Rapid Reaction: Far from great, No. 2 Georgia good enough to tame Tennessee
Georgia typically doesn’t need a lot of help. Tennessee provided it anyway.
For the second consecutive week, an extra effort play backfired terribly against the Vols. Last week, Austin Pope fumbled through the end zone, costing the Vols a touchdown. Saturday, a strip sack against Georgia’s Jake Fromm that could have become a tone-setting turnover instead bounced perfectly into Isaac Nauta’s hands. Nauta, who missed the block that allowed the sack, picked up the fumble and rambled 40 yards for an unlikely Georgia touchdown.
You don't see this every day, Isaac Nauta picks it up for the UGA TD!!! pic.twitter.com/wbt3EtJRNS
— NCAAF Nation (@NCAAFNation247) September 29, 2018
The score was just 7-0, but considering how mightily Tennessee’s offense has struggled against Power 5 competition this season, it felt like plenty.
Tennessee entered this game having scored just 10 first-half points against West Virginia and Florida.
Georgia’s defense is better than both of those, and it wasn’t difficult to predict how the rest of the No. 2-ranked Dawgs’ 38-12 victory Saturday would play out.
The Vols had a few early chunk plays on the ground, but the Dawgs put the clamps on Jarrett Guarantano and the short passing game. Guarantano threw for just 38 yards in the opening half. He didn’t even attempt anything beyond 15 yards.
Georgia took a 17-0 lead into halftime. It was plenty. In reality, it should have been more, but Fromm wasn’t sharp.
He overthrew Riley Ridley in the end zone, underthrew a screen to D’Andre Swift that likely would have resulted in a touchdown and overthrew Jeremiah Holloman on another deep shot in the end zone.
To that point, most of Fromm’s 121 passing yards were on short routes and screens, with plenty of yards after the catch.
In his halftime interview, Kirby Smart bemoaned the Dawgs’ lack of offensive execution.
It was more difficult to find flaws with the Dawgs’ defense. Georgia allowed just 3 first downs in the opening 30 minutes, never allowing the Vols to cross midfield.
The second half merely repeated established first-half themes, except for a brief moment when Guarantano finally hit a deep ball, a 37-yard touchdown strike to Josh Palmer for Tennessee’s first score.
That brought the Vols within 24-6 and was more proof that this team hasn’t flipped the calendar to 2019 just yet.
In terms of scoreboard pressure, it didn’t create much, even though Georgia’s offense was far below its explosive standard. The real significance was it provided Kirby Smart a coaching moment in an otherwise routine victory; that Vols’ drive was aided by two penalties: a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty against D’Andre Walker and a pass interference on a fourth-down incompletion.
The Vols scored again early in the fourth, this time Ty Chandler turning a short catch into a 37-yard yard TD to draw within 24-12.
Aside from those defensive blunders? Second-half Georgia looked a lot like first-half Georgia. Fromm completed more short and intermediate passes but failed to throw a touchdown pass for the first time in his 20-game career. The Dawgs’ running backs continued to pound away at the Vols’ interior. Justin Fields provided a lift with 2 rushing touchdowns. Still, something felt … off.
Before Guarantano’s first strike, Georgia opened the third quarter with a methodical 10-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. The Dawgs faced — and converted — their lone third-down opportunity. Fields replaced Fromm at the tail end and scored on a 12-yard run. Even an unusual extra point went Georgia’s way. The snap was bobbled, forcing a late hold. Rodrigo Blankenship had already planted. He stopped in mid-kick, rebooted, and without any momentum, kicked an extra point that cleared the crossbar by about a foot.
It was that kind of day for Georgia, sloppy, just off, but good enough.
It’s been that kind of season for Tennessee, which lost its 11th consecutive conference game. The Vols are off next week, a chance to reset, potentially examine a quarterback switch, before resuming their grueling stretch at Auburn, following by a visit against Alabama.
Georgia, 5-0 and untested during the first month, will host Vanderbilt next week, even though everybody else’s focus will shift ahead to the Oct. 13 date at LSU.