Georgia was not the end of road

Marvin Westwestwords

That was a bad bump in the road. It was not the end of the road.

This is a good Tennessee team. It has won eight games against a tough-enough schedule. It dropped to No. 5 in the polls. It is top-ranked among the one-loss teams. It is no longer the best story in college football but don’t forget what the Vols hung on LSU, Alabama and Kentucky.

Hendon Hooker is a very good quarterback. Receivers are some level of outstanding. There is courage and determination all around but no great running back. Until Saturday, the offensive line had played better than it is.

The pass defense has been suspect all along.

So, what happened at Georgia? Tennessee lost a big game to a better team. For the first time this season, Tennessee lost the line of scrimmage. Hooker was sacked six times and many times pressured. He was not indecisive. Bulldog defensive backs did their job. They kept most everything in front. The Georgia blitz package looked like a Chinese fire drill.

Hooker just plain missed some targets. Jabari Small suffered a shoulder injury. He carried three times and gained eight yards.

I repeat: This is a good Tennessee team. Realistically, it never was No. 1 in the country. Those who so voted were enthralled by the offense. Me too. Jalin Hyatt’s five touchdowns against the Crimson Tide were very impressive. The Vols stunned Kentucky. That was an overwhelming performance, the stuff of shockwaves.

Good recruiting needs to keep getting better. Even with Nico, Tennessee is behind the best teams in the SEC in 2023 commitments. The Bulldogs are built on several years of top recruiting, even better than Alabama’s.

From this 27-13 intersection, the road goes two ways. The Vols can bounce back and finish as one of Tennessee’s most entertaining teams. Or, they can stay bogged down in how much better the Bulldogs were, the big dream lost, and lose to somebody they shouldn’t.

Missouri at Neyland Stadium beginning at mid-day Saturday, at South Carolina a week later and then at Vanderbilt are the potential stumbling blocks. Beware of Mizzou. All six SEC games were close.

Josh Heupel was impressive in how he handled defeat. He didn’t dodge the truth.

“There were protection issues, miscommunication. You put a little bit of any of those things together and you’re not efficient, not able to play ahead, not able to play with any tempo. That was part us, but part them, too.

“There are a lot of things that we’ll look back on that we have to do better when you’re playing a good football team like that.”

The coach said his players are resilient. He said they are competitors.

“These guys have a great amount of pride. We’ll reset. We got to this point by focusing on one game at a time.”

Heupel said he sure hates how this one turned out, that everybody hurts. He told the Vols to “be real about what happened.”

He said it was a tough environment … good opponent … competitive arena … got to grow and “be able to handle that in a much better way than we did.

“Be real about what we all needed to do better — coaches and players. At the same time, understand we’re a good football team.”

There is something else to understand and remember. The Tennessee restoration project is years ahead of schedule.

Marvin West welcomes reader comments or questions. His address is

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