KNOXVILLE — Southeastern Conference losses are really hurting Tennessee.
The Volunteers might have lost more than a game during an ugly 20-12 setback to Georgia on Saturday night in Neyland Stadium.
Sophomore quarterback Tyler Bray left the game while holding his right hand after throwing an incompletion with 4:34 remaining, and tailback Tauren Poole (hamstring) didn’t play the second half.
The Vols lost leading receiver Justin Hunter to a season-ending knee injury in their SEC-opening loss at Florida.
Matt Simms replaced Bray and scored on a 1-yard sneak with 2:45 remaining, but Michael Palardy’s low PAT kick was blocked.
Tennessee got the ball back with 18 seconds left on its own 20 with no timeouts. Simms threw one incompletion before being sacked by Jarvis Jones on the game’s final play.
Georgia freshman Isaiah Crowell gave the Bulldogs a 20-6 lead by running for two touchdowns in the third quarter, and Georgia withstood a barrage of penalties — 60 yards during a five-play sequence late in the third quarter — and the late hurry-up flurry by a sputtering Volunteers offense to improve to 3-1 in the league and 4-2 overall.
Tennessee (0-2, 3-2) is left to wonder if it’ll have its quarterback or starting tailback for a grueling three-game stretch that starts here against LSU on Saturday. Bray’s injury was to the thumb on his throwing hand.
Poole’s potential loss is less daunting. He had seven carries for seven yards against the Bulldogs.
“Can’t run the ball, and if we can’t run the ball (we’re) not gonna beat good football teams,” UT coach Derek Dooley said. “That’s a fact.”
Tennessee finished with 20 yards on 23 carries, although one of those was a 12-yard loss thanks to a bad snap.
Georgia finished with 139 yards on 38 carries. Crowell rushed 19 times for a game-high 58 yards.
Sophomore quarterback Aaron Murray was 15-of-25 passing for 227 yards.
He threw a 71-yard pass to Malcolm Mitchell (three catches, 126 yards) on the first play after Tennessee had downed a punt at the Georgia 7 in the third quarter. It gave the Bulldogs possession at the UT 28, and set up Crowell’s 17-yard score to give Georgia a 20-6 lead.
Crowell scored from a yard out to make the score 13-6 with 8:19 left in the third quarter. Daryl Vereen was called for pass interference on tight end Orson Charles in the end zone on a 3rd-and-6 incompletion to set up that score. Crowell scored on 3rd-and-goal from the 1.
The teams traded a pair of field goals in a first half that fittingly ended on Palardy’s career-long 43-yarder, which tied the score at 6.
Freshman running back Marlin Lane’s 27-yard reception to the Georgia 34-yard line with 24 seconds left was the key play on the eight-play, 1:38 drive.
Georgia had taken a 6-3 lead on Blair Walsh’s 23-yard field goal with 1:44 left in the half, a kick that was set up by a 43-yard pass to Mitchell to the Tennessee 7.
Dooley was dejected after the game.
“We lost our composure a little bit,” he said, “pressed, got anxious, frustrated, and that was disappointing. … Our time will come. It’s not right now.”
Lane had six catches for 84 yards for Tennessee. Tight end Mychal Rivera had five catches for 85 yards and Da’Rick Rogers and five catches for 71 yards.
Georgia’s Mitchell (hamstring) left the game for good in the third quarter.
Tennessee hosts LSU on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. (CBS) in the return of former UT defensive coordinator John Chavis, who now holds the same position at LSU.
Former East Tennessee State head coach and Georgia alumnus Mike Cavan was at the game. Cavan gave Dooley his first full-time job when he left ETSU for Southern Methodist following the 1996 season.