Rapid Reaction: Georgia throttles Tennessee in SEC East showdown
Game of the century? Elimination game? Top offense versus top defense?
Georgia just said, “mess around and find out.”
The Bulldogs, 8.5-point favorites entering their game against CFP No. 1 Tennessee but a popular pick to lose between the AP’s top two teams, proved why the defending national champions may be the favorites to win it all again.
Georgia throttled Tennessee 27-13, notching its 6th straight victory over the Vols and separating itself in the SEC East race in the process. The win extended Georgia’s longest winning streak in rivalry history and put the Dawgs in great position to win the division, make the SEC Championship, and advance to a second straight College Football Playoff.
Tennessee scored its only TD in the 4th quarter when the outcome had been decided. Georgia’s defense ended the suspense with its 7th sack of the game to end the Vols’ final possession.
The Bulldogs now hold arguably the two most impressive wins of the college football season, with blowout victories over Oregon and Tennesee.
In the battle between the unstoppable force and the immovable object, the latter came out on top.
The Vols entered the game with the nation’s most dangerous offense but were bottled up by a Georgia defense that allowed fewer than 300 total yards and sacked Vols quarterback Hendon Hooker 6 times. Questions followed the Bulldogs into the contest – was their defense overrated, would the pass rush be a concern – but the defending national champs answered all of them.
Georgia came out fast in the first half, taking a 24-6 lead going into the break and holding serve on defense underneath the rain in the second half.
Tennessee scored first, but it didn’t take long for the Bulldogs to take complete control of the game.
After a fumble by running back Daijun Edwards on the Bulldogs’ first drive and a subsequent field goal on Tennessee’s ensuing possession, Georgia began to impose their will on the Volunteers.
The Bulldogs scored on a 5-play, 80-yard drive to take a 7-3 lead midway through the first quarter. Stetson Bennett opened the drive with a 52-yard dime to oft-injured receiver Arian Smith to set the offense up at the Tennessee 28-yard line. Four plays later, Bennett got into the end zone on a 13-yard run to the right front pylon. Officials initially ruled Bennett out of bounds, but a review concluded that he had reached the football forward to break the plane while still in bounds.
Bennett, upon crossing the goal line, held up his thumb and pinky in the shape of a telephone to his ear, referencing the reported phone calls he received from Tennessee fans the night before the game.
Georgia extended its lead to 14-3 on one play with 3:32 remaining in the first quarter. Bennett hit receiver Ladd McConkey for a 37-yard touchdown pass after the Bulldogs had taken over possession instead Vols territory.
The play came after a controversial review on which Georgia, which appeared to tackle Tennessee’s Javontez Spraggins inside the end zone following a fumble by quarterback Hendon Hooker, was not awarded a safety. Instead, Tennessee faced a 4th down at its own goal line, punted to the 37-yard line, and Georgia responded with a touchdown on the next play.
The Bulldogs added another touchdown, a 5-yarder from Bennett to Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint early in the second quarter, to go ahead 21-3.
They went into halftime up 24-6.
Bennett outplayed Hooker throughout, throwing for 257 yards and 2 TDs while running for another score.
Kirby Smart challenged his Dawgs to shut down the Vols. Saturday, they responded with their best defensive effort of the season, leaving no doubt as to which team should be No. 1 in next Tuesday’s Playoff poll.