Bulldogs stifle Vols in battle of unbeatens
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Bulldogs stifle Vols in battle of unbeatens

Georgia-Tennessee
Photo: Tony Walsh/UGA

ATHENS, Ga. — The Georgia defense quieted the nation’s most prolific offense. The Georgia offense was explosive at times and extremely efficient at others. And at the end, amid a roaring and raucous atmosphere Saturday afternoon at Sanford Stadium, the Bulldogs walked off of Dooley Field still undefeated.

Quarterback Stetson Bennett threw two touchdown passes and ran for another score, while the Bulldog defense sacked Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker six times during a battle of unbeatens that Georgia won 27-13.

According to the Associated Press, Saturday’s game was just the fifth regular-season meeting this century featuring teams ranked Nos. 1 and 2 in its media poll (the Vols were tied with Ohio State). In the first College Football Playoff rankings, released Tuesday, Tennessee was ranked No. 1 and Georgia No. 3, with Ohio State in between them. In the AFCA Coaches Poll, Georgia remained No. 1 this week and UT stayed at No. 3.

The polls may be up for debate, but the numbers told the story about Tennessee’s offense. It was No. 1 in the country in multiple key categories going into Saturday — 49.4 points and 553.0 yards per game — but the Bulldog defense, ranked among the nation’s best in most categories, had the better day. Georgia (9-0, 6-0 SEC) outgained the Volunteers 389-289, with Bennett finishing 17 of 25 for 257 yards and the two touchdown passes plus a 13-yard TD run.

It was the first home game since the passing of two Georgia legends, former football coach and director of athletics Vince Dooley, on Oct. 28 at age 90, and legendary football and baseball player Charley Trippi, who died on Oct. 19 at 100. The home sidelines on Dooley Field were painted as a tribute to both men, with the red-zone sections in red and “VD” and Dooley’s signature painted in white along one end and “62” and Trippi’s signature along the other.

The Bulldogs, as they did last week, wore a “62” sticker on their helmets in honor of Trippi. This week, they added a round patch on the left chest of their jerseys that featured a white shirt and red tie on a black background — a nod to Dooley’s customary look on the sideline during his Hall of Fame coaching career (1964-88).

Georgia has now won six straight games against UT.

Tennessee forced the game’s first turnover, stripping Daijun Edwards on Georgia’s opening drive and recovering the fumble at the Georgia 47-yard line. The Vols were able to drive to the Bulldog 30 before the Georgia defense forced them to settle for a 47-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead with 10:05 left in the first quarter.

Georgia struck back in a big way. On first down from the 20, Bennett fired a ball deep up the right hash mark for wideout Arian Smith, who pulled it in for a 52-yard reception. Later in the drive, on 3 and 10 from the UT 13, Bennett dropped back, was forced to scramble, and then took off for the right corner the end zone. He was initially ruled down short of the goal line but the ruling was overturned after a review, putting Georgia up 7-3 with 8:32 on the clock.

The teams then traded punts, with Georgia able to pin the Vols deep after Brett Thorson boomed his punt 75 yards and the ball bounced out of bounds at the 1. On third down at the 5, Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter stripped the ball out of Hendon Hooker’s hands in the end zone. A UT lineman picked up the loose ball and managed to get out of the end zone to avoid a safety, but the Vols still had to punt from the 1.

Georgia started its next drive at the UT 37, excellent field position, and on first down, Bennett went for the home run — and got it. Wideout Ladd McConkey got behind the defense on the right side and Bennett hit him in stride for an easy touchdown, and a 14-3 lead with 3:32 to play in the first.

The Bulldog defense again stopped the Vols short of midfield, and on the punt, McConkey was interfered with on the catch, giving Georgia a first down at its 36. On second down, Bennett to running back Kenny McIntosh for a 49-yard gain. Later, early in the second quarter, on second-and-goal from the 5, Bennett hit wideout Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint for a touchdown in the back of the end zone, pushing the UGA lead to 21-3 with 14:17 on the clock.

