Georgia State quarterback Dan Ellington broke through the defensive line, cut to the outside and ran all the way into Tennessee football history Saturday afternoon at Neyland Stadium.
His 22-yard, fourth-quarter touchdown run gave the 26-point underdog Panthers a 12-point lead en route to a startling 38-30 victory that will rock Big Orange Nation to its core.
Calling it an “upset” doesn’t do it justice. This was the worst loss in the modern era of Tennessee football.
Tennessee lost to Rutgers in 1979, but that Rutgers team finished 8-3. A loss to 4-8 Wyoming in 2008 was worse than that.
But this was worse. Much worse.
You need to know the history to realize how bad.
Tennessee started playing football in 1891. Georgia State didn’t get into the football business until 2010. But UT’s 119-year head start wasn’t a factor on this afternoon.
More perspective: The Panthers ended a 2-10 season in 2018 on a seven-game losing streak. They lost their only game to a Power-5 conference opponent (N.C. State) by 34 points, and eight of their losses were by 14 points or more — usually a lot more.
When they opened their season against the Vols, they already had been tabbed to finish last in the Sun Belt’s East Division.
Given that background, it’s no mystery why UT was a 26-point favorite. But it never looked the part in what qualified as a dreadful opening act for a team expected to be much improved after finishing 5-7 last season.
Tennessee’s new defensive front was the team’s biggest concern entering the season. That concern is greater now.
The Vols gave up 213 yards rushing and two touchdown drives of more than 75 yards. Moreover, Georgia State’s advantage at the line of scrimmage increased as the game went along.
UT’s offense exhibited flaws of its own. Its two most glaring stats: only 93 yards rushing and four sacks allowed.
The stadium was almost empty by the time Georgia State put the finishing touches on the victory. Many of those fans who left early might not want to return anytime soon.
You can cite all sorts of reasons for Tennessee’s defeat. But the majority of the blame falls on second-year coach Jeremy Pruitt.
He had an entire off-season to prepare his team for this. And the Vols looked just as bad as they did in the last two games of the 2018 season — Pruitt’s first as a head coach — losing by a combined score of 88-30 to Missouri and Vanderbilt.
As bad as Tennessee was in a 4-8 2017 season, it was never this bad. And that season got coach Butch Jones fired.
I wrote in preseason that Pruitt was a long way from the hot seat because Tennessee would have to give him time to build a program. But when a UT coach loses his season opener to Georgia State, he’s on the hot seat.