Game recap: Georgia 20, Tennessee 12
Tennessee Stat Book
Senior tailback Tauren Poole probably couldn't have saved the game for Tennessee's football team Saturday night, but his injury in the first half sure didn't help.
Poole left with a hamstring injury and didn't return as the Vols lost to Georgia 20-12 in front of 102,455 fans at Neyland Stadium.
"You didn't have your senior heavy runner, not that that would have been the difference, but when you lose your starting running back, it hurts," UT coach Derek Dooley said.
Poole gained a net of 7 yards on seven carries before going to the sideline.
"What was he doing before that (injury)?" Dooley said. "He wasn't tearing it up anyway."
Poole entered the game as the Vols' leading rusher with 318 yards — averaging 4.5 yards per carry — and one rushing touchdown with a long run of 28 yards.
His injury was almost an afterthought after starting quarterback Tyler Bray left with a thumb injury late in the game.
UT tight end Mychal Rivera said Dooley told the team to stay positive when Poole left the game.
"Coach Dooley just kept telling us to push through, push through," Rivera said. "We say the game maxims before every game, 'Carry the fight for 60 minutes,' so that's one thing we all knew we had to do. It's hard, but we attempted to do it."
Devrin's Day: UT true freshman Devrin Young caught a third-quarter kickoff in the end zone and returned it 50 yards.
It was the Vols' longest kickoff return since Da'Rick Rogers returned the opening kickoff for a 78-yard gain in the Vols' 24-14 victory over Kentucky last season.
With Georgia facing a fourth-and-56 situation and 9:37 left in the game, Young turned the corner for a 20-yard punt return. Georgia was penalized for a late hit on the play — giving the Vols a first down at Georgia's 43-yard line — but the drive stalled after three plays.
Young, a Bearden High School product, finished with 127 all-purpose yards — two punts returns for 19 yards and four kickoff returns for 108 yards.
"He's doing good," Dooley said of Young. "He's a weapon. He's helping us with field position. Our return game was good today. We had a punt return, we had a kick return, punted the ball well. I thought we had a good game on special teams, and then we kick an extra point up the fanny of an offensive lineman."
Dooley was referring to Michael Palardy's PAT attempt that was no good with 2:45 left in the game.
Young was the Class AAA Mr. Football Back of the Year as a senior at Bearden.
After the Georgia game, Dooley was asked if Young might be a candidate to get some snaps at running back.
"We'll consider giving anybody some reps in the backfield if they can generate some yards," Dooley said.
Defensive Leader: Junior free safety Prentiss Waggner led the Vols with 11 tackles — 10 solos and one assist — and had a forced fumble.
Regardless, Dooley wasn't ready to give the game ball to anybody in the secondary after Aaron Murray threw for 227 yards on 15-of-25 passing, including a 71-yarder.
"We were just a little soft in the secondary," Dooley said. "They were 15-of-25 for 227 (yards). That's a big number, so it's hard for me to say somebody played good back there until I see the film."
Big Hit: Georgia cornerback Branden Smith had one of the biggest hits of the game, but it wasn't enough to knock the ball loose from Rogers.
Rogers caught a 12-yard pass from Bray on fourth-and-8 with 9 minutes left in the first half and was immediately hit by Smith. The impact knocked Rogers' mouthpiece out, but Rogers bounced back up, grabbed his mouthpiece, and had some words with Smith before the next play.
UT finished off the drive with a 28-yard field goal by Palardy.
Rogers, the focal point of the Bulldogs' secondary, finished with five catches for 71 yards.
Opening Touchback: Palardy booted the opening kickoff into the right side of the end zone for a touchback. It was Palardy's fourth touchback in 28 kickoffs this season. He had no touchbacks during the 2010 season.
Bowl Reps: Representatives of the Gator Bowl and the Cotton Bowl attended Saturday's game. The Gator Bowl is Jan. 2 in Jacksonville, Fla., while the Cotton Bowl is Jan. 6 in Arlington, Texas.
Dave Link is a freelance contributor.