Georgia getting a win by this many points is nothing short of exceptional, given how Saturday’s game against Tennessee started.
This trip to Tennessee had the makings of a trap game. And for a little over a quarter, that certainly seemed to be the case. The Volunteers shot out to a hot start and looked like they would give Georgia a tough game.
The resilient Bulldogs didn’t flinch.
In the end, Georgia showed once again why it is the No. 1 team in the nation with a 41-17 victory against Tennessee.
Facing early deficits of 7-0 and 10-3, Georgia was able to tie Tennessee on each of its subsequent drives after it trailed. Once the Bulldogs went up 17-10, thanks to a 9-yard rushing touchdown from quarterback Stetson Bennett, the Bulldogs never looked back.
Bennett concluded his day completing 17 of 29 passes for 213 yards and a touchdown. Bennett added 40 yards and a score on the ground as well. Running back James Cook was the star skill position player of the afternoon, totaling 10 carries for 104 yards and two touchdowns. Cook also caught three passes for 43 yards and a touchdown.
What it means
Georgia has two games remaining on its schedule: Charleston Southern and Georgia Tech. Georgia head coach Kirby Smart will talk up Charleston Southern this week, but everyone knows what will happen. While Georgia Tech has improved from what it displayed a year ago, there is still a wide talent disparity between the programs.
Barring anything unforeseen in the latter game, Georgia’s lane for an undefeated regular season is wide open with this win over Tennessee. The Bulldogs have no excuse to head into the SEC Championship with anything less than a 12-0 record.
Assuming Georgia does just that, its spot in the College Football Playoff should be good to go, especially if Alabama is the SEC West champion. If the SEC Championship is a matchup between No. 1 Georgia and No. 2 Alabama, and if Alabama wins, it would be very tough to leave the Bulldogs out of the field.
Case in point: Georgia is sitting beautifully at the present moment.
Three important plays
Bennett’s scramble touchdown: With less than eight minutes to go in the second quarter, Georgia had the ball in a first-and-goal situation at the 9-yard line. Bennett took the snap and couldn’t find anyone open. He found a huge opening to the right to run through and took off. He had some blockers assist him as he dove into the end zone for a touchdown. This gave the Bulldogs a 17-10 lead, something they never relinquished.
Touchdown before the half: Up by only one score, Georgia embarked on a 90-yard drive near the end of the first half. This play was capped with a beautiful 23-yard throw from Bennett to Cook down the right sideline. This gave the Bulldogs a much-needed two-score cushion to enter halftime.
Red zone stop: On its first drive of the third quarter, Tennessee drove the ball down to Georgia’s 17-yard line before facing a fourth-and-4. Instead of kicking the field goal, head coach Josh Heupel decided to go for it while down by 14 points. Quarterback Hendon Hooker rolled to the left but saw all three of his options covered. His pass was incomplete, with Georgia taking over on downs. The Bulldogs turned Tennessee’s missed opportunity for points into a field goal of their own on the ensuing possession.
Tennessee’s secondary did a good job to take away the offense’s ability to attack the defense repeatedly down the field. While it took a while to get going, the running backs totaled 274 rushing yards, with the group icing the game in the fourth quarter with a Kenny McIntosh touchdown. Although it wasn’t a flashy performance, Bennett managed the Bulldogs and prevented any costly mistakes in a tough atmosphere.
This wasn’t Georgia’s finest game when it came to tackling. In addition, the Volunteers were able to hit some big plays in the passing game—whether it be with vertical shots or through screens. That will be an area to address moving forward. The Vols were also able to amass 387 total yards in the game. The 17 points allowed were the most against the Georgia defense all season.
OK, enough with the nitpicking.
Georgia did a fantastic job limiting Tennessee on the scoreboard, especially with its two red zone stops. After Tennessee had some early success, Georgia settled in and did a great job of wrangling the Volunteers play after play. The first red zone stop in the third quarter to keep it a two-score game was a huge moment. And the Bulldogs concluded the game with six sacks with Chazz Chambliss getting one on the final play. Also, linebacker Nakobe Dean just might be the best player at his position in the country.
Special teams: B+
Down 10-7, Jack Podlesny hit a 40-yard field goal in a hostile environment when the Bulldogs needed it the most. Podlesny added another short field goal in the third quarter. Jake Camarda boomed a 62-yard punt, and although it did have a decent return, the coverage team forced a fumble, although Tennessee recovered. However, a late 24-yard punt return was enough to downgrade the overall unit. That stated, it was a solid outing once again for this reliable unit.
Season grades to date
Special teams: A-