You couldn’t have drawn up a better start for Tennessee on Saturday afternoon in Athens. A botched snap on the second play of the game gifted the Volunteers a quick touchdown and an instant 7-0 lead.
But that’s where the fun ended in the first quarter.
Tennessee’s best pass rusher Deandre Johnson was ejected after making helmet to helmet contact with Stetson Bennett. The ejection was huge, but it also helped the Bulldogs find their first answer of the day. Georgia tied things up with a 6 play, 53 yard drive — pretty convincingly, too.
Penalties ruled the first quarter for the Vols, who couldn’t get out of their own way early on. Even when Tennessee appeared to get off the field, the Vols routinely found a way to give Georgia another shot at it.
Stetson Bennett and the Bulldogs took advantage, manufacturing another long drive for a score. It was a designed quarterback draw from Bennett, who found the edge and got to the pylon to give Georgia a 14-7 lead.
Finally, Jim Chaney and the offense came up with an answer. It was Jarrett Guarantano delivering a strike down the field to Josh Palmer, who made a perfect adjustment on the ball to haul it in for the score.
What a throw by Jarrett Guarantano and a great move by Josh Palmer to haul this pass in pic.twitter.com/Wm26JHMMdi— SEC Mike (@MichaelWBratton) October 10, 2020
Georgia added a field goal on the next drive, and Tennessee went right back to the passing game. Guarantano caught fire in the second quarter, attacking down the field. He found Josh Palmer again for another score, who made another outstanding effort to get a foot down and give the Vols the lead.
Suddenly before halftime, this one turned into a track-meet. Bennett and the Bulldogs came right back, slicing through the Tennessee defense in a two-minute drill. Georgia found their way inside of the ten, then inside of the five with just seconds to play.
Tennessee stood tall on third down — and again on fourth down after Kirby Smart opted to go for it instead of taking the field goal. It was a goal line stand for the Vols, who took a 21-17 lead into halftime.
Could they keep it up? Well, Guarantano immediately put them behind the eight ball, fumbling and handing the ball back to Georgia in the opening snaps of the second half. That led to another field goal for the Bulldogs, bringing us to a score of 21-20.
Guarantano followed up that turnover with another turnover. On what appeared to be a broken play, Tennessee’s fifth-year senior tossed an interception, once again gifting Georgia with excellent field position. The defense was able to force a three and out, but surrendered another field goal. While things could have been much worse, Guarantano made two critical errors to give Georgia the lead back.
After another near disaster on a Guarantano fumble, Georgia took control. An 8 play, 62 yard drive made it a two-score game. Bennett found Kearis Jackson on a 21 yard strike for the score, seemingly putting this one out of reach with how the Bulldogs’ defense was playing.
Another Tennessee three and out led to another Georgia touchdown, which would be the official nail in the coffin.
Final Score: Georgia 44, Tennessee 21
The Volunteers held firm and went toe to toe with the No. 3 team in the land, but the mistakes eventually added up. From the early penalties to the consecutive turnovers from Guarantano, Tennessee simply needed a cleaner effort this afternoon. A subpar effort from the offensive line didn’t help matters.
Tennessee will be back in action next weekend against Kentucky.