Tennessee answered with an 11-play drive that ended well short of the goal line. The Vols, who committed back-to-back false start penalties at one point as the Georgia fans roared nonstop, had to again settle for a field goal, a 36-yarder by Chase McGrath that cut the UGA lead to 21-6 with 9:36 left in the half.

The Vols were moving on their next possession, until they tried to go for the big one. On first down at the UGA 39, Hooker’s deep ball down the sideline, intended for Cedric Tillman, was intercepted by cornerback Kelee Ringo. It was Ringo’s first interception since the win-sealing pick-six in January’s National Championship Game. It was just the second INT thrown this season by Hooker.

Georgia’s offense took over at its 20 and slowly — cognizant that the Vols will receive the kickoff to start the second half — worked its way down the field. An 18-yard strike from Bennett to McConkey gave the Bulldogs a first down at the 25 with about a minute left. Georgia twice tried for the end zone while inside the 10 before having to settle for a 19-yard Jack Podlesny field goal as the half expired, giving the Bulldogs a 24-6 lead.

At the end of the first half, Georgia led in total yards 306-139, including a 226-88 advantage through the air. Bennett was 15 of 21 for 226 yards and two touchdowns.

Tennessee got the ball to start the third quarter and drove into Georgia territory, but then the Bulldog defense sacked Hooker twice in three plays to force a punt. Georgia’s offense then, as a heavy rain began to fall, went 67 yards in 15 plays, a drive of nearly 9 minutes, and went ahead 27-6 with 1:09 left in the third on Podlesny’s 38-yard field goal.

Georgia’s rain-soaked fans erupted soon after, when Jalen Carter stripped Jaylen Wright and Tyrion Ingram-Dawkins recovered the fumble at the Tennessee 36. But on the ensuing play, Tennessee got the ball back when Branson Robinson fumbled and Bryson Eason recovered at the UT 34.

Georgia led 27-6 as the fourth quarter began with UT facing a second-and-4 on its 40. The Vols’ drive was derailed by three sacks, two of them on  blitzes by defensive back Javon Bullard. On fourth down at the 23, Hooker threw incomplete, giving the Bulldogs the ball back with 9:07 remaining.

Tennessee finally reached the end zone with 4:15 remaining, cutting Georgia’s lead to 27-13 on Wright’s 5-yard touchdown run. Tight end Darnell Washington recovered the Vols’ onside kick, giving the Bulldogs the ball at the UT 46. Tennessee’s next possession ended in UT territory with 2:42 remaining, and soon after the Bulldogs were able to celebrate the victory.

The Bulldogs hit the road next weekend and will take on Mississippi State in Starkville. Georgia is 18-6-0 all-time against State, winning 12 of the last 13 meetings.

POST-GAME NOTES

Bulldogs Topple CFP No. 1 Team: Georgia moves its record to 9-0 (6-0 SEC) with a 27-13 victory over #1 Tennessee (8-1, 4-1 SEC). 

*Georgia improves to 3-5 all-time against the No. 1 ranked team in school history. The other wins over No. 1 teams came against Florida (28-3 in Jacksonville) in 1985 and Alabama (33-18) for the 2022 CFP National Championship.

*Tonight marked the highest ranked matchup in the history of Sanford Stadium that opened in 1929 with No. 3 Georgia beating No. 1 UT (CFP rankings).

*The Bulldogs now have won 24 straight regular season games including their last 17 SEC games in that span. 

*Georgia now leads the UT series 27-23-2. They have won six in a row, all by double digits. 

*Head coach Kirby Smart is now 6-1 against UT and 75-15 overall. 

*With today’s win, Georgia is now 4-1 as the No. 3 CFP team in the land. On Selection Day in 2017, Georgia made the CFP and went 1-1, outlasting No. 2 Oklahoma in  2OT in the Rose Bowl and falling in OT to No. 4 Alabama for the national title. Last year, Georgia again was No. 3 on Selection Day and then beat No. 2 Michigan 34-11 in the CFP Semifinal/Capital One Orange Bowl, then No. 1 Alabama 33-18 for the 2022 CFP national title.

Defensive Honors The Standard: Georgia came in ranked 2nd nationally in scoring defense, allowing just 10.5 points a game while UT came in leading the nation in scoring (49.4 ppg). The Bulldogs built a 24-6 halftime lead and ultimately won 27-13. 

