Dave Hooker audio
ATHENS, Ga. - The evidence was condemning, up one column of the stat sheet and down the other.
All the numbers added up to one obvious conclusion: Georgia dominated Tennessee Saturday at Sanford Stadium.
If there were any question lingering in the autumn dusk by the final horn, it was this:
Why wasn't it any worse?
The score, that is.
The 10th-ranked Bulldogs paraded up and down the field but somehow came away with a modest 26-14 victory over a UT team that seemed to be on the brink of getting routed.
Not that Georgia was complaining.
"I'm so thankful for this win, I can't even tell you,'' said Georgia coach Mark Richt. "I'm sure the Bulldog Nation is pretty excited.''
That's no doubt because the Vols had knocked off ranked Georgia teams the past two years.
No knocks this time.
Georgia (5-1, 2-1 SEC) remains in the thick of the Eastern Division race and remains on the fringe of the national championship picture.
Tennessee, meanwhile, continues its nosedive.
The Vols (2-4) begin an SEC season at 0-3 for the first time since 2000.
"I'm not going to do anything but keep fighting,'' said UT coach Phillip Fulmer.
The 2000 team kept fighting and won its final six regular-season games to earn a Cotton Bowl berth. A comparable about-face doesn't appear doable in 2008 for a team that remains in a deep offensive funk.
Georgia outgained the Vols 458 yards to 209, had 29 first downs to UT's 10.
The Bulldogs' offense was on the field 42 minutes, 4 seconds, compared to 17:12 for Tennessee.
"It's just unbelievable that we have struggled as much as we have struggled offensively,'' said an obviously distressed Fulmer.
Sophomore quarterback Nick Stephens, making his first SEC start and second overall, threw a pair of touchdown passes, to Gerald Jones and Lucas Taylor.
But the Vols were strictly one-dimensional. The running game produced a net 1 yard in 15 attempts.
"I don't know where our running game has gone,'' said Fulmer.
"They (Georgia) flat committed to stop it. That's what we've gotten the past two weeks and I'm sure that's what we'll get in the future.
"Nick competed. He made some plays and we rigged up some plays that worked fine. But he's not getting a lot of help from the running game.''
Stephens was 13 of 30 passing for 208 yards.
His first TD pass was a 2-yard flip to Jones and came three plays after a 60-yard bomb to Denarius Moore.
That cut Georgia's lead to 13-7 with 2:23 left in the half.
Then the Bulldogs muffed Britton Colquitt's kickoff and were pinned at the 3 to start a drive with 2:17 on the clock.
Despite all Georgia's numerical supremacy, Tennessee was on the brink of seizing momentum.
The next step? A defensive stop.
What happened instead was a 97-yard Georgia touchdown drive.
Stafford, who would go on to a career passing day of 310 yards, didn't need much help but he got it. First, Demetrice Morley, and then DeAngelo Willingham, were flagged for personal fouls, a net gift of 30 yards.
When Stafford fired a 9-yard TD strike to Mohamed Massaquoi with 9 seconds on the clock, Georgia was back in the driver's seat with a 20-7 lead.
"That drive killed us,'' said Fulmer, "absolutely killed us.''
It was typical, though, of Georgia's success moving the football against a UT defense that entered the game ranked fifth nationally.
The Bulldogs drove into the Tennessee red zone (inside the 20) on seven of their first nine possessions.
Punching it in the end zone, that was a different story.
Georgia's opening drive ended in a 1-yard touchdown dive by fullback Brannan Southerland.
Four others, however, ended in Blair Walsh field goals.
Two more ended in Tennessee interceptions.
The first pick, by defensive end Robert Ayers at the UT 15, set up the Vols' first scoring drive.
The second came in the third quarter when Eric Berry snatched a Stafford pass 6 yards deep in the end zone and decided to bring it out.
He raced 54 yards to the Georgia 46 before being tripped up.
"Bringing it out like that isn't what a coach would (want to) do,'' Fulmer said. "He may have seen an open field. I'm glad he did.''
Given the short field, UT's offense managed a brief spark. Stephens completed passes to Jones and Taylor, then found Taylor in the end zone from 12 yards out for the touchdown.
With 5:37 left in the third quarter, Tennessee somehow trailed only 20-14.
Georgia, however, went back to work, marching off an 11-play drive for another Walsh field goal and a 23-14 lead.
After a three-and-out by the Vols, the Bulldogs ground out a 17-play drive that consumed 10:55.
That it produced only a fourth Walsh field goal was incidental.
"We've been saying the last two weeks we've got to get off the field, but we didn't do it,'' said UT linebacker and defensive spokesman Ellix Wilson.
"Any time you're on the field that long, it's going to catch up with you. I don't care who you are.''
The losses are catching up, too. The Vols will try to change their momentum Saturday night when Mississippi State visits.
"This is all we've got,'' said Berry. "We don't have no choice but to bounce back.''
Mike Strange may be reached at 865-342-6276.