Georgia football: Far from perfect at Tennessee, Bulldogs still have work to do
It wasn’t going to really happen, was it?
Tennessee, 1-3 on the season and with a true freshman starting behind center, wasn’t really going to take down No. 3 Georgia, a team led by a junior quarterback, an elite offensive line and one of the best running backs in the country, was it?
The thought had to have at least crossed your mind early on in the 2nd quarter. And although this game ended with the Dawgs in the win column to run their streak to 15 consecutive victories against SEC East opponents, it was far from a work of art.
Jauan Jennings, Tennessee’s brightest offensive star, had a big first half for the Volunteers: 5 catches for 81 yards and a touchdown. Marquez Callaway, whose longest catch for his career was for 51 yards, burned the secondary for a 73-yard touchdown on the first play of Tennessee’s 2nd drive of the game. Georgia was whistled for 11 penalties for 107 yards, although some fans might say that a few of those calls were unjustified.
That’s 2 slow starts in a row for the Bulldogs. They trailed 10-7 at the break against No. 9 Notre Dame 2 weeks ago at Sanford Stadium before eventually turning the tables for a 23-17 win. While they have a little more leeway with teams like Tennessee and, later, South Carolina and Kentucky over the next 2 games, that margin disappears against teams like Florida, Auburn and Texas A&M, part of a tough November that should give us the clearest view of where this team is headed.
(Side note: I can only imagine Nick Saban after a game like this. If there’s one thing Kirby Smart learned from his former boss, it’s that sometimes the final score doesn’t tell the whole picture of a team’s performance.)
That’s not to say it was all bad. Far from it.
Georgia ended with 238 yards rushing on 41 carries, an average of 5.8 yards an attempt. D’Andre Swift and Brian Herrien, plus redshirt freshman Zamir White, led the way as the Vols gave up their most yards rushing this season. Jake Fromm was as efficient as he always was: 24-of-29, 288 yards and 2 touchdowns while barely facing any pressure. (Fromm’s line through 5 games, by the way? A sturdy 474-for-709, 7 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions while being sacked just 1 time.)
Swift actually led the Dawgs in both rushing and receiving yards, while Lawrence Cager, who caught one of the 2 touchdown passes Fromm threw, enjoyed his second straight strong performance. Demetris Robinson had grabs of 33 and 28 yards that came at key times.
The Vols, looking to keep pace in its upset bid, simply were no match as the night went on. When they tried to run the ball, they gained almost no traction against the Bulldogs’ defense.
As for Brian Maurer? The Florida native looked like the second coming of Peyton Manning for a bit — OK, not quite — but was neutralized after his hot start, a credit to Smart and defensive coordinator Dan Lanning’s adjustments to keep the first-year player at bay.
It left Jeremy Pruitt desperate to spark an offense that hadn’t scored since it was 14-10 in the 2nd quarter, so much so that he inserted Jarrett Guarantano in the 3rd quarter to a chorus of boos from the Neyland Stadium crowd. In an ironic but humorous twist, Richard LeCounte, who had a targeting call against him reversed following a completed pass by Guarantano, welcomed Maurer back to the field on the very next play with an interception to snuff out the Vols’ drive.
Two drives later, early in the 4th quarter, Georgia was in the end zone. Ballgame. Tennessee’s ensuing drive? A crunching hit by on Maurer by Eric Stokes to jar the ball loose, then scooped up and returned 60 yards the other way by Tae Crowder for a touchdown. (A play, I might add, that more than a few people may have been quite excited for — the same people that were wishing against a last-second Tennessee touchdown.)
So Georgia heads back home 5-0 with 15 consecutive games won against SEC East opponents. The Gamecocks are next, with a chance to run that streak to 16.
The scary part is that we might have not yet seen the absolute best of these Bulldogs. With a few things to iron out, hopefully achieving that level comes sooner rather than later.