No. 3 Georgia uses swarming defensive effort to storm back and beat No. 14 Tennessee

Sam Cooper
·4 mins read

When No. 14 Tennessee stuffed the No. 3 Georgia offense at the goal line to go into halftime with a 21-17 lead, all of the momentum was on its side.

But the Georgia defense changed things in the second half, and did so quickly en route to a decisive 44-21 victory for the Bulldogs.

On Tennessee’s first two third-quarter possessions, Georgia forced quarterback Jarrett Guarantano to turn the ball over. Both of those miscues, a fumble on a strip-sack and an ill-advised interception on third-and-short, led to Georgia field goals that flipped the score from a 21-17 deficit to a 23-21 advantage.

Tennessee went three-and-out on its next two offensive possessions. In between, Georgia embarked on touchdown drives of 62 yards and 66 yards to turn the game completely on its head.

And the cherry on top of a dominant second-half performance from the UGA defense was a third turnover. Georgia brought pressure from Guarantano’s back side, and Monty Rice made an incredible individual play. First, he hit the quarterback and jarred the ball loose. He then located the ball, scooped it up and sprinted about 20 yards for a touchdown.

Any chances of a Tennessee comeback were already looking pretty far-fetched. Rice’s scoop-and-score made those chances obsolete.

Tennessee capitalized on early UGA mistakes

Tennessee entered Saturday’s game as a nearly two-score underdog, so it was going to need a few breaks to pull off the upset. Especially on the road.

And on cue, Tennessee got a break on Georgia’s second offensive snap. Stetson Bennett, lined up in shotgun, saw the center’s snap sail over his head. The ball bounced all over the place and eventually settled in the end zone where Tennessee’s Kivon Bennett fell on top of it for a touchdown.

Later in the first half, Georgia led 14-7 but decided to go for it on fourth-and-inches from its own 36. Georgia tried a quarterback sneak, but the Tennessee defense stuffed it to put its offense in tremendous field position.

On the very next play, Guarantano hit Josh Palmer for a 36-yard touchdown to tie the game at 14-14.

After UGA went back ahead 17-14 with a field goal, Guarantano and Palmer hooked up again. This time it was a gorgeous 27-yard strike to the end zone that put the Vols ahead with 3:08 left in the first half.

Couple those two touchdown passes with the defense’s goal line stop of Zamir White to end the half, and it looked like the recipe was there for a huge Tennessee upset.

The second half, though, told a much different story.

Tennessee quarterback Jarrett Guarantano (2) is brought down by Georgia defensive lineman Julian Rochester (92) after a short run in the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 10, 2020, in Athens, Ga. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
Tennessee quarterback Jarrett Guarantano (2) is brought down by Georgia defensive lineman Julian Rochester (92) after a short run in the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 10, 2020, in Athens, Ga. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

What does this mean for Georgia?

On a day where Florida — Georgia’s biggest SEC East competition — lost on the road to Texas A&M, this was a tremendous effort for the Bulldogs.

Tennessee’s strength as a team is in the trenches. It took a while, but Georgia proved to be significantly better over the course of 60 minutes. The defense especially lived up to its billing as one of the nation’s best, just as it did last week in a dominant win over Auburn.

The offense had some struggles running the ball, especially in the early going. White, the team’s top back, could muster only 50 yards on 22 tries, but the Bulldogs have enough options that Tennessee’s defense wore down as the game progressed. By the time the dust settled, the Bulldogs had amassed 193 yards on the ground.

Bennett, in his second career start, showed that he can run a bit, too. He threw for 235 yards and two touchdowns, but he also had an eight-yard rushing touchdown in the win. Bennett didn’t play a perfect game, but he avoided making the mistakes that Guarantano did.

In the end, those mistakes were costly.

What about Tennessee?

Jeremy Pruitt has made quick work in elevating the talent of the Tennessee roster. It’s only his third year leading a program that has been mired in mediocrity.

Tennessee entered Saturday’s game on an eight-game winning streak, albeit over mediocre competition. This was a chance for the Vols to show that they could compete with the SEC’s best. And for two quarters, they did.

In the game’s final two quarters, though, it was pretty clear that there is still a long way for the program to go.

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