Tennessee fans were feeling their oats. The Vols came into Saturday’s showdown in Athens ranked #1 in the nation. By the time they left it was abundantly clear that they weren’t even close to the best college football team in Clarke County on this day.
Georgia rode an explosive offensive performance and a consistent defensive effort to a solid halftime lead. Then they held on through a late game monsoon, securing a 27-13 victory that wasn’t as close as the score would indicate.
The vaunted Volunteer offense came into today averaging a national best 553 yards of offense. They finished the day with 289. The bigger stat however may have been their abysmal third down performance. Tennessee came in converting 50% of third down opportunities but moved the chains on only 2 of 14 third downs against the ‘Dawgs.
The Big Orange have made a living this season off getting behind defenses and making tacklers miss. Those were two things the UGA defense assiduously avoided on this day. Tennessee’s longest pass play in the first half went for all of 16 yards.
“Heisman hopeful Hendon Hooker” was difficult to enunciate going into this one. Coming out of it doing so is just unnecessary. Hooker had a season low in passing yards (195) and completed less than 70% of his passes for the first time in four games. This was also his second game without a touchdown pass in his Tennessee career. The only other one was his first game after transferring, when he threw only one pass against Bowling Green. Georgia also sacked Hooker six times on the day, the most surrendered by Tennessee this season.
Stetson Bennett on the other hand had himself a game. The Mailman was 17 of 25 passing for 257 yards and 2 touchdowns. The numbers themselves aren’t gaudy, but that was in part because Georgia wanted to run the ball to close things out. The Prince of Pierce only attempted 4 passes after halftime, but it was apparent that he could have kept slinging it if necessary. It was not. Bennett said after the game that he received hundreds of phone calls last night from Tennessee fans after his cell phone number leaked. He waited until today to answer the call:
Stetson Bennett says he received “600 to 700” phone calls/texts (presumably from Tennessee fans) last night after his number leaked.
After his touchdown run, he threw up the pic.twitter.com/3IJf8FIfKE
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) November 6, 2022
Georgia now moves onto the remainder of its slate with arguably the best win in the SEC this year. For the second time in this calendar year the Red and Black knocked off the #1 team in the CFP rankings, and have all but locked up the East bid to the SEC Championship Game. More importantly they demonstrated that they can put together a compete game against an elite opponent.
The home atmosphere certainly helped. Frankly, the Tennessee fans and talking heads who said before the game that Sanford Stadium isn’t an intimidating place to play sounded more like they were trying to convince themselves than anyone else. The atmosphere was electric, and with most of the nation’s top recruits for the next three years in the house to see it, I’d expect some blue chip hearts were moved on this day.
Georgia demonstrated that they remain the kings of college football, at least for now. Sure, ball security remains an issue. Stet had a pass early that could (perhaps should) have been picked, and fumbles continue to be a maddening constant. Georgia is going to play a game this year in which it cannot afford to turn the ball over. If that game features 2 or 3 boneheaded turnovers it’s going to be a very bad day.
The injury picture is also concerning. After losing Nolan Smith for the year with a torn pectoral muscle last week Robert Beal went down in the third quarter with a suspected neck injury. He went for x-rays but his status going forward is up in the air. The Dawgs have a better outside linebacking unit in the training room than most teams have on the field.
On the bright side, Arian Smith emphatically returned from injury with a 49 yard catch. And Devin Willock looked stout in place of the injured Xavier Truss at left guard. In fact the entire Bulldog offensive front, even minus Truss and Amarius Mims (out with an MCL sprain) continued to move dudes around with impunity. That’s one of those things you also have to do at some point every season if you want to make a title run.
In the end, it was a magical day to be a ‘Dawg, another halcyon moment in Sanford Stadium in these, the best days to be a Georgia football fan in most of our lifetimes. It’s never a bad day to be a ‘Dawg. But this day was even better than most. Until later…