Oct. 8, 2011
(4-2, 3-1 SEC)
(3-2, 0-2 SEC)
KNOXVILLE -- For much of the season, Tennessee coach Derek Dooley bemoaned his team's tendency to give up one or two costly plays.
Unfortunately for the Vols, that trend continued in a 20-12 loss to Georgia in front of 102,455 fans in Neyland Stadium on Saturday night.
After finishing the first half tied, the Vols surrendered 14 unanswered points in the third quarter and couldn't catch back up.
One big play in particular -- a 73-yard pass to freshman receiver Malcolm Mitchell -- proved costly.
Backed up at his 7-yard line, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray hit Mitchell on a play-action pass that took Georgia to the UT 22 and flipped the field in a major way.
"That's a huge play. Everything changed after that," Dooley said. "Then we really got affected. Then we gave up a 17-yard run. That was the longest run of the day. That was big. Then it got hard."
Two plays later, freshman Isaiah Crowell scored on that 17-yard run to give Georgia a 20-6 lead with 4:51 remaining in the third quarter.
Linebacker Austin Johnson, who led the Vols with a career-high 11 tackles, said some of UT's defensive players hadn't quite mentally recovered from the long pass when Crowell scored.
"I did see them kind of get down a little bit," Johnson said. "My job is to make sure they stay up. Maybe I didn't do the best job. We've got to be able to react better when those (big plays) happen."
The Bulldogs (4-2, 3-1 SEC) moved the ball 38 yards on eight plays and scored a touchdown on their first possession of the second half after forcing UT off the field in three plays.
While Georgia moved the ball with ease out of halftime, picking up 177 of its 366 yards of total offense in the third quarter. Meanwhile, Tennessee (3-2, 0-2) began the second half in an offensive funk.
The Vols had just 11 yards of total offense in the third quarter on 11 plays. And a flagging ground game didn't get any better after halftime. In fact, it got worse.
The Vols had just 29 yards rushing in the first half. By the midway point of the fourth quarter, the Vols had minus-4 yards, although that total was impacted by sacks.
UT finished with minus-20 yards on the ground, the second time in two conference games UT has finished with negative rushing yards.
Senior tailback Tauren Poole had 7 yards on seven carries before leaving during the second the quarter with a hamstring injury.
"You didn't have your senior, heavy runner," Dooley said. "Not that that would have been the difference, but when you lose your starting running back it hurts. But what was he doing before that? He wasn't tearing it up anyway."
The bad news wasn't limited to the ground game, either.
Quarterback Tyler Bray, who finished with 251 yards on 18-of-33 passing, left the game with about 4 1/2 minutes remaining after his throwing hand slammed into a Georgia defender's helmet.
"He hurt his thumb. That's what we know," Dooley said of Bray, who finished without a touchdown pass for the first time in 10 games as a starter. "We'll find out more when X-ray it."
With Bray on the bench, backup Matt Simms took over and scored on a 1-yard touchdown run to finish off a drive 14-play, 76-yard drive that made the score 20-12.
Michael Palardy's extra point was blocked, and the ensuing onside kick attempt went out of bounds, effectively ending Tennessee's chances.
Tennessee ended the first half with some momentum after a 46-yard drive in the final 1:38, and Palardy's 43-yard field goal as time expired tied the game at 6-6.
Tight end Mychal Rivera was the Vols most potent offensive weapon, catching four passes for 66 yards in the first half and finishing with five for 85 yards.
Receiver Da'Rick Rogers was held in check for most of the game, although he finished with 71 yards after being held to just two catches in the first half.
As difficult as the Vols had it at time against Georgia on Saturday, it won't get any easier.
UT hosts No. 1 LSU, which defeated Florida 34-11 Saturday, next week in Neyland Stadium before traveling to face No. 2 Alabama on Oct. 22.
"We've got one and two coming in," Dooley said. "Nobody's going to feel sorry for Tennessee."
Rivera wants to make sure Tennessee doesn't spend too much time feeling sorry for itself, either.
"We've just got to keep pushing forward. We've got a big week ahead next week," he said. "We've got a shot to take down No. 1. That's what I'm looking forward to."