Rapid Reaction: Georgia turns it on the 2nd half to pull away from pesky Tennessee
It looked like the Tennessee Volunteers were putting together a serious threat to break its 3-game losing streak to the Georgia Bulldogs.
Eventually, though, the No. 3 Dawgs flexed their muscles both offensively and defensively, taking control in the 2nd half to pull away from the 14th-ranked Volunteers and win, 44-21, at Sanford Stadium in Athens on Saturday night. The Vols led 21-17 at halftime.
The game couldn’t have gotten off to a worse start for the Dawgs: On the 2nd play from scrimmage at their own 20-yard line, a botched snap sailed over the head of Stetson Bennett IV. The Georgia quarterback was unable to recover it as Tennessee covered it up in the end zone for a touchdown. But Georgia struck back — aided by a couple of big plays from Kenny McIntosh and an upheld targeting call against Deandre Johnson — to pull level with 6:38 remaining in the 1st quarter as Zamir White punched it in from a yard out.
Inopportune penalties hurt the Volunteers again in the 1st half, including a pass interference early in the 2nd quarter on 3rd and 13 with Georgia at the Tennessee 47. And the Dawgs again took advantage of the free yardage, taking the lead at 14-7 as Bennett ran for a 1st down conversion on a 3rd-and-7 in the red zone before taking it in himself for 6 points.
Meanwhile, Georgia’s defense held on the ensuing Tennessee drive, forcing the Vols to punt as Jeremy Pruitt’s group was unable to get things going. But with the Bulldogs facing 4th-and-1 on its own 36 after getting the ball back, Kirby Smart elected to go for it, but an illegal motion penalty meant possession went over to the Volunteers.
On the very next play, Jarrett Guarantano hit Josh Palmer with a 36-yard touchdown strike as Tennessee knotted things up at 14.
The Dawgs showed off some big-play ability of their own as true freshman Jermaine Burton broke off a 42-yard run on an end-around following the kickoff, but UGA settled for a 47-yard Jack Podlesny field goal to jump ahead 17-14 with just under 5 minutes left in the half. The Vols took the lead back as the Guarantano-Palmer connection hooked up once more from 27 yards for a 21-17 advantage.
With Georgia holding the ball late in the 2nd, it drove it down to a 1st-and-goal at the 5, but, again, a decision by Smart to go for it on 4th came up empty as the Vols’ defense stiffened at the 1-yard-line as time expired in the half.
Things appeared to turn Georgia’s way to start the 3rd quarter: Guarantano coughed the ball up after being sacked at his own 21 by Azeez Ojulari, with the redshirt sophomore recovering the fumble for Tennessee’s first turnover of the year. A 34-yard field goal by Podlesny cut the margin to 21-20. Then came another Georgia takeaway on an interception by Eric Stokes at the Tennessee 36. Podlesny’s 51-yard field goal gave Georgia a 23-21 lead with just under 5 minutes played in the 3rd.
Outside of the field goals, it was slow going for both offenses throughout the 3rd quarter. That changed on a nearly 4-minute Georgia drive, ending with Bennett spinning a nice pass right over the middle to Kearis Jackson with 35 seconds remaining to make it 30-21, the redshirt sophomore’s first career touchdown catch.
On its next possession, Georgia delivered the final blow.
Bennett and Jackson connected again on a 33-yard bomb to put the Dawgs in business, and 3 plays later, Bennett hit freshman defensive lineman Jalen Carter with a short toss, with the 305-pounder lowering his head to find the end zone to make it 37-21. Then the defense struck to stretch the lead even further as Monty Rice strip-sacked Guarantano and took it 17 yards the other way as Georgia’s advantage ballooned to 44-21.