Recap: Tennessee at Georgia
Athens, Ga. — Herman Lathers spiraled from wide-eyed to fist-pumping to dejected. Saturday's 60-minute circus staged between Tennessee and fifth-ranked Georgia at Sanford Stadium took its toll on the Vols' defensive leader.
Actually, it took its toll on everyone in orange and white.
Big-play boxing matches tend to do that.
Once the Bulldogs' don't-blink 51-44 victory concluded, the UT linebacker solemnly said, "I don't look at it as a moral victory. It's something we worked for all week. We were prepared for this game, but we let up too many big plays."
Beat on four touchdowns of 30 yards or more, Lathers and the Vols were relegated to chasing red for much of Saturday.
UT spoke all week of containing Georgia's dynamic play-action offense. The key, players and coaches said, was sticking to assignments and containment.
That didn't happen.
Or at least it didn't happen enough.
Missed assignments beget missed tackles. Missed tackles beget a roaring crowd cheering stride-for-stride on long Georgia touchdown runs.
Slumped outside the Vols' postgame locker room, Lathers searched for words to best explain how the Vols allowed more than 50 points in regulation for the first time since a 59-20 loss at Florida on Sept. 15, 2007.
"Busts, missed assignments, not being where we're supposed to be when we're supposed to be there," Lathers said. "You correct those and you've got a ball game."
Actually, the Vols had themselves a ball game despite the stockpile of defensive mishaps. Georgia's win wasn't decided until the final possession. But that only made Saturday all the more painful for UT. Coach Derek Dooley classified it as "frustrating."
It was easy living for Georgia early on. When the Dawgs ran up the middle, they found clear freeway lanes. When they ran to the edges, they found open exit ramps.
After driving up and down the Sanford Stadium field for a quarter and a half, Georgia found itself with a 27-10 lead. The Dawgs cranked out four touchdowns in five possessions that were a combined 24 plays for 290 yards.
Georgia's final four possessions of the half went for 13 plays, 47 yards, two lost fumbles and a field goal.
After a sack and forced fumble gave the Vols prime real estate on the Georgia 8-yard line in a 27-17 game, Lathers roared. He stood in the corner of the end zone, hyping up a corner pocket of UT fans.
That was the high point.
The momentum swing, garnered by a defense making big plays instead of suffering from them, relegated Athens to stunned silence.
The quiet didn't last.
Tennessee surrendered 21 points in what would ultimately be a decisive third quarter. A 72-yard touchdown run by tailback Keith Marshall gave Georgia 206 total yards in the quarter and a 51-37 lead. The run mirrored a 75-yard scamper by Marshall in the game's opening quarter.
The Vols have now given up four runs of 70 or more yards in the past three weeks.
"I had some huge holes all day," a satisfied Marshall said afterward.
Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray, who Vols defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri called a "student of the game" last week, taught UT a lesson in that third quarter. The junior was clinical, completing all five pass attempts for 98 yards and two touchdowns to tight end Michael Bennett.
"It's heartbreaking for a defense when a guy spits a long run or we give up a big play or we bust our assignment," Lathers said. "It's correctable. That's the good thing about it."
The Vols have seven games left to do so.
Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at twitter.com/BFQuinn