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ATHENS, GA. — There was a moment in the first quarter where I looked over at police officer standing three feet from me on the field and couldn’t hear what he was asking me about tonight’s game between the Hedges. As it would turn out, Georgia didn’t need to talk very much either and shut down a Tennessee offense that was dominant heading into the weekend.
No. 3 Georgia handled its business on Saturday, just as it did last season against Alabama in Indianapolis. There wasn’t a need for any trick plays or Stetson Bennett to become superman on the field. The impressive performance was just how the Bulldogs play, no matter how previous outings played out. They beat teams on defense and the offense methodically breaks teams down in the trenches.
But for previous No.1 Tennessee, all is not lost in Athens. Far from it.
The Vols didn’t play like the team we’ve seen over the past eight games and were held to 2-14 on third downs, while looking lethargic on offense. Tennessee started the game by forcing a Georgia fumble on its first possession, giving them an opportunity to jump on the Bulldogs just as they did LSU last month.
Instead, after settling for a field goal from Chase McGrath, Tennessee held its only lead of the game. Hendon Hooker didn’t look like himself, which should be credited to Georgia sacking him six times and making life miserable in the pocket. The receiver group struggled to get open, and when they did, it resulted in a few overthrown passes.
Tennessee Still In Playoff Discussion Because Of Previous Work
Georgia punched the Vols in the mouth and Josh Heupel’s team had a hard time landing any type of response. But, even with the sloppy play and struggles in all facets of the game, including on special teams, Tennessee can still achieve its goal of playing in the College Football Playoff on New Year’s Eve.
Now, Tennessee has to hope Georgia wins out, including an SEC Championship.
A lot will happen over the next few weeks, but Heupel knows that his team must embarrass its remaining opponents. That includes Missouri next week, then trips to South Carolina and Vanderbilt.
I expect Tennessee will drop no further than to No. 5 in the new CFP rankings on Tuesday, which will keep them within striking distance of the Playoff.
Ohio State and Michigan still have to play and the SEC is going to get interesting down the stretch. Meanwhile, things will get tricky with TCU and the Big-12 Conference, as the Horned Frogs still have to play Texas and Baylor.
All Wasn’t Lost For Tennessee In Athens
Without getting into the weeds with this discussion, all was not lost on Saturday afternoon in Athens. Georgia proved why they should be the No. 1 team in the country, with Kirby Smart having enough talent to pull off the repeat title.
Going forward, Tennessee handling business against Pittsburgh (which defeated #20 Syracuse on Saturday), Florida, LSU, Alabama and Kentucky will only help them with three games left. Nothing went Tennessee’s way on Saturday and there are things they need to work on going forward. But they are not out of it yet.
Clemson getting destroyed by Notre Dame only helps the Vols further establishing the point that all wasn’t lost in Athens.
Thanks to their impressive wins in September and October, the Vols will have an opportunity to still achieve one of their goals. They might not play in Atlanta for an SEC title, but they could be there on New Year’s Eve in a Playoff game.
If not Atlanta, a trip to the Fiesta Bowl will surely bring back memories.