Rather than being a predominantly first-half team, the Vols were able to overcome a 17-3 deficit in the second half to take the lead. Unfortunately, last-second penalties allowed the Bulldogs to tie and force overtime with five seconds left in regulation. The Bulldogs won with a 39-yard field goal in overtime after a fumble/touchback by Tennessee’s Alton Howard.
In one of the most exciting games of the last five seasons, there are so many positives the Vols need to focus on in order to move forward from this heartbreaker. So what are the takeaways from week six for the Vols?
Neyland Stadium was an electric atmosphere the second half of the game, just when everyone thought that Georgia would run away with the score. The Vols had over 50 potential recruits visiting, which definitely plays in favor of the team. The persistence and confidence of the players were admirable, and even quarterback Justin Worley, who has been criticized heavily all season, stepped up his game significantly.
Volunteer fans should be encouraged by some of the gutsy calls by the coaching staff. After several years of coaching uncertainty and coaching changes from Phillip Fulmer to Lane Kiffin to Derek Dooley, this coaching staff led by head coach Butch Jones needs to be applauded for several fourth-down calls, showing the confidence in his team.
With eight minutes to go, the Vols were able to use over six minutes to drive down the field 80 yards for a 7-yard Rajion Neal touchdown. The Vols may not have the strongest running back in Neal, but he was able to rush for 148 yards on 28 carries against a strong Bulldog defense, which held LSU leading rusher Jeremy Hill to just 86 yards the week prior.
The Vols put up one of the best performances in years and still lost. But, there wasn’t anyone to blame. Each phase of the game made great plays and proved that they have the potential to rise within the SEC. Howard’s fumble in OT shouldn’t be looked down upon. He extended his body and arm out as any player should have done. Fans should applaud the guy for trying to score.
Yes, it was a heartbreaker, but if the Vols continue to play with the high standard shown in the second half of Georgia game, they should be looking at some impressive victories down the stretch. That type of consistent play may even bring an opportunity come bowl season. The Vols will now get an extra week to prepare for South Carolina at Neyland, followed by an away game at Alabama.