Analysis: Another slow start, fast finish for No. 3 Bulldogs

Quarterback Jake Fromm keeps Georgia undefeated in 43-14 win over Tennessee. (Video by Chip Towers/AJC)

Georgia coach Kirby Smart was asked after Saturday's 43-14 victory over Tennessee if his team coming from behind for a second straight game shows it responds well to adversity.

“It tells me we need to start better,” Smart cracked.

He's right, but it’d be hard for the Bulldogs to finish much better. With a 17-0 second half against the Volunteers, Georgia has now out-scored its opponents 84-17 after halftime this season.

The victory allowed the No. 3 Bulldogs to finally re-take the lead in its storied series with Tennessee in football, 24-23-2. The Vols won nine in a row in the 1990s, but the Bulldogs have put a few streaks together since the calendar flipped to 2000. Saturday’s win was UGA’s third in a row, eighth in the last 10 and 14th this century. The Bulldogs now hold their first edge in the series since 1981 when they led 9-8-2.

“I enjoy every win. They’re hard to come by,” Smart said. “There’s a lot that goes into these games, especially this one.”

Here are some takeaways as No. 3 Georgia (5-0, 2-0 SEC) prepares for South Carolina's visit to Sanford Stadium next Saturday (noon, ESPN):

Here’s your havoc

Obsessed with “havoc rate” on defense this season, the Bulldogs wreaked more than ever against the Vols. Not only did they have a scoop-and-score by linebacker Tae Crowder, they went on to record 11 tackles for loss, three sacks, an interception and five pass breakups on Saturday.

But the highlight unquestionably was Crowder’s 60-yard TD, which came off a cornerback blitz in which Eric Stokes leveled freshman quarterback Brent Maurer from the left side.

“Man, Eric hit him hard,” said Crowder, a converted running back. “I thought it was Monty (Rice). As soon as I scooped it up, I thought I felt somebody hit me. I thought, ‘dang, they’re on me.’ But I kept running and all I could see was the end zone.”

That “somebody” who hit him was a referee, who inadvertently found himself between Crowder and a would-be tackler for Tennessee.

Smart credited defensive coordinator Dan Lanning for the blitz call that resulted in that play.

“It was a situation where something stopped the play and he changed the call,” Smart said. “It was a great call against what they had and everybody executed and the quarterback didn’t see the corner coming. That’s what we’re trying to create.”

Georgia coach Kirby Smart discusses the win over Tennessee Saturday night. Video by Chip Towers.

UGA remains RBU

It was a huge night for quarterback Jake Fromm (season-high 288 yards on 24-of-29 passing, 2 TDs), but running the football remained key for the Bulldogs.

» MICHAEL CUNNINGHAM: Bulldogs unleash Fromm

Georgia piled up 159 yards rushing just in the first half and finished with 238 in the game on 39 attempts, or a 6.2 yards per carry average. And the Bulldogs were spreading the wealth while it doing so.

Senior Brian Herrien led the Bulldogs with 88 yards on 11 carries, including one 40-yard run, and scored a touchdown. D’Andre Swift added 72 yards on 17 carries with a score and Zamir White had 57 yards on seven carries.

Running the ball effectively is always a winning formula for the Bulldogs. They improved to 30-2 under Smart when rushing for more than 200 yards as a team and 37-6 when it goes for more than 100.

Even Fromm had a positive rushing night, with five yards on his only carry.

Jordan Davis hurt

Georgia got a scare early in the game when starting noseguard Jordan Davis injured his left leg on the opening series. The 6-foot-6, 330-pound sophomore went down just 18 seconds into the game and did not return.

But Smart indicated afterward it wasn’t as bad as looked.

“Sprained ankle,” he said. “They felt like it wasn’t as bad as other guys.”

» PHOTOS: Bulldogs celebrate overpowering Tennessee

Georgia has had its share of ankle injuries. Offensive linemen Solomon Kindley and Isaiah Wilson both have missed extended time this season due to ankle sprains. Wilson returned the second half of the Notre Dame game after sitting out the previous two weeks. Kindley dressed out and traveled with the Bulldogs to Knoxville on Saturday, but did not play.

Meanwhile, senior Julian Rochester, who has played sparingly this season while recovering from off-season knee surgery, filled in for Davis and got his most extensive work all season. He finished with two tackles, including one for a loss.

Graduate transfer receiver Lawrence Cager injured his left shoulder making a catch late in the game. He was wearing a brace afterward but said he was “fine.”

Flags a-flying

Smart was not happy about the Bulldogs being flagged 11 times for 107 yards. In particular, Smart was irked by a late-hit personal foul called on senior defensive end David Marshall.

“That penalty was huge because it gave them a first down and probably a touchdown on that drive,” Smart said. “We had some self-inflicted wounds.”

Georgia committed all kinds of penalties, including holding, offensive and defensive interference, false start, illegal substitution and hands-to-the-face. Not all of them were correct. It was a poorly officiated game, if not simply over-officiated. The Vols also were flagged six times for 51 yards.

It could have been worse. A targeting call on safety Richard LeCounte was reversed after review, as was one on a Tennessee offensive lineman.

Blankenship blasts another one

Another week, another 50-yard field goal for Rodrigo Blankenship. The wildly popular place-kicker is now 5-for-6 for his career from 50 yards beyond and 2-for-2 this season. Blankenship made a 50-yarder in the opener against Vanderbilt.

The latest 50-yarder was one of three field goals for Blankenship on Saturday. He also hit a 34-yarder in the second quarter and a 27-yarder in the third. That keeps the Lou Groza Award nominee perfect on the season at 11-for-11 on field goals and 25-of-25 on extra points. Blankenship already held the school record for points after touchdowns (PATs). He’s now 179-of-179. He has 371 points in his career, including 64 field goals.

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