It wasn’t any kind of knockout hit; it was much milder than that. But the 73-yard touchdown from Tennessee’s Brian Maurer to Marquez Callaway in the first quarter was more than just a wake-up call for Georgia. It was a jab straight to the nose.
“They punched us in the face with the big play,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “We just didn’t start real well defensively.”
It didn’t completely stun the Bulldogs, but it clearly forced them to take a second to breathe. That first-quarter score from the Vols quickly showed them and everyone watching that the massacre Vegas had predicted wouldn’t come so easily.
In fact, at one point, it looked like a tough fight Georgia. After Jauan Jennings hauled in a 12-yard catch to open the second quarter, Tennessee had gained a lead that it was able to hold on to for nearly the entire quarter.
It was the second straight game in which Georgia has had to play from behind. Saturday night, it spent nine minutes and 30 seconds playing from behind. Against Notre Dame, the Bulldogs spent nearly an entire quarter on the losing end of the game, playing down for 14 minutes and 41 seconds, mostly in the first quarter.
Digging for answers as to what the issue may be, Smart came up with a simple solution.
» ANALYSIS: Slow start, fast finish for Georgia
“It says we need to start better,” Smart said. “I mean, we started pretty well offensively… We just have to put that together and our kids need to settle down and play.”
Smart was hesitant to label it as an area of concern for Georgia. To him, it fits in with Georgia’s style of play. With how Smart attacks games, it takes a little bit of time for things to get rolling. Through the first half, the goal is always to wear down the opponent before really exploding onto the scene. Against Tennessee, he thought they executed that perfectly.
» MICHAEL CUNNINGHAM: Bulldogs unleash Fromm
“I felt like we were wearing them down,” Smart said. “We were wearing them down in a better style than just having to run the ball all the time. Jake [Fromm] was doing a good job mixing it up.”
Come the end of the first half, the effect of that wear-down could be seen on the Volunteers. Georgia closed the second quarter with two touchdowns within the final two minutes. In the second half, Georgia hung up 14 more points while holding Tennessee to a goose egg.
For Fromm, starts like this are helpful in a way. Georgia was bound to hit adversity at some point this season, so this is good preparation. The Bulldogs are learning how to handle these moments, and they aren’t having to do it on the fly.
“It says a lot about our football team and how we handle adversity,” Fromm said. “It’s just a part of football. We’ve been in a similar moment before… When we see adversity, we want to run straight at adversity.”
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.