Tennessee started the 2019 college football season with a historic dud.
The Vols were dismantled 38-30 in their home opener by Georgia State, a program that went 2-10 a year ago, played its first season of college football in 2010 and has been playing at the FBS level since only 2013.
Saturday’s win marked Georgia State’s first against a Power Five program and perhaps a new low for a Vols program thought to be trending in the right direction. Instead, the Vols were completely outclassed by the Panthers on both sides of the ball and suffered their first loss in a home season opener since 1983.
Tennessee, 26-point favorites entering the game, led 17-14 at halftime, but the second half was controlled by Georgia State. The Panthers marched right down the field on their first possession of the third quarter and took a 21-17 lead.
Tennessee responded later in the half with back-to-back field-goal drives, including one after a strip sack of Georgia State’s Dan Ellington. The second of those field goals gave the Vols a 23-21 lead with 12:05 to play.
The rest of the game was all Georgia State.
Following the field goal, the Panthers went 75 yards in nine plays without much resistance from Tennessee. A 19-yard touchdown run from Tre Barnett gave GSU a 28-23 lead. And on the ensuing drive, Georgia State’s Evan Jones blasted Tennessee QB Jarrett Guarantano, causing a fumble that the Panthers recovered.
Five plays later, Ellington delivered the dagger with a 22-yard touchdown run. And to make matters worse, Guarantano threw an interception on Tennessee’s next drive, putting the final nail in the coffin for the Vols and leaving the folks at Neyland Stadium incredulous.
Maybe when a boat in the Vol Navy caught fire and sunk before the game, we should have seen this loss coming.
Boat in Vol Navy burns, then sinks ahead of Tennessee football's season opener https://t.co/5hJ2ePv0z9— knoxnews (@knoxnews) August 31, 2019
What does this mean for Tennessee?
This program has been in a prolonged spell of mediocrity, but there was optimism entering the season season under Jeremy Pruitt. Pruitt has been recruiting well and getting more talent onto this Tennessee roster. After going 5-7 a year ago, folks in Knoxville have been feeling good about the direction of the program.
From a big-picture perspective, things may still be trending positively, but this is the kind of loss that just can’t happen for Tennessee. Georgia State is nowhere near in the same realm of the SEC competition the Vols will face as the season progresses, so this had to be a major shock to the system.
Perhaps most alarming was the level of physicality Georgia State was able to impose on the Tennessee offensive and defensive lines. The Vols threw the ball with some success, but ran for only 93 yards on 31 attempts. And on the other side of the ball, Georgia State finished the afternoon with 213 rushing yards.
The Panthers looked like they wanted it more. GSU head coach Shawn Elliott certainly thought so.
"TODAY'S GAME MEANT MORE TO US!"— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) August 31, 2019
Georgia State was hyped after their win over Tennessee 🙌 pic.twitter.com/031if2xj8U
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