The third-ranked Georgia Bulldogs used 33 unanswered points to run away from Tennessee in a 43-14 victory in front of 92,709 fans at Neyland Stadium and an ESPN nationally-televised audience on Saturday evening.
In their first game since defeating Notre Dame two weeks ago, the Bulldogs (5-0, 2-0 SEC) overtook the Volunteers (1-4, 0-2 SEC) in the all-time series, 24-23-2, and picked up their 15th-consecutive win over a SEC East opponent.
Junior quarterback Jake Fromm turned in an outstanding performance, going 24-of-29 for 288 yards and two touchdowns. Senior tailback Brian Herrien led a balanced rushing attack with 11 carries for 88 yards with junior D’Andre Swift adding in 76 yards on 17 rushes. Swift led in receiving yards for the fifth time in his career with 72 yards, gaining 148 all-purpose yards. Overall, the offense amassed 526 yards for the game with an average of 7.5 yards per play.
The Bulldog defense only allowed 104 yards from the Volunteers in the second half, with 70 of those coming on their final drive of the game. Junior safety Richard LeCounte and junior defensive back Mark Webb tied for the team lead with five tackles, while redshirt freshman linebacker Azeez Ojulari tallied two sacks.
“We knew they would come ready to play. They had a week off and they have a good football team,” said head coach Kirby Smart. “They came out and played physical, and so did we…Our kids came back and played hard. They came out in the second half and played a lot harder.”
After forcing Tennessee to punt on its opening possession, Georgia took nearly seven minutes off the clock with a methodical 12-play, 84-yard scoring drive that concluded with a 1-yard touchdown run from Swift. The sequence was highlighted by a 28-yard completion to junior wide receiver Demetris Robertson on 1st-and-20, moving the Bulldogs into Volunteer territory. Swift’s score also marked the fourth time this season that Georgia has scored on its first offensive drive.
Tennessee then quickly responded with a 73-yard touchdown strike from freshman quarterback Brian Maurer to senior wide receiver Marquez Callaway, knotting the score at 7 apiece. Maurer’s first career touchdown was the longest play allowed by the Georgia defense this season.
On the next Georgia possession, Fromm and the offense once again used major plays to break into Tennessee territory, including a 44-yard pass to Swift and a 25-yard completion to graduate wide receiver Lawrence Cager. The momentum was slowed by the Volunteer defense, leading to a 50-yard field goal from senior place kicker Rodrigo Blankenship, his fifth career kick from beyond 50 yards and second this season (50 yards at Vanderbilt at Aug. 31). Blankenship remained perfect on the season with three field goals and four made PATs, extending Georgia’s team streak to 270 consecutive makes.
For the second consecutive possession, Tennessee responded to a Georgia score, efficiently moving down the field before Maurer found redshirt senior wide receiver Jauan Jennings for a 12-yard touchdown on the opening play of the second quarter, giving the Volunteers a 14-10 lead. Despite a career-long 40-yard run by Herrien, the Bulldogs would again settle for a 34-yard Blankenship field goal, capping off an 8-play, 58-yard drive.
Following three consecutive stalled drives from both teams, the Bulldogs set up at their own 40-yard line with four minutes remaining in the half. Georgia would take advantage of the field position with a 6-play, 60-yard drive that concluded with a 3-yard touchdown pass from Fromm to Cager. Looking to answer, Tennessee moved down the field in a two-minute drill, but came away empty when kicker Brent Cimaglia missed from 47 yards out. Utilizing an extra possession to end the half, Georgia padded its lead with a 7-yard touchdown catch from freshman wide receiver George Pickens in the back of the end zone with nine seconds remaining to enter the locker room with a 26-14 lead. The 5-play, 70-yard drive only took 50 seconds and was bolstered by 42 yards from Swift.
After fruitless drives from both teams to start the half, Georgia added to its tally on its second possession as Blankenship notched his third field goal of the night, a 27-yard try that completed a 7-play, 43-yard drive. On the next drive, the Volunteers reached midfield, but a deep throw from Maurer was intercepted by LeCounte at the Georgia 22-yard line.
The Bulldogs were unable to capitalize on the turnover as Swift was stopped on 4th-and-1 at the Tennessee 39-yard line. Following a Tennessee punt, Georgia steadily moved down the field on a game-sealing 10-play, 75-yard drive that ended with a 1-yard Herrien touchdown run.
The Bulldogs added another score with senior linebacker Tae Crowder’s 60-yard fumble recovery touchdown, resulting from a Maurer fumble on a blind side sack by redshirt sophomore cornerback Eric Stokes. On Tennessee’s final drive, the Volunteers were set up with 1st-and-goal at the 5-yard line, but a Bulldog goal line stand preserved the second half shutout.
“We took a punch there in the gut with the bomb, but they responded well,” said Smart. “They kept fighting and kept playing hard, created some turnovers in the second half.”