Georgia walked into Neyland Stadium and played as advertised. The No. 1 team in the country took care of Tennessee this evening, weathering an early storm and suffocating the Volunteers in quarters 2-4.
We had heard and seen plenty about this Georgia defense, but there was some hope that Josh Heupel’s offensive attack could give Tennessee a shot. The Bulldogs were just too much to handle.
Heupel was up to his old tricks once again in the first quarter. Tennessee has done plenty of damage in the opening quarter this year, and the elite Georgia defense was no different to start. Hendon Hooker kicked off the scoring with a touchdown pass to Velus Jones, pushing the Vols out to a 7-0 lead. It was a Tennessee drive that looked easy, the question was, could the Vols do it for four quarters?
James Cook very quickly answered with a 39 yard touchdown run for Georgia.
Tennessee’s offense kept the pressure on to close the first quarter, but failed to find the endzone. A Chase McGrath field goal would give Tennessee a three point advantage entering the second quarter.
Injury note — Tennessee receiver JaVonta Payton left the game and did not return.
Georgia answered with a field goal of their own as Tennessee found another stop, but Hooker tossed an interception on the following drive. Those are the mistakes you can’t make against the No. 1 team in the country, and the Bulldogs made them pay quickly.
Stetson Bennett converted on a key third down, and then cashed it in on the ground to give the Bulldogs a 17-10 lead. That sequence turned out to be the tipping point.
After both sides traded punts, Georgia went to work on the ground with Cook looking to close the half. Bennett hit two passes to move into Tennessee territory, and the Bulldogs were suddenly threatening again. Adonai Mitchell racked up four catches on the drive, and Bennett delivered another score. It was James Cook burning Solon Page on the outside, and Bennett hit him in stride.
Your halftime score: Georgia 24, Tennessee 10.
Down 14 points coming out of half, what are you made of? Just as they have all season, Tennessee kept pushing. The defense got a stop to open the half, and Hooker put together a nice drive to enter the redzone. However, there’s a reason the Georgia defense is ranked where it is, and they showed us why once again. The Bulldogs stood tall on fourth down, stopping the Tennessee drive in its tracks.
It was a questionable play-call, rolling Hooker to his left against his throwing arm into a condensed field. The Bulldogs took over and went right back to the ground game, looking to break Tennessee’s back. Georgia went right back to Cook to keep the chains and clock moving. A 13 play drive took five more minutes off of the clock, ending in three more points for the Bulldogs.
Faced with a 17 point deficit now, Hooker and the Tennessee offense had to find some points. Cedric Tillman broke a big play on a curl route, and then converted on a big fourth down at midfield. But this Georgia defense wasn’t interested in giving up anything else. Heupel was forced to go for it on fourth down once again with 13 yards to go, but fell short.
The Georgia front was taking over this game, as the depth and talent discrepancy began to show. At the end of three quarters, the score was Georgia 27, Tennessee 10.
Cook added another touchdown — the official nail in the coffin — to open the fourth quarter. Kenny McIntosh put up another with seven minutes to play.
Joe Milton tossed a garbage time touchdown to Cedric Tillman late. Tillman ended up hauling in ten catches for 200 yards on the day.
Final Score: Georgia 41, Tennessee 17.
Tennessee didn’t have the talent to play with Georgia tonight, let’s call it what it is. Hendon Hooker probably played his worst game of the season, making a few puzzling decisions in key spots. You needed a big effort from him tonight and frankly Tennessee just didn’t get that. After the first quarter, Georgia adjusted, and that was that. The talent and depth gap was simply too large. They’re No. 1 for a reason, after all.
The Volunteers close with South Alabama and Vanderbilt, and should go 7-5. Tonight is a cold reminder of the gap in talent that they face, however.