Third Quarter Meltdown Seals Vols’ Fate
The great North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith once wrote, and often said, that the first five minutes of the second half were the most important minutes of a basketball game.
Little did he know that his precept would fittingly describe a football game on Saturday night in Knoxville between Georgia and Tennessee.
After scrapping and battling the Bulldogs to a 6-6 tie at the half, Tennessee had the third quarter from hell. On the Vols’ first possession of the half, James Stone’s snapping problem reared its ugly head again. On 3rd and 7, Stone’s snap sailed over Tyler Bray’s head who was deep in the shotgun. That forced Matt Darr to punt out of the Vol endzone. A predictably poor punt followed, allowing Georgia to start their possession at the Tennessee 38.
Enter Isaiah Crowell, Georgia’s fantastic freshman running back.
Crowell had only a hand full of running yards due to suffering a sprained left wrist on Georgia’s first possession of the game when he was hit causing a fumbled ball that fortunately for the ‘Dogs went out of bounds. Crowell was out for much of the first half. But he was back with a vengeance for the Bulldogs’ first possession of the second half.
Crowell ran the ball 8 times on Georgia’s 10-play drive for the game’s first TD, including a waltz into the checkerboards on 3rd and goal at the Vol 1 yard line. Daryl Vareen’s pass interference infraction, his second of the game, in the end zone on a ‘Dog 3rd and 6 from the Vol 9 yard line, set up Crowell’s TD walk.
Behind by 7, the Vols proceeded to nearly even the game. After getting a first down, Tennessee got a whopping -6 yards on two consecutive draw play runs by Marlin Lane. On the ensuing 3rd and long, Bray hits Lane on a crossing pattern to the right. Lane is seemingly brought down a yard or so short of the sticks near the right sideline. But in a moment reminiscent of last season’s BCS Championship game when Auburn’s Michael Dyer began running again after rolling over his defender’s body without touching the turf, Lane seemed to roll over his Bulldog defender’s legs, and kept running for another 50+ yards for a Vol TD.
The problem was that Lane’s tush touched the turf. The officials replay review brought the ball back to the Tennessee 47 where on 4th and 3, Dooley elected to punt instead of go.
This time, Matt Darr’s kick backed the ‘Dogs up to their own 7 yard line to set the stage for the game’s killing shot.
Georgia QB Aaron Murray had missed Tavarres King twice on two long routes in the first half – both times King had the Vol secondary beaten. Murray’s third bomb of the first half found freshman WR Malcolm Mitchell for a 43-yard gain, setting up the Bulldogs’ second FG of that half.
In the third quarter, backed up to near their own goal line, Georgia smelled blood. With Bulldog receivers having beaten the the Tennessee secondary on deep routes three times, it was time for the ‘Dogs to get out of their hole and put the Vols into one of their own.
On the first play from the Georgia 7 yard line, Murray hit Mitchell again over the middle, this time beating Vol DB Marsalis Teague for a gain all the way to the Tennessee 22 yard line.
After an Aaron Murray run to the Vol 17, Isaiah Crowell ran right through the Tennessee defense to put the ‘Dogs ahead by 14 and for good.
Tennessee was all but dead. But give the young Vols credit – they didn’t pack up their toys and go home. Georgia remained a beatable team, but the remainder of the game was sloppy, and filled with some bizarre events.
In the early part of the fourth quarter, Georgia started a drive at the Vol 44, only to find themselves with a 3rd and 57 at their own 30 yard line after three 10-yard holding penalties and a 15-yard personal foul.
Later, with the Vols at the Bulldog 23 yard line, Tyler Bray was injured when throwing a flat-armed pass. Bray’s passing hand hit a Bulldog helmet, Bray landed on his back, and then on the sideline with a bandaged thumb.
Matt Simms made a cameo, completed four passes, and sneaked for a 1-yard TD to get the Vols within a score with just under 3 minutes to go. But, Tennessee had to throw in another special teams snafu – Michael Palardy’s extra point was blocked.
This game was more hard evidence of how far the Vols have to go before gaining respectability in the SEC. Yes, Tyler Bray was once again more than respectable, with a 20-37 passing performance for 261 yards. But the Vol running game, with a total of 23 rushes for -20 total yards, pretty much says it all for the ineptitude of Tennessee’s chances of beating anybody with any significant quality.
My wife, watching the game with me, remarked that “Tennessee runs the ball as if their goal for every rushing play is to get back to the line of scrimmage.”
A sad but rather perceptive commentary of where we are at the moment. And with the severity of the Bray injury unknown at the moment, the remainder of the October mountain may be even more hazardous of a climb. Here come LSU, ‘Bama, and South Carolina.
Hold onto something sturdy.