ATHENS, Ga. — The Georgia defense quieted the nation’s most prolific offense. The Georgia offense was explosive at times and extremely efficient at others. And at the end, amid a roaring and raucous atmosphere Saturday afternoon at Sanford Stadium, the Bulldogs walked off of Dooley Field still undefeated.
Quarterback Stetson Bennett threw two touchdown passes and ran for another score, while the Bulldog defense sacked Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker six times during a battle of unbeatens that Georgia won 27-13.
According to the Associated Press, Saturday’s game was just the fifth regular-season meeting this century featuring teams ranked Nos. 1 and 2 in its media poll (the Vols were tied with Ohio State). In the first College Football Playoff rankings, released Tuesday, Tennessee was ranked No. 1 and Georgia No. 3, with Ohio State in between them. In the AFCA Coaches Poll, Georgia remained No. 1 this week and UT stayed at No. 3.
The polls may be up for debate, but the numbers told the story about Tennessee’s offense. It was No. 1 in the country in multiple key categories going into Saturday — 49.4 points and 553.0 yards per game — but the Bulldog defense, ranked among the nation’s best in most categories, had the better day. Georgia (9-0, 6-0 SEC) outgained the Volunteers 389-289, with Bennett finishing 17 of 25 for 257 yards and the two touchdown passes plus a 13-yard TD run.
It was the first home game since the passing of two Georgia legends, former football coach and director of athletics Vince Dooley, on Oct. 28 at age 90, and legendary football and baseball player Charley Trippi, who died on Oct. 19 at 100. The home sidelines on Dooley Field were painted as a tribute to both men, with the red-zone sections in red and “VD” and Dooley’s signature painted in white along one end and “62” and Trippi’s signature along the other.
The Bulldogs, as they did last week, wore a “62” sticker on their helmets in honor of Trippi. This week, they added a round patch on the left chest of their jerseys that featured a white shirt and red tie on a black background — a nod to Dooley’s customary look on the sideline during his Hall of Fame coaching career (1964-88).
Georgia has now won six straight games against UT.
Tennessee forced the game’s first turnover, stripping Daijun Edwards on Georgia’s opening drive and recovering the fumble at the Georgia 47-yard line. The Vols were able to drive to the Bulldog 30 before the Georgia defense forced them to settle for a 47-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead with 10:05 left in the first quarter.
Georgia struck back in a big way. On first down from the 20, Bennett fired a ball deep up the right hash mark for wideout Arian Smith, who pulled it in for a 52-yard reception. Later in the drive, on 3 and 10 from the UT 13, Bennett dropped back, was forced to scramble, and then took off for the right corner the end zone. He was initially ruled down short of the goal line but the ruling was overturned after a review, putting Georgia up 7-3 with 8:32 on the clock.
The teams then traded punts, with Georgia able to pin the Vols deep after Brett Thorson boomed his punt 75 yards and the ball bounced out of bounds at the 1. On third down at the 5, Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter stripped the ball out of Hendon Hooker’s hands in the end zone. A UT lineman picked up the loose ball and managed to get out of the end zone to avoid a safety, but the Vols still had to punt from the 1.
Georgia started its next drive at the UT 37, excellent field position, and on first down, Bennett went for the home run — and got it. Wideout Ladd McConkey got behind the defense on the right side and Bennett hit him in stride for an easy touchdown, and a 14-3 lead with 3:32 to play in the first.
The Bulldog defense again stopped the Vols short of midfield, and on the punt, McConkey was interfered with on the catch, giving Georgia a first down at its 36. On second down, Bennett to running back Kenny McIntosh for a 49-yard gain. Later, early in the second quarter, on second-and-goal from the 5, Bennett hit wideout Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint for a touchdown in the back of the end zone, pushing the UGA lead to 21-3 with 14:17 on the clock.
Tennessee answered with an 11-play drive that ended well short of the goal line. The Vols, who committed back-to-back false start penalties at one point as the Georgia fans roared nonstop, had to again settle for a field goal, a 36-yarder by Chase McGrath that cut the UGA lead to 21-6 with 9:36 left in the half.
The Vols were moving on their next possession, until they tried to go for the big one. On first down at the UGA 39, Hooker’s deep ball down the sideline, intended for Cedric Tillman, was intercepted by cornerback Kelee Ringo. It was Ringo’s first interception since the win-sealing pick-six in January’s National Championship Game. It was just the second INT thrown this season by Hooker.
Georgia’s offense took over at its 20 and slowly — cognizant that the Vols will receive the kickoff to start the second half — worked its way down the field. An 18-yard strike from Bennett to McConkey gave the Bulldogs a first down at the 25 with about a minute left. Georgia twice tried for the end zone while inside the 10 before having to settle for a 19-yard Jack Podlesny field goal as the half expired, giving the Bulldogs a 24-6 lead.
At the end of the first half, Georgia led in total yards 306-139, including a 226-88 advantage through the air. Bennett was 15 of 21 for 226 yards and two touchdowns.
Tennessee got the ball to start the third quarter and drove into Georgia territory, but then the Bulldog defense sacked Hooker twice in three plays to force a punt. Georgia’s offense then, as a heavy rain began to fall, went 67 yards in 15 plays, a drive of nearly 9 minutes, and went ahead 27-6 with 1:09 left in the third on Podlesny’s 38-yard field goal.
Georgia’s rain-soaked fans erupted soon after, when Jalen Carter stripped Jaylen Wright and Tyrion Ingram-Dawkins recovered the fumble at the Tennessee 36. But on the ensuing play, Tennessee got the ball back when Branson Robinson fumbled and Bryson Eason recovered at the UT 34.
Georgia led 27-6 as the fourth quarter began with UT facing a second-and-4 on its 40. The Vols’ drive was derailed by three sacks, two of them on blitzes by defensive back Javon Bullard. On fourth down at the 23, Hooker threw incomplete, giving the Bulldogs the ball back with 9:07 remaining.
Tennessee finally reached the end zone with 4:15 remaining, cutting Georgia’s lead to 27-13 on Wright’s 5-yard touchdown run. Tight end Darnell Washington recovered the Vols’ onside kick, giving the Bulldogs the ball at the UT 46. Tennessee’s next possession ended in UT territory with 2:42 remaining, and soon after the Bulldogs were able to celebrate the victory.
The Bulldogs hit the road next weekend and will take on Mississippi State in Starkville. Georgia is 18-6-0 all-time against State, winning 12 of the last 13 meetings.