Tennessee narrowly escaped the brand new and immaculately forged Mercedes Benz Center in Atlanta, Georgia with a win on Labor Day against a determined Georgia Tech team that set numerous rushing records. It’s one of the more rare things that happens in college football; The team that rushes for more yardage wins the game more often than not, but when a team rushes for over 500 yards, well, they almost always win.
There were trashcan jokes, sloppy defensive play from both teams and way too much Chase Herbstreit (How could they think that we care? And why does Captain Kirk get to have his kid in the booth pushing buttons and watching horse races? We only watch ESPN during football season now. Don’t lose us altogether.)
In the midst of all the shenanigans that took place during the game, a separation between fact and opinion is necessary in its aftermath. Those things are not mutually exclusive, but after such a dumbfounding game, it’s time to draw a line.
Here’s a look at the offense first.
FACT: Quentin Dormady played better in the second half after going 8-20 in the first two quarters.
In his first career start under center, Quentin Dormady finished a winner, completing 20 of 37 passes for 221 yards and two touchdowns. Most of his effective work came after the break as he went 12 of 17 for 169 yards and two scores. He also had two rushes for 13 yards.
The receivers didn’t do much to help Dormady either. Five passes were dropped in the first half alone, which would have made a significant impact on Dormady’s numbers and, perhaps, the game as a whole. However, Dormady routinely threw passes behind receivers on crossings routes from varying depths. Jauan Jennings will be out for an undisclosed amount of time after reportedly breaking his wrist after catching a ball in heavy traffic. It looks like Dormady has a little Brett Favre in him, and that could be fun at times, but he can’t continue to throw above target when receivers go across the middle and expect them to play the entire season. Accuracy was a problem for Dormady, which could have been nerves, but could also be a legit concern for new Offensive Coordinator Larry Scott and company. It will be interesting to see if Tennessee fans get the Dormady of the first half or the second moving forward.
FACT: Marquez Callaway played well, other receivers are question marks.
First half drops and a mysterious lack of rushing attempts kept the Tennessee offense stuck in mud. Seemingly the only receiver without a drop in the first half was Callaway, and he didn’t receive a target. That all changed in the second half, and Callaway took over the perimeter with touchdown catches of 50 and 10 yards. He also set up the game-tying score with a soaring 40-yard grab in the fourth. He burst on to the national scene on Labor Day. What’s next for the sophomore with the absence of Jauan Jennings?
FACT: The Offensive Line allowed zero sacks and Tennessee had zero turnovers.
Everyone knows that Georgia Tech is hard to plan for schematically when they have the ball, but they also present some unique challenges defensively. The Wramblin Wreck often rushed only three and dropped eight in to coverage, which made for smaller windows for Tennessee’s first year quarterback. There were some instances of pressure (even with GT only rushing three) and a couple of errant throws that could have been picked, but especially in the second half, Dormady and the O line seemed to find chemistry. No turnovers is hard to do in any ballgame. An O Line allowing no sacks is tough as well. Preventing both is impressive.
FACT: John Kelly and Ty Chandler can handle more touches.
On the way to scoring four touchdowns, John Kelly averaged 6.7 yards per carry on Monday night. Ty Chandler had a single carry for seven yards. Dormady gained 13 yards on two carries. As a team, Tennessee averaged 6.7 yards per carry and accumulated 150 at an excruciatingly slow pace on a mere 22 carries. This has to change if Tennessee expects to compete for the SEC East, which again looks worse than preseason prognostications suggested. If the offensive line from the opener is to be trusted, the run game will get better as the game goes on if coaches stay with it, which is a recipe that has served college football powerhouses well since the game was created.
FACT: The Offensive Line improved as the game went on.
Tennessee’s offensive line was bigger than Georgia Tech’s front and it showed as the game leaned into its end. Number one overall recruit Trey Smith looked surprisingly ready for the big stage and he has a long time to improve. With injuries (various players) and a suspension (Drew Richmond) in play for the opener, Vol fans could find encouragement with regards to the future. If it can wear down teams in the fourth quarter like it did on Monday, the Vols could have a surprisingly strong unit at Offensive Line.
OPINION: Jarrett Guarantano should have played.
Most pundits suggested that Tennessee fans would see each of its marquee quarterbacks. Not only did this not happen, outside of a clip of Guarantano with his helmet on, there was no sign of such a move. Maybe he should have gotten a look, and the gaggle of folks I watched the game with certainly expected to see the red-shirt freshman somewhere in the third-to-fifth series range. Another opinion, and a gross overreaction in my o, is that Guarantano is going to transfer. Cool the jets, neighbors. The season is long and windy. Guarantano will get his look, and it will probably be next week against Indiana State, so Vol fans shouldn’t have to wait long to see his game.
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