Ten seconds of ecstasy and then heartache for Bulldawg Nation Saturday night in Sanford Stadium as the unbeaten Tennessee Volunteers got a 43-yard touchdown pass from Joshua Dobbs to Jauan Jennings as time expired to deal Georgia one of the most excruciating defeats in UGA’s long football history, by 34-31.
Only 10 seconds earlier, two mere freshmen – quarterback Jacob Eason and wide receiver Riley Ridley – had seemingly won the game for the Bulldogs as they hooked up on a 47-yard touchdown pass down the left sidelines, a scoring play that produced one of the loudest crowd roars in the old stadium’s fabled history. The play started with just 19 seconds remaining on the clock and there were only the 10 of those seconds left when Ridley crossed the goal line to put the Bulldogs up 31-28, counting Rodrigo Blankenship’s extra point kick.
But an excessive celebration by the Georgia players following Ridley’s apparent game-winner would indeed come back to haunt Kirby Smart’s football team. After a 15-yard penalty on the Dogs made Georgia kick off from its own 20, rather than the usual 35-yard line, the Vols’ Micah Abernathy returned Blankenship’s ensuing kick all the way to the Georgia 43. With four seconds left, Dobbs then dropped back and heaved the ball in the end zone and to the disbelief of the UGA faithful, Jennings caught the ball in a sea of red-clad defenders and Tennessee (5-0, 2-0 SEC) had remained in the ranks of the unbeaten while also gaining the inside track on the SEC East title.
But like Smart said in his post-game interview, bitter as this defeat was, the Bulldogs (3-2, 1-2) can’t feel sorry for themselves and sit around thinking about it because the Gamecocks are awaiting Georgia come Saturday night in Columbia. And we won’t dwell any longer on it, either. Let’s get on to the STATS THAT MATTER, which readily show why the Bulldogs had a sure victory snatched away on the game’s final play.
Plays of 20 plus yards, offense and defense
Sony Michel had a stirring, tackle-breaking run of 22 yards on the Bulldogs’ touchdown drive following Jalen Hurd’s fumble into the end zone, which was caused by sophomore Deandre Baker separating Hurd from the ball at the one and which Aaron Davis recovered in the end zone for a touchback to prevent a second quarter Vol touchdown. Eason had a 50-yard touchdown pass to also freshman tight end Isaac Nauta as well as the 47-yard scoring strike to Ridley near game’s end. Dobbs completed passes of 31 and 23 yards in the game before uncorking the 43-yard game winner to Jennings.
Untimely Mistakes (turnovers, penalties, clock management miscues, etc)
The biggest mistake by the Bulldogs was of course, the excessive celebration penalty after the Eason-to-Ridley touchdown pass. Without the 15-yard assessment on the ensuing kickoff, Abernathy perhaps wouldn’t have run the ball back onto Georgia’s side of the field and Dobbs likely couldn’t have thrown his last-gasp pass all the way to the end zone in the air. Eason had his costly fumble that the Vols recovered for a touchdown that put them ahead at the time by 28-24 and the Bulldogs also had several nagging 5-yard penalties that helped bog down several would-be scoring drives.
Special teams wins vs. miscues
Reggie Davis, after the Vols went ahead by that 28-24 tally, returned the ensuing kickoff all the way out to near midfield although the Bulldogs couldn’t cash the return into points due to the Vols picking off Eason at the Tennessee 36. But, as Smart bemoaned following the game, the Georgia special teams struggled most of the game, allowing the Vols to return kickoffs for big yardage including the dash by Abernathy at a time when Georgia needed to keep Tennessee pinned back in its own territory. But Blankenship did make his only field goal attempt, a 27-yarder, and also converted his four PAT kicks. Although freshman punter Marshall Long averaged 40 yards on five punts, he was inconsistent at best with his kicks.
Too often, the Georgia defenders had the elusive Dobbs trapped in his own backfield, only to allow him to scramble out of danger. Especially harmful was Dobbs’ 4-yard touchdown run in the waning minutes of the first half, a score that pulled the Vols within 17-7 at the intermission break and somewhat gave Tennessee new life after being thoroughly dominated by the Bulldogs for most of the first two quarters.
Yards after contact
With Michel and freshman Brian Herrien running for 91 and 74 yards respectively in Nick Chubb’s absence (just one carry for 3 yards), they both pulled away from numerous would-be tacklers to enable the Bulldogs to erase the bad rushing efforts against Nicholls, Missouri and Ole Miss and finish the night with 181 yards against the Tennessee defense.
There was the touchback when Aaron Davis recovered Hurd’s fumble and there was the big play made by QB Eason when he dove on Michel’s fumble into the end zone for a Georgia touchdown that put the Bulldogs up by 17-0 in the second quarter. Maurice Smith had another key fumble recovery for Georgia late in the opening quarter that eventually led to Blankenship’s field goal and the Alabama transfer also picked off a Dobbs pass in the game.
Red Zone (offense/defense)
Both teams were perfect on this night when driving inside the 20, the Bulldogs and Vols each going 3-for-3 on scoring chances in the Red Zone.
Third down conversions
The Volunteers won this battle, converting first downs on 9 of their 15 attempts. Meantime, the Bulldogs could cash in on only 5-of-15 third down opportunities.
Run/pass attempts (total plays)
Georgia ran the ball 46 times, for 181 yards, and passed it 28 times with Eason completing 17 of his attempts for 211 yards, with one interception. The Vols got off 64 total plays on the night.