Tennessee shows promise, needs signature win after Georgia loss
It seemed awfully familiar. The Tennessee Volunteers challenged a heavily favored No. 12 Georgia and fell three points short of an upset. Last season, the Vols took the outcome as a moral victory. This season, they should use it as motivation moving forward.
Tennessee is a better team in 2014 and has proved it through its first four games, despite a 2-2 record. The Vols dominated two respectable mid major programs before suffering their first loss to No. 4 Oklahoma. Despite a 34-10 final score, Tennessee showed promise through three quarters and fared better than most expected facing a national powerhouse.
Against Georgia, a young Tennessee team managed to outplay the Bulldogs’ entire offense outside of Todd Gurley. The Vols even managed to contain the running game long enough to force Hutson Mason to pass on third down, which proved to be unsuccessful for the senior quarterback.
Aside from several bad breaks– including Justin Worley’s elbow injury late in the third quarter– Tennessee had Saturday’s game won. Though the Vols’ effort in their first road game deserves credit, its time to stop using moral victories as an excuse. To the surprise of many, this team is capable of winning games now and is farther along in its rebuilding process than once perceived.
Tennessee’s young roster continues to improve with each passing game. Jalen Hurd has emerged as the Vols’ feature back and has topped his previous single-game bests in each passing matchup. Ethan Wolf and Josh Malone both showed improvement as solid pass catching targets in Saturday’s game.
Tennessee’s defense looks to be its most talented unit in recent memory, forcing opposing offenses to a 20.8 third down conversion rate. Opponents are 11-of-53 on third down this season, including Georgia’s 1-for-10 showing on Saturday.
The Vols need to cap off 2014 with a signature win. Last season, Tennessee managed to upset No. 11 South Carolina at home, snapping a 19-game losing streak against ranked teams. The Vols have several winnable SEC East matchups remaining and should fare well moving forward.
This week’s game against Florida is no exception. Despite the Gators’ struggles, the matchup is still circled on the calendars of many Tennessee fans as Florida has won every game of the annual matchup since 2004. This will be the perfect opportunity for Butch Jones and company to capture a major win and keep momentum facing a tough schedule.
Tennessee must win against Florida to keep its season alive in a wide open SEC East. If the Vols are victorious, they have a chance to finish with a much better record than most expected and still contend in their division.