A closer look at No. 1 Georgia’s victory against Tennessee

November 13, 2021 Knoxville, TN - Tennessee's quarterback Hendon Hooker (5) is sacked by Georgia's linebacker Channing Tindall (41) in the second half during a NCAA football game at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville on Saturday, November 13, 2021. Georgia won 41-17 over Tennessee. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

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November 13, 2021 Knoxville, TN - Tennessee's quarterback Hendon Hooker (5) is sacked by Georgia's linebacker Channing Tindall (41) in the second half during a NCAA football game at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville on Saturday, November 13, 2021. Georgia won 41-17 over Tennessee. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – The No. 1 Georgia Bulldogs improved to 10-0 for the first time since 1982 and completed their first unbeaten 8-0 SEC season since the league went to divisional play in 1992 with a 41-17 win over Tennessee on Saturday evening at Neyland Stadium.

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Here’s how it happened:

Key play(s)

Pick any one of the four catches that Adonai Mitchell made on Georgia’s 11-play, 90-yard drive to go ahead 24-10 at the end of the second quarter. Known to his coaches and teammates as “A.D.,” the freshman from Missouri City, Texas, accounted for 60 of the Bulldogs’ yards on the drive. The first one would probably qualify as the most important as he hauled in a hard-thrown pass from quarterback Stetson Bennett for a 14-yard gain on third-and-5 from the Georgia 27. On the next play, Mitchell got open down the right sideline for a 22-yard game. After a holding call left the Bulldogs facing second-and-20 at the Tennessee 47, Mitchell got 15 of it back on another catch in the flat. Facing third-and-5 at the 32, Bennett found Mitchell again for a 9-yard gain and a first down at the Volunteers 23. James Cook would score from there on a 23-yard pass from Bennett, and a Georgia’s lead went to 24-10 with 37 seconds remaining in the first half and the Bulldogs due to get the ball to start the third quarter.

Key stat

Georgia posted a perfect 8-0 mark in the league for the first time in school history. The average margin of victory in these games was 31.9 points. Georgia now has completed league play undefeated eight times in school history, but it’s the first time since the SEC split into divisions in 1992 and began playing eight conference game. This is the third time that Georgia has gone 6-0 in the SEC East under coach Kirby Smart. Since 2017, Georgia is 27-2 against the Eastern Division. Georgia is now 10-0 for the first time since 1982, when it ended the regular season 11-0. The Bulldogs also started out 10-0 in 1980 and 1946. The 2011 team began the year 0-2 and then won 10 consecutive games to close out the regular season. Also, Smart remains perfect against the SEC East on the road as Georgia’s coach.

Game ball

Give it to senior James Cook, who became just the second Georgia back to go over 100 yards rushing this season, with 104 and two touchdowns on only 10 carries. Cook paced a ground game that tallied a season high. The Bulldogs’ previous high this season was 273 yards against Arkansas. Cook also had 43 yards receiving and a touchdown. … On defense, linebacker Channing Tindall finished with three sacks, a forced fumble, and a quarterback hurry and Nakobe Dean had 11 tackles and a sack.

Georgia 41, Tennessee 17

What we learned

After dispatching Tennessee, there is very little ahead of Georgia to stop it from getting a shot at a national championship this season. The Bulldogs have regular-season games remaining against Charleston Southern and Georgia Tech. They will be multiple touchdown favorites in both games. The SEC Championship game awaits and, if it’s against No. 2 Alabama as everybody thinks it will be, even a loss at Mercedes-Benz Stadium is unlikely to prevent them from being among the top four teams chosen to compete in the College Football Playoff.

They said it

“I mean, 39 years. It’s special. The reason for that is, and coach Smart just said it, we’re a real talented team, but we respect everybody we play and we go in every week not thinking we’re God’s favorite team. We know that nobody’s going to give us anything, so we’ve got to earn it.” – Georgia QB Stetson Bennett on Georgia’s first perfect SEC season since 1982.

“A couple of my teammates might beat me up for saying this, but it kind of means nothing because we’ve got more games to win.” – Linebacker Nakobe Dean on the Bulldogs’ first 10-0 start since 1982.

“The guy just wants to win and will do anything to help us do that. He just makes play. I’m proud of what James has done for James, but I’m more proud of what James has done for our team.” – Smart on the play of Cook in his 147-yard night.

What’s next

Georgia: The Bulldogs (10-0, 8-0 SEC) head back home for their season finale at Sanford Stadium. They’ll host Charleston Southern (noon, SEC Network-Plus)

Tennessee: The Volunteers (5-5, 3-4) plays host to South Alabama (7:30 p.m., ESPNU)