It was a solid, respectable effort that got out of hand at the end tonight in Knoxville. Tennessee, riding the right arm of Brian Maurer, showed some juice tonight, which is something we haven’t seen for much of the first four games.
However, the depth and talent of Georgia eventually showed out.
Georgia opened with a 12 play, 84 yard drive to kick off the scoring. The Bulldogs made it look easy, running the football at will and completing short passes to quickly move down the field. That drive was physically dominant — and the stadium sensed it.
After an early blow, Tennessee’s freshman quarterback needed to find an answer. It didn’t take him long to find one.
Maurer found Marquez Callaway behind the Georgia secondary for a 73 yard touchdown. The ball was right on the money and Callaway did the rest to tie it up.
The Tennessee defense was better on the next drive, bending, but not breaking. Georgia added a field goal to retake the lead at 10-7.
But Tennessee had a little something going with Brian Maurer. Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney kept things short for Maurer, allowing him to get in a little bit of a rhythm early on. Dominick Wood-Anderson added 16 yards, Callaway added 11 and Jauan Jennings added nine.
Suddenly the Vols were within striking distance to start the second quarter. Maurer delivered again, finding Jennings in the middle of the endzone for the score. The score gave the Volunteers a 14-10 lead.
Tennessee couldn’t sustain that momentum, however. Some poor tackling hurt the Vols on the next drive as Brian Herrien turned a two yard loss into a 41 yard gain. That run flipped the field, putting Georgia in position to answer. But from there, the Tennessee defense held. Bryce Thompson made a nice play in the endzone, batting the ball away to get off the field on third down.
Georgia added three more to bring it to a 14-13 game.
After the two teams traded punts, Georgia cashed in on an opportunity before halftime to reclaim the lead. The drive was set into motion by a holding call against Daniel Bituli. Georgia then ran a double reverse to get into the redzone. Fromm found Lawrence Cager on a fade route in the endzone for the capper.
How would the staff treat Maurer with two minutes to play in the half? Would they be content with a six point deficit? They would not.
Maurer kept firing away out of open sets, finding Callaway and Jennings for two quick chunks. In three plays, Tennessee flipped the field. The drive stalled out at the 30 yard line, bringing on Brent Cimaglia for the 47 yard attempt, which he missed.
That error opened the door for Fromm with 59 seconds left. D’Andre Swift picked up 20 yards on a draw, then another 15 on a catch. Fromm then found Cager to get inside of the ten, then hit George Pickens for the touchdown.
Very quickly, Georgia stretched this out to a 26-14 lead before halftime.
The second half started slow, thanks to a ridiculous amount of penalties on both sides. Through the mess, Georgia added a field goal to extend it’s lead to 29-14. After back to back targeting calls that ended up being overturned, Maurer made his first mistake of the day. He threw a pick on a deep ball to Callaway, giving the ball back to a Georgia team looking to put the Vols away.
Looking for that death punch, Georgia chose to go for it at midfield on fourth down. But Henry To’o To’o made the stop in the backfield, keeping Tennessee alive and giving the Vols the football at their own 40 yard line.
But the Vols couldn’t do anything with it.
To make matters worse, Brian Maurer appeared to be dealing with some sort of injury as Jarrett Guarantano entered the game in relief.
Georgia got the ball back and delivered that final blow. Fromm quickly worked down the field, finding Demetris Robertson and Cager for chunks of yards. Brian Herrien scored from a yard out, putting the Bulldogs up 36-14 with eight minutes left to play.
They’d add a scoop and score touchdown late for good measure.
Though the scoreboard didn’t show it, it was an encouraging effort from Tennessee, which quite honestly just didn’t have enough athletes to hang with Georgia tonight. Brian Maurer delivered a big spark — something Jim Chaney and the offense can certainly build off of.
Tennessee sits at 1-4 on the year, but they’ve at least got an interesting offensive piece to build around going forward.
Next week’s game against Mississippi State feels like a ‘prove it’ moment for Pruitt and this staff. If you’re 100 times better than last year (as Pruitt says) and have improved quarterback play, that’s a game you should be able to win at home. And Tennessee needs it — bad.