Jimmy’s blog: Georgia defense stifles UT, Hooker struggles

By Jimmy Hyams

Hendon Hooker’s Heisman hopes took a hit Saturday at Georgia

But the Tennessee quarterback isn’t out of the picture for player of the year.

And the Vols aren’t out of the conversation for a College Football Playoff spot.

The college football gods threw Hooker and UT a lifeline.

Hooker struggled mightily as Georgia’s defense vexed the Vols 27-13 in Athens, Ga. Hooker was 23 of 33 for a season-low 195 yards with an interception. He was sacked six times, pressured 20 times, misfired on throws and apparently didn’t see the few times receivers were open.

The co-favorite for the Heisman Trophy, Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud, had a miserable day. Against a weak Northwestern team in inclement weather, Stroud was 10 of 26 passing for 76 yards. He ran six times for 79 yards. He had 155 total yards of offense.

Tennessee’s loss will knock the Vols out of the No. 1 spot in the CFP poll, but the Vols should remain among the top five.

LSU upset No. 6 Alabama 32-31 in overtime, handing the Crimson Tide their second loss and assuring the Nick Saban will miss the four-team playoff.

Notre Dame whipped No. 4 Clemson, virtually dropping the Tigers out of CFP contention.

Tuesday’s CFP rankings will look something like this: 1. Georgia, 2. Ohio State, 3. Michigan, 4. TCU, 5. Tennessee.

There’s a chance UT could rank ahead of TCU, given the Vols’ strength of schedule and quality wins over Alabama and LSU.

Either way, you figure the Ohio State-Michigan loser will fall behind Tennessee.

You also figure TCU, with its porous defense, is subject to being upset.

That, of course, assumes Tennessee takes care of business and wins its next three games against Missouri, South Carolina and Vanderbilt.

To ensure Tennessee runs the table, the Vols will have to play better than they did against Georgia.

In short, Georgia was the better team. The more talented Bulldogs dominated the line of scrimmage, holding the Vols to 94 yards on 42 carries (counting 22 sack yards lost). Georgia blitzed UT into submission.

Hooker either didn’t recognize the blitz, held the ball too long or didn’t find a hot receiver for a quick throw. Too often, Hooker tried to scramble his way out of trouble rather than throw the ball away.

And it didn’t appear UT had many hot receivers available to Hooker. A quick out, a quick screen, a quick slant could have done wonders for the offense. But they didn’t appear to be options.

And for the first time this year, UT didn’t have receivers running wide open downfield.

“Definitely, the game plan, they didn’t want us to go deep,’’ said UT receiver Cedric Tillman, who caught seven passes for 68 yards. “They wanted us to throw short routes.

“Obviously, they are a great coached team and they did what they were supposed to do.’’

They didn’t misalign. They didn’t miscommunicate, And they covered the Vols like a wet blanket.

Tennessee, which led the nation in scoring and total offense, never found an offensive rhythm.

The Vols had outscored opponents 96-24 in the first quarter this year, but the Dawgs won the first period 14-3. And UT never seemed to recover from the slow start.

“We didn’t start well in any phase of the game,’’ said Heupel, whose offense was held without a first-half touchdown for the first time as UT’s coach. “A lot of self-inflicted wounds. At the end of the day, I didn’t like the way we started.’’

The start was impacted by a raucous crowd that caused a lot of false starts. The Vols were guilty of eight pre-snap penalties, creating a plethora of third-and-long situations that UT couldn’t covert. The Vols were 2 of 14 on third downs.

During one possession, a third-and-2 turned into a third-and-12 after two illegal procedure penalties. Another third-and-12 turned into a third-and-17 after another pre-snap penalty. In total, UT had 10 third-downs of at least 5 yards and five where UT needed at least 10 yards.

“Offensively, it wasn’t clean all night,’’ Heupel said. “It wasn’t efficient. We couldn’t finish the job. Our staff and players have got to own this one.’’

Heupel was frustrated by the missed third down attempts.

“You’re not going to sustain anything (if you can’t convert on third down) so you’ve got to create some big plays and we didn’t create big plays,’’ Heupel said.

Georgia’s defense, ranked No. 1 in the SEC against scoring and total yards allowed, held UT’s run game in check and harassed Hooker all day.

Perhaps an underrated element of Georgia’s defense is their ability to tackle. You rarely see opponents break tackles against this athletic group.

So Tennessee suffers its first loss of the season and Hooker plays his worst game of the season.

But hope still remains – thanks to a bizarre day that kept the door open for the Vols in the CFP and for Hooker in the Heisman.

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