Strong second half lifts Bulldogs past Tennessee, 44-21
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Strong second half lifts Bulldogs past Tennessee, 44-21

Georgia-Tennessee
Photo: Perry McIntyre/UGA

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.

POST-GAME NOTES

*Defense Pitches Another Second Half Shutout: Fourth-ranked Georgia shut down UT in the second half for the second straight year, allowing no points and only 71 yards on 39 plays plus the Bulldogs had a defensive score of their own in a 44-21 victory to snap UT’s eight-game winning streak. Thanks to five Bulldog sacks, UT finished with minus one rushing yard, tallying 214 yards of total offense.  Last year, Georgia held Texas A&M to minus two yards rushing in a 19-13 victory here. Georgia came in ranked fourth nationally in Scoring Defense and third nationally in Rushing Defense. Last season, Georgia led UT 26-14 at the half, pitched a shutout with a defensive score, and won 43-14.

In the first half today, Georgia surrendered 21 points to No. 14 UT, however one score came by the Vols defense and another was a one-play drive (36-yard TD pass) as Georgia trailed 21-17. In the first half, UT had 143 yards (19-rush, 124-pass) of total offense on 24 plays with eight first downs. After a failed fourth down attempt by the Bulldogs in the 2nd quarter, UT took over at the UGA 36 and threw a game-tying TD pass to Palmer with 6:40 left.

To start the second half, redshirt sophomore Azeez Ojulari registered a sack and forced fumble at the UGA 15 on a 3rd-and 14 play. It was UT’s first turnover of the year. It was Ojulari’s second forced fumble and sack on the year and first fumble recovery of his career. It led to a field goal to trim the deficit to 21-20 with 12:00 left in the 3rd. On UT’s next possession, junior Eric Stokes came up with his second interception this year and gave the Bulldogs the ball on the UT 36, and it led to a go-ahead 51-yard field goal (23-21 with 10:11 left in the 3rd). It was the fifth pick for the defense this year and second for Stokes.

Georgia’s leading tacklers were senior Monty Rice (8 stops) who also had a strip sack, force fumble and scoop and score from 20 yards for a TD and Ojulari (5 stops) with two sacks and two forced fumbles.

*Bennett Directs The Offense To Another Win: Junior Stetson Bennett (16-for-27, 238 yards, 1 rushing TD, 2 passing TDs) directed Georgia to 431 yards of total offense on 77 plays. The final play of the first half was a goal-line stand by UT as Zamir White was held to no gain at the one as Georgia trailed 21-17. This is the 2nd time this year that Georgia has trailed at the half (Down 7-5 at Arkansas in the opener).  In the second half, Georgia outscored UT 27-0.

Trailing 7-0 in the first quarter today following a defensive TD caused by an errant snap, he led Georgia to a five play, 63-yard TD drive in 2:29 to tie the contest at 7 with 6:38 left.  On the next possession, he led a season-long 95-yard TD drive on 12 plays in 6:15 for a 14-7 edge. It was Georgia’s longest drive by yards since a 98-yarder on six plays last year versus Arkansas State. Bennett ran in the final 18 yards on a pair of scrambles including an 8-yarder for the score. It was his first of the year and second of his career. Bennett converted a 3rd-and 7 with a 21-yard TD pass to Kearis Jackson (his career 1st) to make it 30-21 with 35 seconds left in the 3rd quarter. His final TD pass came to freshman nose Jalen Carter, who comes in on goal line situations, and it covered one yard. The leading receiver today was Jackson (4-91 yards, 1 TD) followed by graduate transfer tight end Tré McKitty (2-for-47 yards).

*Series History: With today’s 44-21 victory, Georgia now leads the all-time series 25-23-2 as it dates back to 1899.  Georgia has won four straight in the series. The Bulldogs are now 7-1 against ranked teams at home in the Kirby Smart era and 17-9 overall. Today was the first top 15 showdown with UT since 2006.

*Points Off Turnovers: Georgia got 13 points on three turnovers while UT got seven points off two fumbles including one recovered in the end zone by Kivon Bennett after a high snap resulted in a team rush for minus 30 yards. It gave UT a 7-0 lead with 14:17 left. It was the first fumble recovery for a TD against Georgia since 2018 (Josh Jacobs, Alabama). UT came in as one of five teams in the FBS (and the only SEC team) not to have a turnover this year. Georgia’s Monty Rice had a 17-yard fumble return for a scoop and score to make it 44-21 advantage with 9:56 left.

