Tennessee had all offseason to learn how to defend the triple option offense of Georgia Tech, but no matter how much prep you put in, it’s impossible to simulate the speed and efficiency of Paul Johnson’s Yellow Jacket offensive attack. The Vols found that out the hard way Monday night in Mercedes Benz Stadium, allowing a school-record 535 rushing yards to the Yellow Jackets.
Despite the gaudy rushing numbers put by Georgia Tech, Tennessee refused to lose in the second half and make an effort to get back into the game in the fourth quarter. Down 28-14 in the final quarter of regulation, the Tennessee offense finally hit its stride and scored two touchdowns to tie the game.
Tennessee’s special teams then came up with its biggest play of the game, blocking a Georgia Tech field goal attempt as time expired in regulation.
The game went into two overtimes, with both teams scoring touchdowns. The difference was the Yellow Jackets went for two and the win but were finally denied by the Vol defense that had been gashed all night on the ground. The stuff sealed the 42-41 win for the Vols and gave the team momentum heading into the home opener against Indiana State Saturday.
What I liked
The Vols never gave up.
It appeared Tennessee was out of gas and lacked the heart to make a comeback down 21-7 late in the third. Tech also held a 28-14 lead, both leads weren’t safe as Tennessee’s offense finally found its footing in the fourth quarter. The hot streak carried over into overtime, with two touchdowns in two overtime possessions.
The new face of the Tennessee offense was the team’s spark in the fourth quarter. Kelly seemingly refused to be tackled by the first man that made contact with him in the second half. The junior finished the game with 128 yards on 19 carries. Oh, he also added four touchdowns.
Following the loss of Josh Malone, Tennessee desperately needed a playmaker to emerge at receiver. It appears Marquez Callaway has taken that challenge to heart and is ready to be a great compliment to Jauan Jennings on the outside. Callaway finished the game with four catches for 115 yards and two touchdowns.
Speaking of replacing a former star, Darrell Taylor did a great job of filling in for 2017 NFL first-round draft pick Derek Barnett. Taylor forced a fumble that killed on Tech drive and was in the backfield more than any other Tennessee lineman.
Daniel Bituli stepped up and performed extremely well in place the injured Darrin Kirkland Jr. Bituli led the Tennessee defense with 23 tackles.
What needs work
Tennessee’s run defense.
The Vols have a history of suffering at the hands of mobile quarterbacks. Converted running back TaQuon Marshall made his first start for Georgia Tech and rushed for 249 yards. The Vols started out well, stopping the first two Tech drives, but failed to get another three-and-out until the fourth quarter.
Despite Tech only going to the air 10 times, the Vols were still hit for several big plays through the air with Tennessee either playing soft in coverage or getting caught napping over the top. Marshall had only attempted one pass in his college career heading into this game but hit the Vols for 120 yards in this one. Tech was also able to drive the length of the field in the closing two minutes of regulation thanks to Tennessee’s decision to play prevent defense.