You have to say Saturday’s 38-12 SEC win for 2nd-ranked Georgia over Tennessee was a workman-like performance.
And the heavy underdog Volunteers, embarrassed by their blowout showing the previous Saturday against Florida, did make the Bulldogs work throughout the four quarters. A whopping 31-point favorite in this game, Georgia did shoot out to a 17-0 halftime lead and built their advantage to 24-0 in the third quarter. But an expected blowout at that point didn’t materialize … at least for a stretch of time leading to the fourth quarter.
With two touchdown passes of 37 and 35 yards, the Vols made the 92,000-plus turnout in Sanford Stadium a bit uncomfortable by cutting the Bulldogs’ lead to 24-12 with still 11:10 left in the game.
But that’s when Georgia clearly demonstrated why it is unbeaten on the 2018 season and a combined 18-2 under Kirby Smart these past two seasons.
After Tennessee’s ensuing kickoff, the Bulldogs started from their own 25-yard line and proceeded to all but put this football game out of reach by marching 75 yards on 13 plays to blink the board back up to 31-12. And you talk about imposing their will on the opponent – as Smart continually preaches to his team – the Bulldogs went right at the Volunteer defense on the ground, throwing only one pass in those 13 plays. With the Georgia O-line manhandling the Tennessee defensive front, sophomore tailback D’Andre Swift capped the drive with a brilliant cut-back, tackle-breaking run, diving into the end zone from 14 yards out.
And, most importantly, the Bulldogs ate up a full 7:39 of the clock on their excursion down the field. Indeed, when Rod Blankenship stuck another extra point through the uprights, only 3:31 remained in the game. Any comeback hopes Tennessee harnessed were effectively ended.
But, much to the delight of Bulldawg Nation, these Dawgs weren’t finished in their first SEC home game of the season. On the Vols’ ensuing possession, outside linebacker D’Andre Walker forced Tennessee to cough the ball up and inside ‘backer Juwan Taylor recovered for Georgia at the UT 31. Elijah Holyfield then dashed for 16 yards to set up a 15-yard scoring gallop by freshman quarterback Justin Fields … Fields’ second touchdown run of the day.
Thus with just 2:41 left now, Georgia had climbed to 5-0 on the season and 3-0 in the SEC with the 38-12 whipping of the Vols of first-year head coach Jeremy Pruitt.
But if it’s any consolation to the Big Orange Nation, their team did lose to the Bulldogs by “just” 26 points, five points less than the 31-point spread that was posted on this game.
As much as the UGA offense taking command each time the situation called for it – the Bulldogs totaled 441 yards of offense, rushing for 251 and passing for 190 more – I think you have to look hard at the other side of the ball to see the real story of this contest.
You know the Georgia defensive unit that surrendered nearly 180 yards rushing against the Missouri Tigers last week? Well, the Bulldogs were nearly hell-bent to slow down Tennessee’s run game … the Vols’ bread-and-butter offensively. And shut down the Vols, Georgia did just that. The Bulldogs limited Tennessee’s backs to a measly 66 yards net rushing. And, just 143 passing for a meager 209 yards of total offense by the Volunteers.
Balanced Georgia was on defense Saturday as safety J.R. Reed recorded six tackles and outside ‘backer Walker and inside linebackers Monty Rice (back in the lineup after sitting out the Mizzou game) and Natrez Patrick all followed with five tackles each. Walker, picking up where he left off against the Tigers, got another sack and tackle-for-loss.
And defensive linemen Tyler Clark and Julian Rochester each recorded half-a-sack in the defense’s sterling performance. Sure, Georgia wasn’t perfect as it yielded the 37 and 35-yard touchdown passes by Jarrett Guarantano in the second half; still, when you limit a team to 12 points, it’s usually going to deliver a victory.
How about the offensive numbers, you say? As Smart said, both Georgia quarterbacks did some good things. Starter Jake Fromm completed 16-of-22 attempts for 185 yards and, as mentioned, Justin Fields again displayed his athletic ability by running for touchdowns of 12 and 15 yards while also completing one of the two passes he attempted.
For the running attack, it was again tailback-by-committee for the Bulldogs. Holyfield ran for 78 yards on 16 carries to again lead the way, Brian Herrien ran with power and elusiveness on the clinching 75-yard scoring drive late in the game and finished with 56 yards on nine totes, Swift tacked on 50 yards on 12 carries and the dual threat QB, Fields, carried five times for 45 yards. Receiving-wise, though he didn’t notch a touchdown for the first time in a game this season, Mecole Hardman had four catches for 43 yards and Riley Ridley also snared four balls for 36 yards.
Now, before they head to the Bayou in two weeks, these Dawgs will hope to celebrate a happy Homecoming next Saturday night when they welcome the Vanderbilt Commodores between the hedges. One thing’s for certain, if Georgia again plays for four quarters, as it did against a determined Tennessee team Saturday on another muggy day for football, the Bulldogs should be riding a 6-0 season worksheet when they go to LSU’s famed Tiger Stadium.