The Georgia Bulldogs shook off a slow start on offense and overcame multiple miscues en route to a 38-12 win against the Tennessee Volunteers on a hot Athens’ Saturday afternoon.
The Bulldogs improved to 5-0 (3-0 SEC), despite the offense allowing three sacks, dropping at least two passes and having four fumbles they were fortunate to recover.
Georgia opened the scoring in the first quarter on a bizarre play when tight end Isaac Nauta recovered quarterback Jake Fromm’s fumble eight yards behind the line of scrimmage and ran it to the house for a 31-yard touchdown.
“I stood up and heard the crowd cheer and was like, `What the heck is going on?” Fromm said. “… I had to look up at the board and see what the heck happened.”
Georgia scored again with under a minute to go in the half after a 12-play, 70-yard drive culminated in a one-yard touchdown run by D’Andre Swift. The Dawgs entered halftime leading 17-0 and were dominating the Vols (2-3, 0-2) defensively.
On Georgia’s opening possession of the second half, Fromm marched the Bulldogs to Tennessee’s 12-yard line, where Fields entered the game and on the ensuing play, ran it in for a touchdown. The theme of the day continued on the extra point attempt, when the snap was dropped and Rodrigo Blankenship had to double clutch and barely booted the ball over the crossbar for a 24-0 score.
The Dawgs appeared to be in cruise control but Tennessee answered for its first score of the game when quarterback Jarrett Guarantano connected with Josh Palmer for a 37-yard touchdown pass late in the third quarter. The two-point conversion attempt failed and Georgia’s lead was cut to 24-6.
Georgia went three and out on its next possession and the Vols tried to make things interesting. Guarantano hit Ty Chandler with a short pass and the running back took it 35 yards for the score. The two-point conversion failed again and Georgia’s lead was reduced to 24-12.
Georgia answered with their most impressive drive of the game, a 75-yard, 13-play, 7:39 march capped by Swift’s electric 14-yard scoring run. The Bulldogs recovered a Tennessee fumble on the Vol’s following possession, and converted it into points on Fields’ 15-yard scoring run and pushing Georgia’s lead to 38-12.
“When we had to have a drive in the second half, I thought we came up with a drive,” said Georgia coach Kirby Smart, who said running back Brian Herrien “had some juice” to spark the offense.
Fromm was 16-of-22 passing for 185 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. Justin Fields completed one of two passes for five yards and rushed five times for 45 yards and a pair of touchdowns on. Elijah Holyfield had a career-high 16 carries for 78 yards and D’Andre Swift added 12 carries for 50 yards and a pair of scores.
For the game, the Bulldogs held Tennessee to 66 rushing yards on 25 carries and 209 total yards. UGA’s defense collected six total tackles for a loss and had a pair of sacks. Safety J.R. Reed led the team in tackles with six and linebacker D’Andre Walker had five total stops, his fourth sack of the season and another tackle for a loss.
The game ended Georgia’s streak of scoring 40 or more points at four games. The loss extended Tennessee’s school-record losing streak in conference games to 11 since a 63-37 win over Missouri on Nov. 19, 2016.
After the game, Kirby Smart fielded several questions about his plan for his quarterbacks after Fields’ bigger role. Smart repeated the same response three times: “The plan is there is no plan.”
The Bulldogs are back in action in Athens next Saturday against Vanderbilt (3-2) for the team’s first game under the lights.
Legendary Georgia running back Herschel Walker was honored on “Herschel Walker Day” (but isn’t every day “Herschel Walker Day”) but there was plenty of other star power on the sidelines. Tennessee great and future NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning was on the field as well. However, the two NCAA legends may have been upstaged by retired wrestling superstar, Ric Flair. Flair was in town to honor Georgia’s championship women’s track team.