[su_spacer size=”20″] The Vols’ 38-31 comeback victory, after Georgia led by 24-3 at one point in the second quarter, left the Bulldogs smarting at 4-2 on the season and, worse of all, at 2-2 in the East.
This day was a double blow to Georgia, not only falling for the second straight week in the league but, also losing leading ground gainer Nick Chubb on his very first carry of the game with an undisclosed left knee injury. Head coach Mark Richt said in his post-game press conference it’s hoped that Chubb wouldn’t need surgery for the injury.
Coming off the crushing loss to Alabama last week, the Bulldogs seemed ready to play before 102,000-plus fans – most of them dressed in Tennessee orange – and built their seemingly comfortable three-touchdown lead only to see things unravel in the final minute leading to halftime. Whittling Georgia’s lead to 24-17 at the break, the Volunteers then rode the huge night of junior quarterback Joshua Dobbs to a dominating final two quarters when they outscored the Bulldogs 21-7 to improve to 3-3 season and 1-2 in the SEC after earlier seeing double-digit leads vanish against Oklahoma, Florida and Arkansas.
With Chubb out, sophomore tailback Sony Michel stepped in admirably to rush for 145 yards on 22 carries and Greyson Lambert hurled touchdown passes of 28 yards to Malcolm Mitchell and 48 yards to Reggie Davis but it wasn’t enough to topple a pumped Tennessee team that got 312 yards passing and three touchdowns and another 118 yards and two touchdowns from Dobbs, who matched his own UT record by throwing for 300 and running for over 100. Time and again, Dobbs found passing seams in the Georgia secondary and when he wasn’t throwing down the middle, he was keeping the football for first down runs.
As one would expect, it was a somber mood in the Georgia interview room as Richt and the players tried to explain how this one got away and left the Bulldogs’ division title hopes hanging by a mere thread.
“I feel for our guys,” said Richt. “It wasn’t an effort issue, just an execution issue. Bottom line, they (Vols) made more plays when it counted. Nick getting hurt on play one wasn’t what you want to see. I don’t know for sure but we’re still hopeful it won’t require surgery.”
The Bulldogs still had the opportunity to tie the Vols at 38-38 in the final minutes but Lambert’s perfectly-thrown pass – after Lambert scrambled – to the goal line was dropped by Reggie Davis after he had beat the Tennessee defensive back.
“I would have swapped all the other plays I made tonight to have caught that ball,” said the disconsolate Davis, barely speaking above a whisper, alluding to his earlier 48-yard TD reception and a stirring 70-yard punt return for a touchdown.
“I know Reggie’s sick he dropped that ball,” said Richt, “but it didn’t take away from the way he played tonight. I think he had his best ball game.”
The Bulldogs built their 24-3 lead late in the second quarter on the strength of several big plays.
With just over six minutes left in the first quarter and the Volunteers having driven down to the Georgia 1-yard line, Tennessee’s Jalen Hurd plowed into the Bulldog middle only to see the ball batted out of his hand by outside linebacker Davin Bellamy. That’s when Leonard Floyd grabbed the ball out of the air and raced untouched down the middle of the field for a scintillating 96-yard fumble recovery touchdown. Thus instead of trailing by a touchdown, the Bulldogs were suddenly up 7-0 with 6:14 left in the quarter.
An Aaron Medley field goal pulled the Vols within 7-3 with 1:39 remaining but Georgia came right back and marched 75 yards on just five plays to go up 14-3. Michel had a 29-yard burst on the drive and the score came when Mitchell leaped high above a Tennessee defensive back in the right corner of the end zone to pull in Lambert’s 28-yard strike. The Bulldogs’ score came on the first play of the second period and with Marshall Morgan’s kick, Georgia was up 14-3.
Michel then would rip off a stirring 66-yard run to the Vols’ 22, making at least four Tennessee would-be tacklers miss along the way. With a false start at the 15-yard line, Georgia had to settle for Morgan’s 37-yard field goal, moving the Bulldogs up 17-3 with 4:47 until halftime.
Then, when Davis, with only 3:27 left until halftime, returned a UT punt 70 yards for another Georgia score, the Bulldogs were seemingly rolling to an easy victory, now up 24-3.
But that’s when Georgia let the Vols back in it, Tennessee erupting for two touchdowns in the final 1:04 of the half to pull within 24-17 at the break. The Vols’ quick scores came on a fourth-down, 39-yard touchdown pass from Joshua Dobbs to Josh Smith. That made it 24-10 with just over a minute remaining and then when the ensuing kickoff was fumbled by Michel at the Georgia 25, five plays later, Dobbs rolled right and hit a wide-open Alvin Kamara for two yards and the score. With just 27 seconds in the first half, the Bulldogs now led by just 24-17, effectively letting both the Vols’ football team and the Tennessee crowd back in the game.
And in the second half, the Vols turned up the tempo even more, striking for three additional touchdowns while allowing the Bulldogs just Davis’ 48-yard scoring pass from Lambert on the opening play of the final quarter. Lambert did throw for 279 yards and the two touchdowns but finished just 15-of-32 through the air on the night. Mitchell had five catches for 85 yards while Davis totaled 101 yards receiving on three receptions.
“You know, all losses are tough,” said Lambert. “Being there to the end in this one is extra tough. We’ve just got to be able to put it behind us and move on. That’s football, that’s how it works. I’ll have to watch the film but obviously I didn’t do enough (to help the team win),” said Lambert. “I know we didn’t do well on third down (only 4 of 14 conversions) and I’ll take a lot of the blame for that.”
With the Georgia defense on the field much of the evening, inside linebackers Jake Ganus and Tim Kimbrough led the way with 12 and 11 tackles, respectively.
Thus, a team that was riding so high two weekends ago at No. 8 in the country now finds itself having to plug a number of holes to keep the ship from completely sinking … following the consecutive disappointments against Alabama and Tennessee. The Bulldogs will try to find a way back on the winning side of the ledger when they host the Missouri Tigers next Saturday night at homecoming in Sanford Stadium.