ATHENS, Ga. – The third-ranked Georgia Bulldogs defeated the 14th-ranked Tennessee Volunteers 44-21 Saturday at Dooley Field at Sanford Stadium in front of a crowd of 20,524 and a nationally-televised audience on CBS.
After trailing the Volunteers 21-17 at halftime, the Bulldogs came out in the second half and shutout Tennessee 27-0 in the second half of the game. It was the second year in a row that Georgia has shut Tennessee out in the second half.
“I certainly didn’t expect it to go that way. We didn’t start the way we needed to,” Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said. “We’ve got to show a lot of improvement in a lot of areas and just disappointed in our start to the game. Anytime you spot somebody seven [points], that’s not good. We gave up some explosive plays on defense. But the positives were we didn’t blink. We’ve got a very emotional team and I thought in the locker room, there were a lot of emotions shown. … We’ve got to improve our ability to execute and play with discipline and composure, and we didn’t do that at all times today.”
Smart added, “I think we’re a well-conditioned team and our team has taken pride in the conditioning level. I think we’ve got a team that adjusts well, so if somebody’s giving us trouble with something, we have answers, we don’t just continue to do the same thing if we’re struggling with things. I’m proud of the effort they came out with in the second half with the momentum the defense created.”
Georgia (3-0) tallied 431 yards of offense: 238 passing and 193 rushing. The Bulldogs’ defense shined, holding the Vols (2-1) to -1 rushing yards and 214 total yards. The defense picked up five sacks and forced three fumbles with an interception Saturday.
Redshirt-junior quarterback Stetson Bennett completed 16-of-27 passes for 238 total yards with two passing touchdowns and a rushing touchdown.
The receiving corps was once again led by redshirt-freshman Kearis Jackson with four catches for 91 yards and his first career receiving touchdown that came in the third quarter. Jackson has led Georgia’s receivers in all three games this season.
Sophomore Kenny McIntosh recorded 123 all-purpose yards Saturday (45 rushing, 36 receiving). Freshman Kendall Milton finished as Georgia’s leading rusher with 56 yards on eight carries. Redshirt-sophomore Zamir White picked up a touchdown with 50 total yards on 22 carries.
Redshirt-sophomore kicker Jack Podlesny made a career-best three field goals, including a new career-long 51-yarder that came in the third quarter. He was also perfect on five PATs, also a new career-best.
Defensively, senior Monty Rice finished as Georgia’s leading tackler for the second game in a row, finishing with eight, including two tackles for a loss, a sack, and a fourth-quarter scoop-and-score. Redshirt-sophomore Azeez Ojulari totaled five tackles with two sacks and two forced fumbles.
On Georgia’s second offensive play of the game, the snap went over the head of Bennett and rolled to the endzone. The ball was recovered by Tennessee’s Kivon Bennett for a Volunteer touchdown, putting Georgia behind in the first minute of the game, 7-0 after the extra point.
After forcing a three-and-out on the Vols’ first offensive drive, Georgia began its drive on its own 37-yard line. Back-to-back carries by McIntosh drove the Bulldogs into Volunteer territory. Following a roughing the passer penalty, Bennett went to McIntosh again, this time completing a 29-yard catch-and-run to the one-yard line. White punched it in for Georgia, his fourth touchdown of the season, to knot the game at 7-all with 6:38 to play in the opening quarter.
A 95-yard Georgia drive culminated in Bennett’s first rushing touchdown of the season after diving for the end zone and getting a piece of the pylon. After a good PAT, Georgia led the Vols 14-7 with 11:42 to play in the second quarter.
Tennessee took over on downs with 6:49 to play in the first half on Georgia’s 36-yard line. It took just one play, a 36-yard touchdown pass from Jarrett Guarantano to Josh Palmer, for the Vols to knot the game back up, this time at 14-all.
Podlesny nailed a 47-yard field goal, at the time a new career-long, to give the Bulldogs back the lead, 17-14, with 4:49 to play in the first half.
On Tennessee’s responding drive, the Vols put together a six-play, 67-yard drive in just over a minute and a half, ending with a 27-yard touchdown reception by Palmer to put Tennessee back in front with 3:08 left in the half, 21-17.
The first half expired when Georgia fell just short of the goal line on a 4th-and-goal on the 1-yard line, sending the teams to the locker rooms with Tennessee leading 21-17.
At the half, Georgia totaled 225 total yards to Tennessee’s 143. Bennett concluded the first half 9-for-15 passing for 128 yards and nine rushing. McIntosh totaled 112 all-purpose yards (34 rushing, 36 receiving) in the first half. Freshman wide receiver Jermaine Burton tallied 54 first-half all-purpose yards, highlighted by a 43-yard carry in the second quarter.
On the opening drive of the second half, Ojulari sacked Guarantano, forced Guarantano to fumble the ball, then immediately recovered the ball for Georgia on the Tennessee 15-yard line to take control of the ball within the first minute of the half. It was Ojulari’s second forced fumble of the season and first-career fumble recovery. The turnover was Tennessee’s first of the 2020 season. The resulting Georgia drive ended with a 34-yard field goal by Podlesny to pull Georgia within one, 21-20.
Junior Eric Stokes’ second interception of the season came on Tennessee’s next drive, giving the Bulldogs possession on the Volunteer 36-yard line with 11:04 on the clock. Georgia couldn’t convert a first down following the turnover as Podlesny stepped in for a 51-yard field goal attempt. The redshirt-sophomore split the uprights for a new career-long field goal and put the Bulldogs back in the lead with 10:11 to play in the third, 23-21.
An eight-play, 62-yard Georgia scoring drive resulted in Jackson’s first career receiving touchdown, a 21-yard pass from Bennett, to widen Georgia’s lead to 30-21 with 35 seconds to play in the third quarter.
A one-yard touchdown pass from Bennett to freshman Jalen Carter lengthened Georgia’s lead to 37-21 with about 10 and a half minutes to play in the contest.
The Bulldogs’ lead was bolstered on a Rice scoop-and-score on Tennessee’s very next drive. Rice sacked Guarantano, forcing Tennessee’s third fumble of the game. Rice then picked up the ball and returned it 20 yards for the touchdown, 44-21 Bulldogs.
Next up, Georgia travels to Tuscaloosa, Alabama for a matchup with the Alabama Crimson Tide next Saturday, Oct. 17. Kickoff between the Bulldogs and Tide is slated for 8 p.m., ET, on CBS.