ATHENS, Ga. — Tennessee coach Derek Dooley stated the obvious inside a cramped media room outside the Volunteers' locker room at Sanford Stadium early Saturday evening.
There was no silver lining to this one for the Vols' maligned defense.
"We've obviously got a lot of issues on defense stopping the run that we've got to correct in this open date, or we're not going to beat anybody," Dooley said after his defense allowed 560 yards and 51 points in a seven-point loss at fifth-ranked Georgia. "They're a great running team, but we're a lot better than what we showed. It was frustrating.
"When they get in the secondary, we've got no ability to get the guy down, which is disappointing."
The Southeastern Conference's top offense entering Saturday rolled up 282 yards on 39 carries against Tennessee. Tailbacks Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley averaged more than 8 yards per carry. Quarterback Aaron Murray threw for 278 yards on 19 completions.
In living up to their billing as the national leader in plays of 20 or more yards, the big-play Bulldogs scored four times from beyond 32 yards.
"Any time you give up the big plays, it's bad for you," Tennessee safety Byron Moore said. "We've just got to, moving forward, do a better job of eliminating the big plays and stop those explosive plays. It wasn't really nothing they did that was special, that we wasn't ready for."
Moore and cornerback Prentiss Waggner said the problems were more missed tackles than anything related to the Vols' new defensive scheme. Georgia had success on edge runs in the first half, which rendered mammoth nose tackle Daniel McCullers ineffective. The 360-pound junior college transfer made his presence felt when the Bulldogs did run inside with eight tackles.
"It wasn't anything scheme-wise," Waggner said. "I think they got us out-leveraged here and there. Once they get those big 40-yard plays, we can't turn them into 80-yard plays."
Despite the big plays, Tennessee made four fourth-quarter stops. The Vols also forced three turnovers in the second quarter to bring their season total to 12. Tennessee had just 18 takeaways all of 2011.
Dooley said the run defense will be a big focus in the Vols' upcoming open date and suggested personnel changes could be coming.
"We're not disruptive enough," he said. "Our guys are more capable than what they showed. I'm not down on who they are. I'm down on what they did. They're better than that. We've played two top-10 teams [that have] whipped us."
UT runs no surprise
Tennessee ran 40 times for 197 yards to average nearly 5 yards per carry. The Vols were last in the SEC in rushing last season, and they're averaging roughly 100 yards more this season. Dooley was adamant he's not surprised by the success.
"We've been running the ball good all year," he said. "I don't know why y'all think we haven't. Every week, you say, 'Are you surprised you ran the ball well?' I mean, what does a team have to do?"
He sarcastically said he was shocked before continuing.
"That's what we have to do win these games, and I've said it a hundred times. We lost patience in the one game they get hammered over, and I told you guys that. They did what they're capable of. They didn't surprise anybody except you guys."
Rajion Neal cracked the 100-yard mark for the second game in a row, and receiver Cordarrelle Patterson added 55 yards on three carries.
"It felt like we had to to keep them honest," right tackle Ja'Wuan James said. "I feel like the O-line and Rajion did a very good job. It was a good feeling, but you want to get the win."
A week after not playing LaDarrell McNeil any on defense, the Vols gave the freshman safety plenty of chances Saturday. He was their highest-rated high-school signee February, and he replaced Brent Brewer on a handful of possessions in the Vols' base defense. The 6-foot-1, 195-pounder from Texas finished with five tackles.
"He stepped up real big," Moore said. "He's young. He's got to grow up quick, so he's growing up on the run. I was helping him, and we feel like he did a pretty good job coming in.
"He's going to come up and he's going to hit people."
McNeil likely could be one of the personnel changes on defense.
"LaDarrell's a good football player," Dooley said. "He's going to get every opportunity to show he's a good football player. We knew it, and we've told you guys. We've just got to go now coach him what to do."
Patterson's impressive 46-yard touchdown atoned for a gruesome drop he had on a perfectly thrown second-quarter pass that would have scored a touchdown. ... After Derrick Brodus missed an extra point and a 28-yard field goal, Michael Palardy kicked Tennessee's final extra point, and Dooley suggested the job could be his to lose again. ... Linebacker A.J. Johnson's second-quarter touchdown run was his third on just five carries out of the wildcat package this season. ... Barbara Dooley, father of Derek and wife of legendary former Georgia coach/athletic director Vince, wore an orange sweater with red pants, the same outfit she wore to this game in 2010. ... Chris Fuller, Tennessee's senior associate athletic director for external operations, said the university sold its full allotment of tickets, which usually has been 8,000.
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...