A home loss to Georgia State in the opener made Tennessee a punchline. The Volunteers blew a game against BYU and got blown out at Florida. Jeremy Pruitt’s latest off-field stumble involved police audio of the coach wondering why an officer had to arrest one of his players for a warrant.
Lost amid all that noise: Tennessee had played respectable defense. Through four games the Vols allowed 4.7 yards per rush (seventh in SEC), 190 yards passing per game (second) and 4.9 yards per play (eighth). They hadn’t faced an offense as good as Georgia’s, but the Bulldogs weren’t likely to get away with just playing bully ball with with their backs Saturday at Neyland Stadium.
“Part of the game plan was to go out and attack them,” Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm said.
So, Fromm came out slinging the ball. He had 195 yards passing and two touchdowns by halftime. This wasn’t the conservative approach the Bulldogs took against Notre Dame. This was Georgia unleashing Fromm to show the full fury of its offense.
Fromm’s deep passes were just as potent as Georgia’s assembly line of tailbacks during the 43-14 victory. He finished with 288 yards passing, just five incomplete passes on 29 attempts and no turnovers. It was Fromm’s most productive and efficient game in three against Power 5 opponents. Not coincidentally, the same goes for Georgia’s offense.
“I felt like we were wearing them down,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “But we were wearing them down in a better style than just having to run the ball all the time.”
Fromm spread his passes around to nine teammates. It wasn’t just dump offs to running backs. Five wide receivers caught passes. Demetris Robertson had gains of 33 and 28 yards. Lawrence Cager had a 21-yard reception. Cager and George Pickens each had a TD catch.
“We’ve got height and we’ve got size out there,” Georgia tailback D’Andre Swift said. “So why not use them?”
The Bulldogs especially did that in the first half. The Vols ran out to a 14-10 lead. Their fans were energized by a hot start by freshman quarterback Brian Maurer. Fromm calmly brought Georgia back.
The Vols tied the game on Maurer’s 73-yard TD pass to Marquez Callaway on the second play of the second possession. Maurer began the next possession with completions of 16 and 18 yards and converted a third down with an 11-yard pass. Mauer finished the drive by threading a 12-yard TD pass to Jauan Jennings between two Georgia defenders.
Fromm stayed steady as usual. On the drive following Mauer’s TD pass to Callaway, Fromm had a defender in his face on third down when he floated a pass down the sideline to Swift for a 44-yard gain. That possession ended with Rodrigo Blankenship’s field goal.
The Bulldogs scored touchdowns on their final two possessions of the first half. Fromm’s three-yard TD pass to Cager put Georgia ahead for good. The Bulldogs got the ball back with 70 yards to go and 59 seconds until halftime. D’Andre Swift’s 23-yard run on first down created a scoring chance.
From there Fromm completed three straight passes, including a 21-yard gain to Cager that set up first-and-goal. Fromm delivered a seven-yard TD pass to Pickens after getting cornerback Bryce Thompson to bite on a shorter route. Fromm also tricked Thompson into committing before feathering the 44-yard pass to Swift.
“I think it’s the body blows starting to add up,” Fromm said. “For us as an offense, it’s just a matter of time before we get going.”
The Bulldogs turned to their tailbacks to close out the Vols. Swift, Brian Herrien, Zamir White and receiver Tyler Simmons all were effective. Georgia rushed for 238 yards on 41 carries.
Smart said Georgia offensive coordinator James Coley didn’t build a game plan around passing the ball more often.
“To protect the quarterback, you have to run the ball,” Smart said. “You cannot drop back every play. That’s what hurt (Tennessee). When you can’t run the ball it eventually wears you down because people keep rushing at you, rushing at you and they eventually get to your quarterback.”
Fromm might have kept slinging after halftime if not for some poorly-timed penalties. Georgia got the ball first in the second half and flags flew after two nine-yard completions for Fromm. The Bulldogs punted to end that possession.
Fromm’s 11-yard pass to Matt Landers on UGA’s next possession set up the Bulldogs at Tennessee’s 14 yard-line. Swift carried for eight more yards. But consecutive penalties pushed Georgia back 19 yards. The Bulldogs settled for Blankenship’s 27-yard field goal.
“I thought we could have been a little bit more disciplined,” Fromm said.
Georgia’s defense eventually slowed Mauer, who started in place of junior Jarrett Guarantano. Tennessee’s second-half possessions ended punt, interception, punt, fumble and turnover on downs. The fumble was Tae Crowder’s 60-yard scoop and score with less than five minutes to play.
Fromm’s passing powered Georgia until the defense came around and the run game wore Tennessee down. That’s what was UGA needed against a Vols defense that hadn’t been half bad until the Bulldogs came to town.
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