*The 13 points was the lowest scored by the Vols under coach Josh Heupel.

*The Vols finished with 289 yards of total offense on 75 plays. They came in with a nation-leading average of 553 ypg.

*The Bulldogs have not allowed a TD in the first quarter this year, just three field goals. For only the second time in the Heupel era, UT was held without a TD in the 1st quarter, They didn’t get a TD until 4:15 left in the game that made it 27-13 after the extra point.. 

*Freshman Malaki Starks, had a team-best and career-high 10 tackles while Kelee Ringo and Javon Bullard had seven apiece.

*Coming in today, Georgia had 10 sacks on the year and posted a season-high six. UT had allowed only 13 on the year.

*Jamon Dumas-Johnson (3rd of year), Jalen Carter (1st), Warren Brinson (1st) and Trezmen Marshall (1st of season/career), Javon Bullard (1st two of season/career)  each collected sacks today. 

*Georgia has posted 19 scoreless quarters this season, UT was just 2-of-14 (14%) on 3rd down attempts but 3-for-5 on 4th down.

Offense Review: Georgia came in averaging 41.8 ppg and 530.1 yards of total offense. The Bulldogs won 27-13 and finished with 387 yards on 62 plays. At halftime, the Bulldogs led 24-6 with 306 yards of offense on 37 plays.

*Senior QB Stetson Bennett (17-for-25, 257 yards, 2 TDs plus 1 rushing TD). He  had a big first half, completing 15-of-21 passes for 226 yards and 2 TDs plus ran for a 13-yard TD on a 3rd and 10. It was his sixth rushing score this year and 10th of his career. Bennett connected for a 37-yard TD to Ladd McConkey (5 for 94 yards, 1 TD) for a 14-3 edge. 

*Senior Kenny McIntosh had 10 rushes for 52 yards plus he had two catches for 57 yards including a career-long 49-yarder.

*Redshirt sophomore Arian Smith had a 52-yard catch. His only other catch this season was a 7-yarder against Missouri (Oct. 1). Today marked just his fifth game this season due to injury.

*Junior Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint (3 rec., 20 yards, 1 TDcaught a five-yard TD to make it 21-3 with 14:17 left in the first half. It was his first this year and 2nd overall, the other covering 32 yards when he broke his leg against Florida in 2020.

Red Zone Update: Georgia went 4-for-4 in the Red Zone with 2 TDs and two field goals. Coming in today, the Bulldogs led the nation in Red Zone offense, scoring 98 percent of the time and now are (50-for-51 with 35 TDs and 15 FGs).

*UT went 2-for-3 in the Red Zone (36-yard FG, Downs, TD) as the Bulldogs came in ranked 2nd nationally in Red Zone Defense, limiting opponents to scoring just 64% of the time.

Special Teams Summary: Freshman P Brett Thorson’s first effort when a career-best 75 yards and was downed at the one. It was his 12th out of 19 this year to be placed inside the 20. The 75-yarder tied for the 10th longest and longest since Drew Butler’s 75-yarder against Okla. Sate in 2009. UT wound up punting from the one after running three plays for a total of no yards. Georgia would field the punt/fair catch at the UT 37. It led to a 37-yard TD catch on the first play from Bennett to Ladd McConkey for a 14-3 edge.

He punted four times for a 50.3-yard avg. and placed one inside the 20.

*Senior PK Jack Podlesny tallied nine points, going 2-for-2 in FGs (19 &, 38 yards) and 3-for-3 in PATs. He handled kickoffs too.

Points Off Turnovers: Georgia is Even in Turnover Margin on the year while UT is an SEC-best +8. Today, the Bulldogs lost two fumbles and picked off UT QB Hendon Hooker, who had just his 2nd INT of the year, and recovered a fumble.

*Georgia had a fumble (Daijun Edwards) on its opening possession and was recovered by UT at the UGA48. It led to a field goal.

*Opponents now have scored 29 points off 11 Bulldog miscues. The Bulldogs have scored 41 points off 11 turnovers.

