Tennessee’s magical run hit a major snag on Saturday when the Vols lost to Georgia 27-13. Concerned? Don’t be. At least, not yet.
There is still plenty to play for even though the Vols no longer have an unblemished record. Tennessee will likely still run the table by beating Missouri, South Carolina and Vanderbilt.
If that happens, the Vols will still need some help to get into the College Football Playoff. However, assuming the Vols get back on track offensively (and they almost assuredly will), Tennessee will still be a great story if it comes down to them and another contender. Despite what happened on Saturday, the nation loves the Vols and that can be re-kindled with another 50-point beatdown of Missouri on Saturday.
The biggest concern Tennessee should have is whether or not the trip to Athens cost them their swagger. If so, that could be a big-time problem. The Vols are more talented than we all thought before the season. However, they’re still a team that plays over its head thanks to confidence. If that confidence has taken a major dent instead of just a minor one, then the Vols could look listless down the stretch and give the College Football Playoff reason to leave them out of the final four at the end of the season.
Do I think this Tennessee football team will lose some umph? Certainly. However, the psychological body blow could be a killer or a just an attention grabber. It will likely be somewhere in between. I doubt seriously that the Vols will just mail it in with a potential playoff berth still at stake.
Tennessee’s football team had a quiet confidence before the Georgia game. They need to keep that intact. No one looks back on the Bulldogs’ national championship team last season with an asterisk just because they lost a game. The Vols could still go 13-1 and win a national title. That would be much easier if they don’t have to face Georgia again.
Tennessee was thoroughly beaten on Saturday. However, the Vols are still formidable. Tennessee’s receivers were shut down against the Bulldogs, but there’s no questioning their play-making ability when you take the entire season into account. Other than Georgia, is there another team in the nation that the Vols shouldn’t have confidence against if they meet them in the playoffs. At its best, Tennessee can beat anyone that isn’t wearing scarlet and grey. Perhaps, with some breaks, the Vols could still do that one day as well. For now, it doesn’t appear so.
Before the College Football Playoff, the Vols would have been dead in the water after the Bulldogs reigned on Saturday. Now, there’s still plenty of hope for a historical season and, yes, a championship.
The Vols didn’t begin the Georgia game with composure and seemingly continued to lose any sense of themselves as the game rolled on. Poor pass protection, false starts, and woeful pass coverage all undid the Vols. For the first time all season, quarterback Hendon Hooker looked lost. I’m certainly not blaming him. In fact, he probably made the right decision more times than not. Forcing the ball to covered receivers downfield isn’t Hooker’s style nor a way to win. However, that was what he was presented with.
No loss is a good loss, but the Georgia defeat can be put to good use. What if the Vols are able to look at themselves and become galvanized moving forward? Then, they can indeed win a championship despite what happened against the Bulldogs on Saturday.
There is another possibility. The Vols may have just played over their head all season. Alabama and Florida may have been quality wins, but not elite opponents. Maybe the Vols caught LSU and Kentucky at the right time? Perhaps Tennessee was just fortunate against Pittsburgh. That’s a lot of conclusions to jump to after just one loss.
Is this team championship worthy? That depends on them. For all of their maturity and inner belief, the Vols have never faced a challenge this season like this. They’ve faced doubters, historical hurdles and backstories that read like a horror novel, but the 2022 Vols were never treated like this.
Do the Vols still have that inner belief? Can they still light up a scoreboard and wow the nation? We’ll see.