Tennessee was a couple of plays from pulling an upset on Saturday in Athens. However, the Vols proved that they are on their way back to prominence in the SEC East. We take a look at five things we learned from Saturday’s game in Athens.
1) The trip to Oklahoma was huge for this Tennessee team. So, the Vols didn’t get the result they wanted in Norman. However, they gained experience and grew up in the loss to the Sooners. The end result was the fact they weren’t intimidated in Georgia’s Sanford Stadium. In fact, they may not play in a road environment that will intimidate them the rest of the year.
2) Justin Worley is a tough QB and has earned the respect of his teammates. When Worley went down with an injury in the third quarter, Tennessee’s offensive unit seemed out of whack with Nathan Peterman at the helm. However, Worley’s return in the fourth sent them back to the offensive rhythm that they needed.
While Worley has taken hits that would make a lesser play leave the field, he has bounced back and continues to play better as the year goes. The coaches, his teammates and others around the program rave about Worley’s maturity and toughness, and it is showing this season.
3) Third down for what has our attention. When you look down at defenses leading the nation in third down percentage, an average fan may not think the Vols should be in the mix especially considering Tennessee has lined up against Oklahoma and Georgia so far. However, the top team in the nation is in fact Tennessee.
The Vols have limited opponents to just 11 third-down conversions so far this season, including holding the Bulldogs to just one third-down conversion. The Tennessee defense has gotten better in each game so far this season, and as the younger players get more experience, that will only continue to be the case as the season marches on.
4) Jalen Hurd belongs in the SEC. The most surprising stat at halftime in Samford Stadium on Saturday may have been which running back was averaging the most yards per carry, and it wasn’t the one in Georgia red that has (and certainly deserves it) been called the best player in college football. It was Tennessee’s true freshman Hurd.
Hurd recorded the most rushing yards (119) on Saturday by a true Tennessee freshman since the 1997 SEC Championship Game and Jamal Lewis. Hurd made some beautiful runs and has helped take pressure off of the Tennessee passing game. It is just the start of big things to come for Hurd.
5) Butch Jones has the Tennessee program headed in the right direction. On Saturday, Tennessee looked like they belonged on the field with the Bulldogs unlike the past few years. In fact, they looked like an equal team and not underdogs. With the recruiting classes that Jones and company has coming in, the future is bright in Knoxville.