Tennessee Stat Book
ATHENS, Ga. — Turnovers were Tennessee's lifeline in the first half of a wild shootout Saturday between Georgia's fabled hedges.
And turnovers were also the Vols' undoing in the fourth quarter, allowing No. 5 Georgia to dodge an upset and escape with a 51-44 victory.
A Sanford Stadium crowd of 92,746 and a national CBS audience were treated to dramatic ebbs and flows of momentum, 1,038 yards of offense, 13 touchdowns and seven turnovers.
Georgia (5-0, 3-0 SEC), a 13-point favorite, led for all but 42 seconds but had to fight off repeated challenges from the Vols (3-2, 0-2) in the fourth quarter.
"I think we showed that we have some resilience in this ball team,'' said UT coach Derek Dooley. "But we have a lot of work to do on both sides of the ball.
"We're leaving here a better team than when we got here.''
Dooley's unsuccessful return to his hometown revealed reasons for optimism. For one, a 197-yard rushing effort.
But it also further exposed Tennessee's defensive liabilities. Georgia rolled up 560 yards of offense.
With none other than Herschel Walker watching from the sideline, the Bulldogs gashed the Vols for touchdown runs of 75 and 72 yards by Keith Marshall and 51 yards by Todd Gurley.
The 51 points were the most allowed by Tennessee in a non-overtime game since Florida's 59-20 romp in 2007.
"We'll go back and look at our personnel,'' Dooley said. "If we have to make some changes then we will make changes.''
The only relief Tennessee's beleaguered defense provided in the first half was producing three Georgia turnovers. All three led to Vol touchdowns.
"The game didn't have to be as dramatic as it turned out to be,'' said Georgia coach Mark Richt.
"Tennessee played extremely hard. I think Derek's got 'em going in the right direction. They're going to be a pain in the rear for some time to come.''
The Vols were in fact a pain in the rear Saturday, scrambling back from an early 27-10 deficit to take a brief 30-27 lead late in the second quarter.
The Bulldogs got a 50-yard field goal from Marshall Morgan to end the half then resumed their assault in the third quarter, scoring touchdowns on all three possessions.
Two were passes from Aaron Murray to Michael Bennett. The third, the one that proved to be the winning margin, came on a 72-yard run by freshman Marshall.
Tennessee interrupted the onslaught momentarily with Cordarrelle Patterson's serpentine 46-yard TD run but entered the fourth quarter trailing 51-37.
An impressive, run-oriented drive ended in a 9-yard touchdown by Rajion Neal. That left it 51-44 with still 8:56 to play.
The scoring was done, though.
Georgia managed only one first down in the fourth quarter. Tennessee's final three possessions ended in Bray turnovers.
The first was an interception by Sanders Commings at the Georgia 36 with 5:55 left.
But the Vols' defense dug in for a quick stop and forced a punt.
Tennessee drove into Georgia territory again, but Bray, swarmed by a furious Bulldog pass rush, fumbled with 1:22 to play
UT got one last desperate chance, but Commings intercepted a Bray pass with 7 seconds on the clock.
Bray, who was also intercepted in the second quarter, finished 24-of-45 passing for 281 yards. Patterson dropped what would have been a 54-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter.
Neal, continuing his evolution to hard-nosed running back, carried 23 times for 104 yards.
A rout seemed inevitable early, so inept was Tennessee's defense. Georgia, getting TD runs of 2, 1 and 51 yards from Gurley and a 75-yarder from Marshall, led 27-10 with the second quarter barely underway.
"We got hit by a freight train,'' Dooley said.
The hit wasn't fatal. After Herman Lathers sacked Murray and forced a fumble at the Georgia 8, Bray connected with Zach Rogers on a 4-yard TD pass.
Minutes later, Darrington Sentimore recovered a Georgia fumble at the Bulldogs' 18. Bray's 10-yard touchdown pass to Neal gave UT a startling 30-27 lead.
The Vols' earlier scores came on Byron Moore's 35-yard interception return for a touchdown and linebacker A.J. Johnson's 1-yard Wildcat run.
Georgia's barrage was balanced: 282 yards rushing, 278 passing.
Tennessee allowed a 70-plus-yard touchdown run for the third consecutive game. Marshall churned for 164 yards. Gurley, also a freshman, added 130.
Tennessee's kicking game also lacked a winning edge.
Derrick Brodus kicked a 34-yard field goal but missed from 28 yards and also missed an extra point. Michael Palardy kicked the final conversion.
Matt Darr helped change the first-half momentum with a 53-yard punt to the Georgia 1. But he also had a punt blocked in the second half.
The Vols have a week off to try and figure out how to tighten up the defensive lapses. They play at unbeaten Mississippi State on Oct. 13.