The final score doesn’t always tell the whole story.
Although Tennessee’s game against SEC rival No. 3 Georgia on Saturday ultimately ended as a 43-14 loss, dropping the Vols to 1-4 on the season, the contest held multiple positive moments for head coach Jeremy Pruitt’s team.
Namely, the decision by Pruitt and his staff to name freshman Brian Maurer as the starting quarterback, replacing redshirt junior Jarrett Guarantano, paid big dividends.
The Ocala, Florida, native finished 14-of-28 passing for 259 yards, two touchdowns and one interception, creating the kind of energy and explosive plays that have been lacking for Tennessee this season.
“He kind of went through his progressions, kept his poise, kept his eyes downfield,” Pruitt said. “Made some nice throws. Enabled us to create some explosive plays that softened them up a little bit so that we could run the ball some.”
After Georgia took a 7-0 lead early by way of a short run by D’Andre Swift, Maurer tied the game with a 73-yard passing touchdown to Marquez Callaway.
Tennessee took a 14-10 advantage when, after a 50-yard Rodrigo Blankenship field goal, Maurer threw his second touchdown pass, a 12-yard completion to Jauan Jennings.
But the Bulldogs soon retook control and kept it. Blankenship hit on another field goal, and Jake Fromm threw two touchdown passes to put the Vols down 26-14 at halftime.
Georgia’s momentum carried into the second half, with the Bulldogs scoring 17 more points in the final two quarters, while Tennessee was held scoreless. Its offense hit a wall as its defense continued to struggle.
“There’s lots of plays that we won on. There’s more that we lost on,” Pruitt said. “We’ve got to figure out why we lost those plays as a team, as a coaching staff, and figure out how to improve on them.
“I did feel like, for a while there, that was the best total game that we have played for a while, but it still wasn’t good enough.”
He entered during the third quarter when Maurer was shaken up and completed a 14-yard pass to tight end Dominick Wood-Anderson. He replaced Maurer full-time during the fourth quarter.
Guarantano finished 1-of-5 passing.
“I thought Jarrett made some good throws while he was in there,” Pruitt said. “Done a nice job coaching Brian on the sidelines, what a true leader does.”
Tennessee totaled 70 rushing yards compared to Georgia’s 238. Tim Jordan led the team with 47 yards on nine carries. Ty Chandler, Guarantano and Eric Gray had 38, 9 and 5 yards rushing, respectively.
“Some of it’s about opportunity,” Pruitt said. “That’s the one thing, when you throw RPO’s, it’s the good and the bad, right? Maybe your offensive line has a chance to do something there and the quarterback pulls the ball and shoots it out on the perimeter or something like that.”
The Vols’ receiving corps played an impressive game, with two players eclipsing the 100-yard mark. Jennings totaled 114 yards on seven catches, while Callaway finished with three receptions for 105 yards.
“(Jennings is) really passionate about the game,” Callaway said. “You can tell, how he plays, how he speaks to it. In the receiving room, (we’re) with him all the time, so we talk about it all the time.”
“This is behind us now … I’m very excited for the next game,” safety Nigel Warrior said.