This will leave a mark. I am not angry. On the contrary, I'm very proud of this team because of the fight we showed and improvement from the previous week. I’ll try to search for the positives (and there were many) amidst the bad things as I go. We saw this team grow up a bit. Perhaps more than a "bit."
I’m going to be brief because that's about all I can be in this moment. Please chime in in the comments.
1. No coach anywhere is playing more freshman - either starting, or first off the bench - in all of college football right now than Kirby Smart. Recruits are taking notice. Experience is rapidly occurring for these kids in some of the toughest circumstances they will face. This will pay big dividends in the future.
Offensive line help is on the way.
2. Kirby Smart got his kids up for this game. They played their best game of the season, and deserved to win despite some poor execution on both sides of the ball and some questionable coaching decisions...
2A. ...which leads me to this: Kirby is a rookie, too. You don’t think he’s taken away some valuable, hard lessons from this game? He really wants to win, folks. He will.
3. Chaney’s decision to throw out of the end zone was a disaster. What a tough spot to put our young (but rapidly maturing) quarterback in. Overall, the offensive brain trust did well with the limitations and the liabilities we have at certain positions. Give Tennessee's special teams some credit here.
4. I wish Gary Danielson was retiring. I’m gonna miss Verne.
5. I sincerely hope that the Head of SEC Officiating addresses the incompetency of the replay booth. Tennessee was the beneficiary of an obvious horrible lapse by the on-field and replay crew. Did it affect the final outcome? Well, maybe. Tennessee got a set up on 2nd and short after the botched first-down pass that was a no-catch that aided in a scoring drive. I’m not sure Josh Dobbs broke the plane of the goal with the ball in his trailing arm, either. Why no camera angle to support this? The best Conference in the land has the worst collection of officials.
6. The offensive line run-blocked much better. Pass blocking still leaves much to be desired. It is what it is. We had to mix up pass protection some as Catalina was having a tough afternoon with Derek Barnett, substituting Isaiah Wynn at left tackle. Even with a chipping tight-end or running back to help, we still had issues. Eason had precious few seconds to stand in the pocket, go through any sort of progression and deliver. Despite this, he showed incredible poise.
7. Some of Eason’s short throw into micro-tight windows were some of the best throws I’ve ever seen. He’s still making freshman mistakes and the late interception in a normal game would have ended things right there if not for our temporary heroics. This game was anything but normal.
7A. I'm sure SEC coaches are already beginning to fret over Isaac Nauta. Wow.
8. Sony Michel ran hard and Brien Herrien continues to impress with his tough inside running. Not having Chubb obviously hurt. He’s still the best blocking back we have and there were times where a healthy Nick Chubb (thinking the Eason fumble in the end zone) might have made a difference in pass protection.
9. Did you notice the blurb of info that was pointed out early regarding injuries to Michel and Chubb and how they’ve only played together in about half of their 30-something career games? Pity.
10. We aren’t we setting up punt returns better? The kicking game cost us yesterday. Shane Beamer, you’re on notice...
11. Tennessee certainly aided us with early fumbles (lost two - regression to the mean), but we are still having great difficulty generating points off of turnovers. Maddening. After Maurice Smith intercepted Dobbs early in the 4th quarter, I thought the missed 4th and two (weird pass call) that killed the short drive was critical.
12. How does this team pick itself up after this? Next week in Columbia will be typically hard. Perhaps playing so many young guys will be advantageous. Sometimes, youth proves to be more resilient than we give credit to.
13. Our defensive line is so young, but is going to be beastly next season. Maybe they become beastly the rest of this season.
14. RedCrake said it best in our Dawg Sports staff post-game "post-mortem." Eason-to-Ridley should have been one of the greatest plays in Sanford Stadium history. A Belue-to-Scott type of moment, for certain. The “Hobnail Boot” play for a new generation. Now, it’s just part of a stat-line... (but what an incredible play).
15. Better days are ahead. The trials and tribulations of the present and not-so-distant past are setting us up for greater days to come. We went toe-to-toe with a much deeper and experienced team and had ‘em beat. I feel like this season is a lot like 2006. That was Matthew Stafford’s first season where we lost against Vandy, Kentucky, Tennessee and Florida. But we finished the year strong as a very young quarterback and overall team gelled late in the season and set us up to be great in 2007 - arguably the best team in the Nation that didn’t get a chance to prove it. The table is being set and the youth movement is in full-force. Lots of puppies out there at the moment. Thieir teeth, minds and bodies are getting bigger; stronger, but some are still piddling on the carpet. Training/coaching will fix much, so I say this to our opponents:
Caveat Canem - "Beware of the Dog."
Still...we had ‘em until we didn’t. Keep the faith.