KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Josh Heupel maintained his streak of scoring at least 14 points in every one of his games at the helm of programs at Tennessee and UCF (46), but the Vols’ head coach wasn’t looking for moral victories.
Heupel pointed out factors after the 41-17 loss to No. 1-ranked Georgia (10-0, 8-0) that could have led to a different result for his upset-minded Big Orange (5-5, 3-4) on Saturday night.
The Tennessee defense actually allowed fewer points to the Bulldogs than it did to Kentucky (42) or Alabama (52) in its two previous games.
But mistakes cost the Vols any shot at the upset Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin predicted.
“You lose the turnover battle 2-0, can’t do that,” said Heupel, whose Tennessee team scored more points and gained more yards against the Bulldogs than any of Georgia’s previous opponents.
“The red zone for us, offensively, not good enough,” Heupel said. “You change those two things, you’ve got a chance to play it down to the end.”
The Vols biggest turnover came with on their first possession of the second quarter with the score tied 10-10.
Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker (24-37, 244) overthrew his receiver and Georgia’s Derion Kendrick intercepted the ball at the 47 and returned it 7 yards to the 40, setting up the Bulldogs’ go-ahead score.
The second Vols’ turnover came on the Vols’ first drive of the fourth quarter with Tennessee down 34-10 and facing a third-and-6 at the Georgia 7. Hooker was sacked by Channing Tindall and Travon Walker recovered at the UGA 27.
The Vols crossed midfield and got into the Bulldogs’ territory on 6 of their 13 drives, but they got only 17 points out of 5 trips inside Georgia’s 30-yard line.
“Against a good football team like that, you’ve got to make the plays or make some plays that give you a chance to play it down in the end,” Heupel said. “Our kids aren’t scared of walking out on the football field against anybody and neither are our coaches.
“We’re going to continue to recruit, we’re going to continue to build the right culture inside this building and we’ll be in more of these games and we’ll be on the right side of them as we grow.”
Heupel explained that Georgia’s talented defensive front was key.
“They got us with the pressure, we just busted protection,” Heupel said. “We got the next drive going, we air-mail a ball and we end up throwing a pick.
“When it’s going good, guys are doing the ordinary things at a really high level and when it’s not, it’s probably something along those lines,” he said. “It’s not all 11, it’s just one guy. They’re a good football team. They’re good defensively. They’ve got really good personnel.
Tennessee, led by Cedric Tillman’s 200 yards receiving on 10 catches, closes the season with home games against South Alabama and Vanderbilt.
Heupel expects the Vols to play better.
“Tonight wasn’t our best football, and I don’t want to take anything away from Georgia,” the first-year Tennessee coach said. “They’re really good in all three phases of the game.”