Tennessee Stat Book
It was a measuring-stick game. If Tennessee was ready to start the road back to SEC contender, beating Georgia on Saturday night at Neyland Stadium was a required first step.
Georgia 20, Tennessee 12.
The Bulldogs exploited Tennessee mistakes in the third quarter and that was enough of a difference in an otherwise tightly contested game witnessed by a crowd of 102,455.
Georgia (4-2, 3-1 SEC) pulled away from a 6-6 halftime draw on two touchdowns by freshman Isaiah Crowell, stymied Tennessee’s offense until the final minutes and then celebrated Mark Richt’s 100th coaching victory.
The Bulldogs also knocked both tailback Tauren Poole and quarterback Tyler Bray out of the game with injuries, raising more questions as the Vols (3-2, 0-2 SEC) turn to face No. 1 LSU and then No. 2 Alabama.
“Are we close to getting out there and competing with good SEC teams?’’ said head coach Derek Dooley. “Not yet.
“We’ll get ’em. Our time will come. It’s not right now.’’
Senior Matt Simms, virtually a forgotten man since Bray took over the offense last November, came on to finish Tennessee’s only touchdown drive.
He scored it himself on a 1-yard keeper with 2 minutes, 45 seconds to play to cut the deficit to 20-12 — and allow UT to avoid going without a touchdown for the first time since a 6-3 loss to Alabama in 2005.
Georgia blocked the extra point and the Vols’ onside kickoff went out of bounds.
The Bulldogs milked the clock before punting it back to the Vols with only 18 seconds to play.
The game ended with Simms being sacked, a fitting symbol of Tennessee’s offensive frustration in the second half.
Georgia, which hadn’t allowed an offensive touchdown in its three previous games, had limited UT to one first down in the second half until the Vols mounted the late drive.
“That’s a good defense,’’ said Dooley, “so it requires a lot of patience.’’
And a running game, which the Vols don’t have.
The official tally was a mess: 23 attempts for minus-20 net yards.
The running backs combined for 22 (positive) yards on 16 carries. Two intentional-grounding calls and a disastrous bad snap dropped the bottom line into negative yardage.
In two SEC games, that’s minus-29 combined net yards.
“If we can’t run the ball we can’t beat good teams,’’ Dooley said. “That’s a fact.’’
Coming off the field at halftime, Tennessee wondered how its high-octane offense managed 189 yards but had only a pair of Michael Palardy field goals to show for it.
Little did the Vols know at the time, that would be the good half.
Tennessee received the second-half kickoff and had the first chance to break the 6-6 tie. Instead the Vols turned self-destructive.
A Marlin Lane run was stuffed, a high center snap produced a 16-yard loss and a 31-yard Matt Darr punt put the Bulldogs in business at the Tennessee 38.
The Vols almost stopped the bleeding, but a pass-interference penalty in the end zone gave Georgia a first-and-goal at the 2.
Crowell scored the game’s first touchdown from the 1 and it was 13-6.
“We had a little meltdown going on there for a couple of possessions,’’ Dooley said.
“We lost out composure a little bit.’’
The Vols thought they had an answer. Lane took a short Bray pass, escaped from a tackle near midfield and raced all the way to the end zone.
But the officials reviewed the play and Lane was ruled down when he “broke” the tackle of linebacker Michael Gilliard.
Instead of a 66-yard touchdown, it was a 13-yard gain and Tennessee had to punt.
This time Darr got off a beauty, downed at the Georgia 7. The Bulldogs didn’t stay there.
On first down, Aaron Murray hit Malcolm Mitchell for a 71-yard bomb to the UT 22. Two plays later, Crowell raced 17 yards for his second score.
Down 20-6, the Vols were in big trouble.
Bray started the 76-yard, 14-play touchdown drive but Simms had to finish it.
“Matt’s a senior,’’ Dooley said. “He knew we were going to need him. We knew we were going to need him.’’
The first half produced a surprising script.
Long drive, field goal.
Long drive, field goal.
Georgia opened the game with a 15-play drive, twice converting on fourth-and-1, but settled for a 35-yard Blair Walsh field goal after Corey Miller tackled Murray for a loss on a quarterback draw.
The Vols then responded with a 13-play drive that went unrewarded when Palardy missed wide right on a 51-yard try.
Tennessee’s next possession lasted 14 plays.
The Vols reached the 7, first-and-goal, but went no farther. Palardy hit from 28 yards and it was 3-3.
Georgia’s turn. A 43-yard bomb from Murray to Mitchell got a first-and-goal at the UT 7.
Tennessee’s defense made a stand, though, and Walsh’s 23-yard field goal left it 6-3.
Only 1:44 remained in the half, but that was enough.
Bray had completions of 19 yards to Zach Rogers and 27 yards to Lane as UT overcame two penalties and landed at the Georgia 34.
Time was running short, but Bray and Da’Rick Rogers hooked up for 13 yards to the 26.
The Vols used their final timeout to stop the clock and Palardy came through with a career-long 43-yard field goal as time expired.
“We only had three possessions in the half,’’ Dooley said, “and we moved the ball all three times.
“We didn’t finish so it wasn’t perfect, but it was good.’’
The second half wasn’t.