to linebacker A.J. Johnson (11 stops, 1 tackle for loss, 1 fumble recovery) and linebacker Herman Lathers (6 stops, 1 sack, 1 fumble forced).
Dan Mullen's Bulldogs are 4-0 and ranked No. 21 by the Associated Press and No. 19 by USA Today. Mississippi State enjoyed an open date this weekend. The Dogs visit Kentucky Oct. 6 before hosting Tennessee Oct. 13.