ATHENS – The Georgia Bulldogs, who debuted at No. 3 in the first College Football Playoff ranking of the season Tuesday, used a suffocating defensive effort and some explosive offensive plays of its own to knock off No. 1 Tennessee 27-13 before a sellout crowd of 92,746 at Sanford Stadium on Saturday.
Here’s how it broke down:
With five minutes left in the first quarter, Georgia clung to a 7-3 lead when it had to punt from its own 24-yard line. First, freshman Brett Thorson boomed a 75-yard punt that rolled out of bounds at the Volunteers’ 1. Then, on third-and-6 from the 5, Jalen Carter broke through the middle of line, sacked quarterback Hendon Hooker and knocked the ball loose. A Tennessee offensive lineman recovered and was ruled to have run it out, just beyond the goal line. But after the Vols punted, Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett hit Ladd McConkey on first down with a 37-yard touchdown pass. The Bulldogs were in control the rest of the way.
Georgia’s defense truly could be handed 11 of them – or more – for the way it shut down Tennessee’s supposedly unstoppable offense. But one individual who encapsulated everything the Bulldogs were trying to do Saturday was sophomore defensive back Javon Bullard. Playing Georgia’s all-important “star” position as a fifth defensive back against the Vols’ quick-tempo, spread offense, Bullard finished with seven tackles, two sacks and a pass break-up.
Tennessee entered the game bragging of 54 offensive plays that went for 20 or more yards. On Saturday, the Vols managed one. That came on a 28-yard completion to Jalin Hyatt with 4:30 remaining in the game. Tennessee scored on a run one play later, but Hooker finished with only 195 yards on 23-of-33 passing, no touchdowns and an interception, only his second of the season.
UGA held a moment of silence for fallen football heroes Vince Dooley and Charley Trippi before Saturday’s game. A video tribute also was shown on the Jumbotron, insignia for both men were painted on the sidelines and the Bulldogs wore a special patch for Dooley on their jerseys and a black No. 62 (Trippi’s jersey number) decal on their helmets. Trippi, considered the greatest overall athlete to play football at Georgia, died Oct. 19 at the age of 100. Dooley, beloved coach and longtime athletic director, died Oct. 28 at the age of 90. He was buried Thursday at Oconee Hill Cemetery next to Sanford Stadium.
What we learned
Georgia has a really good shot of returning to the College Football Playoff. If the Bulldogs weren’t sure of that before, they can be now. They are expected to be double-digit favorites in the final two SEC road games and, of course, the season finale against Georgia Tech. If Georgia wins out, it will return to the SEC Championship game for the fifth time in the past six seasons under coach Kirby Smart.
They said it
“When you can’t hear, it’s deafening. Like, what’s more deafening than deafening? The decibel thing, I don’t understand that. No way it’s accurate.” – Smart when asked if it was the loudest he’d heard Sanford Stadium.
“I didn’t think all in all we handled the noise very well. That’s false starts, getting the safety, getting communication up front. At the end of the day, that hurt us at times throughout the course of tonight.” – Tennessee coach Josh Heupel
Georgia 27, Tennessee 13
Georgia: The Bulldogs (9-0, 6-0 SEC) head out on the road to face Mississippi State in Starkville on Saturday (7 p.m., ESPN). The Maroon Bulldogs (6-3, 3-3) held on to defeat Auburn 39-33 in overtime late Saturday night in Starkville.
Tennessee: The Vols (8-1, 4-1) return home to Knoxville, where they will face Missouri (4-5) at noon Saturday.
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