The most important game of the season was completely one-sided.
No. 3 Georgia, the defending national champions, welcomed No. 1 Tennessee to Athens on Saturday and made it clear that the SEC East still belongs to the Bulldogs with a 27-13 tag team victory.
Tennessee opened the scoring with a field goal, but it didn’t take long for Georgia to fully take control of the game as senior quarterback Stetson Bennett made some big plays in the first quarter.
First, in the third and tenth plays of the Tennessee 13, Bennett deftly avoided the pressure, passed the Vols’ defense and dived to the pylon to give Georgia a 7–3 lead. Later in the first quarter, after Brett Thorson’s epic 75-yard strike that gave the UGA a lead in fielding position, Bennett found speedy Ladd McConkey behind the defense for a 37-yard touchdown.
That 14-3 lead was more than enough to make a powerful defense for Georgia.
Tennessee entered Saturday’s game with the No. 1 offense in the nation, averaging 553 yards and 49.4 points per game. But the Vols just couldn’t match the Bulldogs.
Tennessee scored just six points in the first half with three misses, and Hendon Hooker had only his second interception of the season. Meanwhile, Georgia extended their lead with a deft touchdown by Marcus Rosemee-Jexent and a field goal just before halftime.
By halftime, UGA had a 24-6 lead. And in the second half, the Bulldogs were content to control the time on offense, and leave the rest to their defense – and the noisy crowd at Sanford Stadium.
Tennessee simply didn’t have the answers. The attack was completely out of sync and struggled to get into any sort of rhythm. The Vols took seven false starts, and the receivers, who had been working for free all season, were brilliantly covered by a minor Georgia player.
UGA was content to force the Vols into the field with short passes. It was not a good recipe for an offense that used explosive plays so adeptly throughout the year.
In that game, Tennessee only averaged 3.85 yards per game after averaging 7.4 yards per game in the first eight games. Hooker, who entered the game as the favorite to win Heisman, had a hard time. He was limited to just 195 yards on 23-of-33 throws and was fired six times. Jalyn Hyatt, the nation’s leader in touchdowns (14), was not a factor, nor was UT’s running offense.
Overall, Tennessee gained just 289 yards, many of which came in the fourth quarter with Georgia in the lead. Vols reached the end zone only once – 4:15 before the end, when the outcome of the game was already decided.
The victory was a strong statement from Georgia, which will almost certainly lift the CFP rankings to first place on Tuesday.
With that win, Georgia is now 9-0 overall and 6-0 in SEC play. The Bulldogs are leading the SEC East with road games against the states of Mississippi and Kentucky over the next two weeks. The path back to the SEC title game—and to the college football playoffs—is clear.
Tennessee, meanwhile, falls to 8-1 overall and 4-1 in the league. While a place in the SEC title game is now unlikely, unless Georgia upsets, there is still the possibility of an outside shot in the college football playoffs.
Tennessee may hang his hat on a big win over Alabama on Oct. 15, but he has no room for error going forward. If the Vols finish 11-1 and their only loss is on the road against Georgia, they will certainly stay in the conversation until the very end. Tennessee should bounce back quickly as three divisional opponents remain on the schedule – Missouri, South Carolina and Vanderbilt. Missouri and Vanderbilt games will be held in Knoxville.