In what was unexpectedly a race for first place in the SEC East, Georgia shot itself in the foot early and often.
But not quite enough for the Tennessee Volunteers to catch up.
The Bulldogs bumbled and stumbled, tripped and fell, committed penalties dumb and yet dumber. Then the Jarrett Guarantano they’ve grown accustomed to seeing showed up and everything felt okay again. Behind 3 second half turnovers from a Tennessee team that hadn’t had one all year, and the resulting 27 unanswered second half points, the Bulldogs downed the Vols 44-21.
Stetson Bennett had a night that looked pedestrian on the stat sheet but felt less so in real time. Bennett finished 16 of 27 passing for 230 yards and two touchdowns. But he did some of his fiercest damage to Rocky Top’s dreams on the ground. The Mailman had 6 rushes for 22 yards and a second quarter touchdown that kept the ‘Dawgs close at halftime.
The Bulldog offense once again chose to run the dang ball, though not to the devastating effect they had against Auburn a week ago. On the night the Red and Black churned out 193 yards rushing on 50 attempts. 7 of the runs and 46 of the yards came on the final UGA drive, which poetically showed good promise from some of the young Pups before ending in a fumble and turnover. In fact, freshman Kendall Milton ended up leading the Red and Black in rushing with 56 yards on 8 attempts. 43 of the yards came on a single end around run by fellow freshman Jermaine Burton. The Bulldogs’ inability to run the ball consistently on the Volunteers stands out as a troubling sign ahead of a next week’s trip to Tuscaloosa, where the sledding won’t get easier.
On the bright side, if Georgia’s inability to run was concerning Tennessee’s was utterly horrifying. The Creamsicle Contingent tallied -1 yard on 27 attempts. To be perfectly fair, they would have had 39 but for the -40 taken by Guarantano. After playing a relatively error-free first half, in which he repeatedly got away from pressure, Guarantano self-destructed in the third quarter, fumbling, then throwing a pick, and eventually giving up a sack/fumble in the fourth quarter that Monty Rice returned 20 yards for the final, demoralizing Bulldog touchdown.
Tennessee’s 214 yards of total offense were 194 yards less than their season average. It’s weird how that happens when you play a defense with an actual pulse.
Tennessee had more penalties (10) for more yardage (84). But Georgia’s were decidedly stupider. None stupider than George Pickens’ 15 yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for dousing a Tennessee player with Powerade on the sideline. It was reminiscent of Rico McGraw’s helmet penalty in 2016, if not nearly as costly. It was also the kind of unforced error the ‘Dawgs simply cannot make against the Crimson Tide.
What can we take from this one? The primary lesson is that if the Bulldogs play the type of first half they played this week against Alabama next week they’ll trail 31-10 not 21-17, and their odds of mounting a second half comeback will be significantly lower. Georgia must run the ball more effectively, and that starts up front with an offensive line that looked heavy-legged against a solid Volunteer front. The Bulldog secondary also looked a little vulnerable in one-on-one matchups deep downfield, which is where the Alabama offense lives and breathes.
It’s always nice to clock a three touchdown win against the Big Urnge. Winning four in a row against them, especially when this was supposed to be the year of their big step forward, is also quite pleasant. Don’t let anything I’ve said place that in doubt.
Were the ‘Dawgs looking ahead to Bama? Were they a little hung over from last week’s dismantling of Auburn? It’s hard to say, but we do know this was one that looked better on the scoreboard than on the field. Until later . . .