*Special Teams Summary: Junior punter Jake Camarda had two punts for a 56.6 average including a season-long 64-yarder, and he placed the other inside the 20. Redshirt sophomore PK Jack Podlesny nailed a then career-long 47-yard field goal that made it 17-14 Georgia with 4:49 left in the first half. Then, he made a career-long 51-yarder in the 3rd quarter to put Georgia in front 23-21. It was the longest by a Bulldog since Rodrigo Blankenship’s 53-yarder versus Vanderbilt here in 2018. Also, he was 5-for-5 on PATs. Sophomore Kenny McIntosh had a 42-yard kickoff return.

*For Starters: Graduate transfer TE Tré McKitty made his first career start as a Bulldog as Georgia opened up with a two tight end set. It was his Bulldog debut as he missed the first two games this year due to a knee injury. He had made 19 starts at FSU. On defense, sophomore SLB Nolan Smith made his first career start. The longest active starting streak on offense belongs to center Trey Hill now with 21 while Richard LeCounte leads the defense with 21 straight.

*Captains: Georgia senior Mark Webb, junior Jordan Davis and redshirt sophomore Kearis Jackson served as the captains. UT won the toss and elected to defer until the second half.

*Up Next: The No. 3 Bulldogs (3-0) travel to No. 2 Alabama (2-0) on Oct. 17 at 8 pm ET (CBS).  UA faces Ole Miss tonight in Oxford.

POST-GAME QUOTES

Head Coach Kirby Smart

Opening Statement …
“I certainly didn’t expect it to go that way. We didn’t start the way we needed to. 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. Tennessee’s got a good football team; I’ve got a lot of respect for Jeremy [Pruitt] and his staff, how
hard his kids play, how physical they play. They play a really good brand of football, as we do too. 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. A couple costly decisions there, 4th-and-1, didn’t get it, they turn around and score the very next play
and then right before the half, leaving one out there, could’ve been a huge back-breaker for them, instead
gives them huge momentum.”

On the team answering adversity after halftime…
“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. We’re not executing at a high level and that can
cause problems; that’s special teams, that’s defensive execution on fastball exchanges, that’s offensively
getting lined up, getting in a formation and getting a call. That can be costly if you play a team that can
capitalize on them.”

#13 Stetson Bennett | Jr. | QB

On the second half of the game…
“You feel so bad going into halftime getting stopped on a first and one on the goal line and the points that we
spotted them… We had to keep our head up. Coach [Todd] Monken, reminded us, ‘hey man they haven’t
stopped us yet.’ We just have to keep going and get that train rolling. ”

On his job quarterbacking the team against another top team…
“Tennessee was a really good football team. They are physical. They knew what their strengths and
weaknesses were, and they played to them. They are a really good football team. The first run was just a
scramble. I got a good block from George [Pickens] on that side. The second play, Coach Monken was
feeling my legs. My o-line blocked it up well. I guess I got in the end-zone? It was pretty close on the pylon.
But, just two back-to-back runs and I got good blocks.”

On the chemistry between him and WR Kearis Jackson…
“He plays the game hard. He gets open. It is easy to throw him the ball because he catches it. I don’t go
looking for him, I don’t go really looking for anybody because I just like to use everyone. But he is open a lot.
And he catches my eye and I trust him.”

#13 Azeez Ojulari | R-So.| OLB

On the momentum switch in the second half…
“We know we are a second-half team. We had to come out and just play our game and continue to
execute—follow the plan, get the job done.”

On his sack, strip and fumble…
“It was pretty big, man! We needed that coming back from halftime. We definitely needed that switch in
momentum in the game. We put the offense in great field position to get some points on the board. It was a
big moment. It was great.”

On how much the Georgia players play off the momentum of each other…
“Definitely. We feed off of each other’s energy, definitely. Once anyone makes a big play it boosts the other
teammates and all of our plays. It gets everyone going—everyone is hype and ready to go out there and
execute. It’s huge to go big play after big play after big play.”

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