ATHENS -- Tennessee's Tyler Bray managed to stay upright for most of the game Saturday. The junior quarterback wasn't sacked and wasn't severely pressured until the fourth quarter in Georgia's 51-44 win Saturday.
Part of that is because Bray did a good job of getting rid of the ball either to a receiver or throwing it away. But the Volunteer offensive line, including North Gwinnett grad Ja'Wuan James at right tackle, put bodies on Bulldogs trying to bring Bray down consistently.
James spent most of the night battling Jarvis Jones, John Jenkins and Cornelius Washington. None of them got to Bray, and rarely did any of them get past James until the ball was gone.
The Vols also got plenty of quality blocking to give the runners time to find holes. Rajion Neal had 23 carries for 104 yards and a touchdown, and wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson made one of the big plays of the day for Tennessee, finding the end zone on a reverse from 46 yards out. The Volunteers finished with 197 yards on 40 carries.
"It felt like we had to (get in a groove) to keep them honest," James said. "I feel like the O-line and Raijon did a great job."
Saturday's contest was the first time Tennessee had been in a late battle against a quality opponent like Georgia in a while. Volunteers coach Derek Dooley said it would be good for his team, and James also thought they would learn something despite leaving with a loss.
"Definitely, we need to finish," James said. "We did a good job until the last couple of plays of finishing. It was our first time of being in a game like this, and I'm very proud of everybody for us pushing and coming back. We've just got to finish."
Down 17 points early, Tennessee came back and led briefly in the first half after key takeaways. The Vols won the possession battle in the last three quarters, overall 33:01 to 26:59. Part of that was Georgia's quick-strike ability on offense, but Tennessee was no slouch at grinding out some yards on offense both on the ground and in the air.
"I've always believed these guys had some fight in them," Dooley said. "It's everybody else who didn't. But you've got to go out there and prove it. We got hit by a freight train early in the game. ... But we just kept playing and you find your way back into the game."
Georgia coach Mark Richt talked about the lack of sacks not necessarily meaning his pass rush wasn't good in the game. The Bulldogs were able to put pressure on Bray at times, especially in the fourth quarter, and forced him to make bad throws when the game was on the line.
"You could see there were times when Bray had to throw it away," Richt said. "We didn't have any sacks, but you don't have to always have sacks to affect a passer and end up having a successful day. ... I think they've got great pass protectors in their line."
James said the success against a top defense like Georgia will help him and the rest of the line know they can battle with some of the best in the country despite an 0-2 conference record.
"I feel like that gave us a lot of confidence," James said. "For (offensive coordinator Jim) Chaney to be able to call runs, it was a good feeling for him to put it on our shoulders late in the fourth quarter."
Despite some good offense in its first five games, Tennessee has come out with a loss in its two conference games against Georgia and Florida. James said next week's bye will give the Vols a chance to regroup after a long time without a break.
"You want to get a win before something like this," James said. "But I know we're about to go in and work, put in a couple of good practices, get off our feet a little bit and get ready for our next opponent."