Number one (CFP) versus number one (AP) was one of the most anticipated games in the recent history of the SEC East.
Things got off to a great start for the Vols as LaTrell Bumphus forced a Daijun Edwards fumble recovered by Tamarion McDonald. The Vols got the ball in plus territory, but between Georgia’s defense locking up and the Vols shooting themselves in the foot with false starts, the Vols were held to just one first down and a field goal. Vols up 3-0.
Georgia would promptly answer with an 80-yard touchdown drive, capped off with a 13 yard scamper to the end zone by Stetson Bennett.
Tennessee, in what would be a trend in the first half, would get hardly anything going, mustering just 16 yards before punting it away. This was a crucial time for a Tennessee stop, and they got exactly that, but what came of it changed the entire dynamic of the first half.
This is one of the best punts you will ever see!— PFF College (@PFF_College) November 5, 2022
The entire half shifted off of this, as the Vols found themselves pinned inside the one yard line. The Vols would fail to get anything going again, and after a lengthy review on what looked to be a strip sack from Jalen Carter on Hendon Hooker, the Vols appeared to have lucked out of a safety. However, Georgia’s first offensive play after the punt was a 37 yard touchdown from Bennett to Ladd McKonkey.
The Vols would punt for the third straight drive, totaling just 64 total yards in the first quarter, and their inability to move the ball was only compounded on by Tennessee’s secondary reverting back to the Florida game. Bennett was in cruise control at this point, and he connected with Kenny McIntosh for 49 yards, setting Georgia up inside the 20. McIntosh ran it inside the 5, and Bennett found Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint in the back of the end zone, putting Georgia up 21-3, and the rout was on.
Hooker and the Vols would orchestrate their best drive of the day up to this point, but a pair of false starts inside the red zone completely derailed a much needed touchdown drive. Another Chase McGrath field goal made it a 21-6 game, but those false starts were just more body shots on a Tennessee team already on the ropes.
The Vols defense stepped up when needed on the next drive, but the early backbreaking blow came as the Vols were driving following a fourth down conversion. The very next play, Hooker looked for Tillman deep towards the end zone but found Kelee Ringo instead, halting Tennessee’s best drive in its tracks.
Georgia would kill the rest of the second half clock and get three to end the half, putting an end to a very poorly played first half for Tennessee.
The second half began with a lot of the same for Tennessee. Despite a 10 play drive to open the half, they were only able to gain 31 yards before subsequently punting for the fourth time.
Georgia’s ensuing drive was nothing more than asserting their will on Tennessee’s defense. Whatever they wanted, they got it, and though Tennessee cracked down inside the 30, Georgia was still able to add three while draining eight minutes off the clock.
Jaylen Wright and Branson Robinson would exchange lost fumbles over a two play span to end the third quarter.
Tennessee drove down the field, and with what became a trend of their drives, they shot themselves in the foot with false start penalties, and three Georgia sacks later, Tennessee got down inside the red zone just to turn it over on downs.
Georgia went into full clock killing mode from there, and though they went three-and-out, they were still able to take three minutes off the clock in the process.
Tennessee was finally able to crack the goal line and cut the lead to 27-13 on a Jaylen Wright five-yard run, so they weren’t dead yet.
The Vols were unable to get the onside kick, and though they were able to get a quick three-and-out from the Bulldogs, Tennessee’s ensuing drive quickly fizzled out as Hooker was sacked on 4th-and-3. Tennessee had one final long shot to stop Georgia and get the ball back, but Daijun Edwards scrapped his way to a 10-yard carry on 3rd-and-6, putting an end to the game, Tennessee’s undefeated season, the Vols’ run at number one, and a berth in the SEC Championship Game.
Tennessee’s defense battened down in the second half, but the Vols high octane offense was forced to land due to weather today. Their rate stats, yards per play, and most importantly, points, were all at season lows. Hendon Hooker had his worst game of the season, missing a handful of deep throws that could have changed the game. Despite all of his successes this season, this may be a big damper on his Heisman campaign, but the biggest blow of all is that Tennessee no longer controls their destiny.
Tennessee’s offensive line fell short of the level they were needed at today. Multiple false starts stopped Tennessee drives in their tracks, and they didn’t do hardly enough to protect Hooker, giving up six sacks.
Tennessee will now need a lot of help for their College Football Playoff hopes to remain alive, namely from LSU tonight against Alabama. Georgia likely won’t lose the rest of the way and Tennessee will now be the Dawgs’ biggest supporter to win the SEC because a one-loss Georgia that doesn’t win the SEC will get in over the Vols.
The bright side is this: This is going to be the best defense Tennessee faces the rest of the season. Nobody’s defense can compare to what Georgia does on that side of the ball. Tennessee will return to much friendlier confines next weekend as they play host to Missouri, and hopefully the offense can regroup and pick it up after a tough loss.