Georgia, Alabama play off upcoming matchup as ‘just another game’

Credit: Georgia Bulldogs

Georgia Bulldogs Stetson Bennett looks toward next opponent: Alabama.

ATHENS – You had to stay up late Saturday night to catch what No. 2 Alabama did against Ole Miss in Oxford. The Crimson Tide won, as usual, but it wasn’t in a way we’re accustomed to seeing from Nick Saban teams over the years.

Bama traded touchdowns with the Lane Kiffin-coached Rebels before finally pulling away at the very end for a 63-48 victory. The final touchdown was scored on a 39-yard run by Najee Harris as the Tide was running out the clock in the final two minutes. It was Harris' fifth TD of the night to go with 206 yards rushing on 23 carries.

But then there was the Bama defense. It gave up 647 yards. Combined, the teams ran up 1,370 yards of offense. It was the most points ever scored in an SEC game.

Saban knows the going will be considerably tougher for his offense when Georgia travels to Tuscaloosa, Ala., next Saturday.

“Well, obviously we’re going to have to play defense a lot better, because they have a really good defensive team,” Saban said in his postgame briefing in Oxford. “It’ll be challenging, but we’d like to enjoy this game for a few minutes before we’re worried about that one.”

Georgia’s thoughts on Bama were similarly shallow.

Said Bulldogs quarterback Stetson Bennett: “I haven’t had time to even think about Alabama yet. They’re really good. It’s exciting any time you get to play somebody you don’t usually play. I guess we’ve played them in Atlanta a little the past few years. It’s exciting, but it’s just another game.”

No, Georgia was still basking in yet another domination of Tennessee. With their 44-21 win over the 14th-ranked Vols, the Bulldogs have won the last four in the series by the combined score of 166-47, or an average score of 41.5 to 11.8.

But there were issues aplenty for UGA before arriving at the final score. Here are five things we learned:

1. Havoc wreaked

For the second time in as many years, Georgia shut out Tennessee in the second half. This time, though, it was done with more havoc than ever.

The Vols actually finished with minus-1-yard rushing on 27 carries. In the fourth quarter, they had eight attempts for negative 23 yards.

That had mostly to do with all the sacks. Georgia collected five on Saturday. Three of them came with forced fumbles, one that linebacker Monty Rice returned 20 yards for a score. The Bulldogs also had six tackles for loss, an interception, three pass break-ups and untold quarterback pressures (UGA’s stats crew did not produce them).

Tennessee’s two offensive scores both came on deep balls to Josh Palmer in tight, man-to-man coverage. Its other TD was scored by the defense.

Should be an interesting matchup next week when Georgia’s defense, allowing 9.7 points a game, meets Bama’s offense, averaging 51 a week.

2. RBU development

Georgia isn’t exactly running over opponents as it has in the past. The Bulldogs managed 193 yards rushing on 50 attempts against Tennessee. That’s an average of 3.9 yards a carry, which was skewed by 43 yards of the total coming on a flanker reverse.

But what was impressive was how they spread the wealth between their backs. Freshman Kendall Milton was the leading rusher with 56 yards on eight carries, sophomore Zamir White had 22 for 50 yards and sophomore Kenny McIntosh added 51 on eight attempts. Freshman Daijun Edwards even snuck in four attempts late (for 7 yards).

White’s average (2.3 ypc) was hurt by several failed attempts to get a yard on fourth and one. But he otherwise continues to struggle to break free.

Keep an eye on Milton. The 6-foot-1, 220-pound, 5-star signee from Fresno, Calif., might have been the most impressive runner in the game, particularly on an 11-yard run where he broke several tackles and nearly one more that would have freed him for the end zone.

“I see our guys bounce off him in practice,” Smart said. “He runs against our defense a lot and they have a hard time tackling him. He’s physically tough. But, the thing is, he takes some shots. And he needs to protect the ball better.”

Georgia wide receiver Kearis Jackson (10) makes a catch as Tennessee defensive back Trevon Flowers (1) and defensive back Shawn Shamburger (12) defend during the first half Saturday, Oct. 10, 2020, at Sanford Stadium in Athens. (John Amis/For the AJC)

Credit: John Amis

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Credit: John Amis

3. K-Jack on attack

For the third consecutive game, Kearis Jackson emerged as Georgia’s leading receiver. The 6-foot, 200-pound slotback paced the Bulldogs with four catches for 91 yards, including the first touchdown of his career.

Through three games, Jackson is averaging exactly 100 yards a game. He’s also Georgia’s primary punt returner.

But Jackson was particularly pumped about the TD, which came on a 21-yard pass from Stetson Bennett over the middle late in the third quarter.

“That first touchdown means everything to me,” Jackson said. “I’ve been telling myself since the beginning of the season I was going to get that first one for a close friend who was killed. I just wanted to dedicate that touchdown to him.”

Jackson now has 19 catches for 300 yards on the year. That’s more than twice any other receiver.

“He plays the game hard. He gets open,” Bennett said. “It’s easy to throw him the ball because he catches it. I don’t go looking for him, I don’t really go looking for anybody. I just like to use everybody. He’s open and he catches my eye and I trust him.”

4. 'Silly’ George Pickens

Once again, Georgia had too many penalties with six for 70 yards. But Smart was still fuming afterward over two personal fouls in particular. One was an called excessive celebration call against freshmen Zion Logue and Nazir Stackhouse for running on the field without their helmets while celebrating fellow defensive lineman Jalen Carter’s touchdown catch.

The other one was whistled against receiver George Pickens, who sprayed water from his drinking bottle on quarterback Jarrett Guarantano when he was tackled on the Bulldogs' sideline. That one really infuriated Smart.

“When somebody comes out of bounds and you squirt water at them, what are we doing?” Smart ranted. “Are we 7, 8 years old? I mean, come on. Let’s play football. Let’s don’t be silly.”

A celebration penalty was at the root of Smart’s only loss to Tennessee as Georgia’s coach. It set in motion the events that led to the Vols' Hail Mary touchdown catch to win in 2016.

“That cost us a Tennessee game already once,” Smart continued." What are we thinking? We show that once a year to talk about when you buddy scores, celebrate on the sideline with him."

Georgia is last in the SEC and 63rd nationally with 26 penalties for 237 yards in three games.

5. Another special day

Georgia continues to dominate opponents in the area of special teams. Kicker Jack Podlesny, a walk-on who won the job in preseason camp, came through with three field goals, including a pair of career bests of 46 and 51 yards. His 51-yarder gave Georgia a 23-21 lead in the third quarter and was the longest since Rodrigo Blankenship made a 53-yarder against Vanderbilt in 2018.

Meanwhile, Jake Camarda continued to boom punts. He had a 64 yarder that gave him an average of 56.6 for the game and the Vols had no returns. McIntosh also had a 42-yard kickoff return.

Georgia’s special teams are under the direction of first-year coordinator Scott Cochran. The longtime strength and conditioning coach at Alabama will make his first trip to Tuscaloosa with the Bulldogs next week.