In the 2nd quarter with 4:52 left, Kelee Ringo notched his first INT of the year (in the endzone) and third of his career. It led to a FG.

*In the 3rd quarter, Georgia Jalen Carter forced a fumble at the UGA and it was recovered by redshirt freshman Tyrion Ingram-Dawkins at the UT 37 and then fumbled it back (Branson Robinson) on the very next play. UT would turn it over on downs.

For Starters, Captains & Coin Toss: Senior Kenny McIntosh (RB), senior Chris Smith (S), redshirt sophomore Sedrick Van Pran (C) and sophomore Jamon Dumas-Johnson (LB) were the captains. UT won the toss and elected to defer the ball until the 2nd half. RS-sophomore Devin Willock made his first career start, getting the nod at LG over Xavier Truss (toe) who had started the past eight.

Honoring The Greats: Georgia wore a special uniform patch honoring the legendary Bulldog coach and athletic director Vince Dooley who passed away last Friday, Oct. 28 at the age of 90. Also for the second Saturday in a row, Georgia had helmet decals to honor one of the greatest athletes ever in Bulldog Charley Trippi, who passed way on Oct. 19 at the age of 100. Also, unique markings were present on Dooley Field at Sanford Stadium, a moment of silence was observed and a special video was played.

Up Next: Georgia (9-0, 6-0 SEC) plays at Miss. State on Nov. 12 at 7 pm ET (ESPN). MSU (5-3 2-3 SEC) is facing Auburn in Starkville at 7 pm on ESPN2.

POST-GAME QUOTES

Georgia Head Coach Kirby Smart

On the key to the amount of sacks on Hendon Hooker…
“The players. Coach Schumann, Muschamp, Scott, every defensive coach sold the plan individually to their players. The players had to unselfishly buy into the plan because the plan included not rushing up the field, not running past the quarterbacks level, pushing the pocket. When you have guys like Jalen Carter that bought into the plan. We wanted him to be uncomfortable in the pocket and our kids did that.”

On the 75-yard punt that went to the one yard line…
“That was huge. I told him, I said, ‘I don’t know if you practiced that in Australia, making that ball curve to the sidelines like a boomerang.’ It just kept going more and more sideways. What an incredible kick and a momentum swing. It was really a 3-4 point swing because it swung us there, we end up getting the sack, we hold them and get the ball at the 35-yard line. It was huge.”

On the offensive line being physical and dominant…
“I thought we came out and ran the ball really well. We actually ran it better early than we did later in the game. Which usually is not our MO, we wear people down. The threat of the pass, the perimeter run, and some of the shots we took downfield. I thought the Arian (Smith) shot early loosened them up. Where we struggled, is explosive outside. We need Arian to come to life.”

#13 Stetson Bennett | Sr. | QB

On the offensive time of possession…
“We know whenever their offense gets going it’s hard to stop; they’re a really good football team, a really good football team. So, we wanted to play complimentary football, and when the rain started we said, ‘Alright, we’ll slow it down a little bit. Give our defense time to rest. Chew up some clock.’ … I think it was the first drive of the second half I think was probably my favorite drive of the year. Even though it ended up in a field goal, we marched for – I don’t know how long – it was like 14 plays; I thought it was awesome.”

On the longer shots downfield…
“I think Monk [Todd Monken] called an amazing game. I think when we needed to slow it down we did and when we needed to take shots we did. And then, the guys outside made plays. I wanted to hit that last one to Arian, and he did too, but I think everything else we did pretty well.”

#5 Kelee Ringo | R-So. | DB

On what Nolan Smith said to the team before the game…
“We have a few guys dinged up. Unfortunately, as you guys have heard, Nolan is unable to play for the rest of the season. We dedicated that game to him, and also William Poole and Dan Jackson. We love all of our brothers, whether they’re with us or they’re not.”

On what the team’s performance meant to them…
“It’s huge. I would say that it goes back to our training. Every single day throughout the week, we executed, we focused on the things we could do to be explosive, we watch tons of tape, so many walkthroughs, stuff like that. I feel like we were really prepared for today and I felt like that showed.”

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