No. 1 Georgia continued its domination of the college football world with a 41-17 win Saturday afternoon in Neyland Stadium. Running back James Cook had two rushing touchdowns, plus a 23-yard touchdown catch shortly before the end of the first half, to lead the Bulldogs to the win and keep them on course for the top seed in the College Football Playoff.
It was a breakout performance for Cook, a senior who has been a complementary back to Zamir White for the majority of his career. Cook matched the rushing performance of his career, posting his second 100-yard game in the red and black.
Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett IV, who made his sixth straight start in place of JT Daniels, finished the day 17 of 29 for 213 yards and one touchdown. Daniels is healthy and took snaps last week, but he didn't see the field Saturday. It is abundantly clear that it's Bennett's team until further notice, and it doesn't look like he's relinquishing the top spot on the depth chart any time soon.
Tennessee came out hot and made things intriguing early but was unable to hang on. Quarterback Hendon Hooker led the Vols on a 10-play, 77-yard drive culminating with a 9-yard touchdown to open the game. They tacked on a field goal on their next drive to get to double digits on the scoreboard, and it looked like the big-play offense might give this Georgia defense its first challenge of the year.
An interception early in the second quarter turned into a 9-yard touchdown run by Bennett five plays later, giving Georgia a lead that it would never relinquish. Hooker finished the day 24 of 37 for 244 yards, one touchdown and one interception as the Dawgs defense held the Vols to just 387 total yards and 4.6 yards per play. Tennessee came into the matchup averaging 7.15 yards per play in conference games, tops in the SEC.
Still, the 17 points by Tennessee are the most scored against Georgia this season. Let's have a look at more takeaways from the Dawgs' win over the Vols.
Georgia's defense is legendary
One drive. That's all that Tennessee got. One drive. The ultra-explosive Volunteers offense was shut down after that by a Bulldogs defense that is approaching legend status. The Dawgs had six sacks over the final three quarters, which included periods of time without All-American defensive tackle Jordan Davis, defensive lineman Devonte Wyatt and linebacker Robert Beal Jr. Oh, and linebacker Adam Anderson was out for the entire game after being suspended following an arrest this week.
No worries. All Georgia did was harass Hooker to no end, shut down the Vols' rushing attack and further establish itself as one of the best defenses of the modern era.
It's to the point that the Dawgs are redefining the definition of a shootout. This game looked like it was heading in that direction early, but a slight adjustment to bring more pressure up the middle was all Georgia needed to transform this one into an old-fashioned slug-fest … exactly the way it planned it.
No team will score 30 points on Georgia this year. None. Take a screenshot of this and send it to @OldTakesExposed if you want. Even when it looks like it's a possibility, Georgia's defense makes a slight tweak or two and changes the game at the drop of a hat.
The mailman delivers
Bennett entered the game with the second-highest yards per passing attempt mark in the nation behind only Grayson McCall of Coastal Carolina. He did some big-time work on the ground on Saturday. Bennett scored his first rushing touchdown of the season in the second quarter and had eight carries for 40 yards, which included 18 yards lost on two sacks.
This is huge for the Bulldogs. Is Bennett a pro prospect? Probably not. But he's fully capable of stretching the field deep when he's asked to do so, and the added dimension of his legs makes him a nuisance to opposing defenses. It's looking more and more like we will not see Daniels play meaningful snaps again this season unless something goes wrong for Georgia.
It's OK, Tennessee
Tennessee, please take this as a moral victory. Please? That's hard to do in a rivalry game, but there are so many positives to take away from this one. Cedric Tillman had 10 catches for 200 yard and a touchdown despite losing one his fellow wide receivers, JaVonta Payton, for the majority of the game. This despite the Dawgs knowing full well that the Vols had to open things up through the air for the majority of the game.
Plus, Tennessee had the best performance against the Georgia defense of any team so far. Yes, the touchdown to Tillman to make it a 41-17 game came in garbage time, but it was clear that Georgia wanted to keep them out of the end zone even on their final drive of the game. Take a bow, Tennessee. You deserve it. Well, at least more than any other of Georgia's opponents this year.
Health over stats
If there's something worth criticizing Georgia about, it's what happened at the end of the game. The starters were in when Tillman scored to make Tennessee's 17-point performance the most successful of any offense against Georgia this season. After that, the starters stayed in the game.
Why? The only answer has to be pride. But what kind of pride? Tennessee already had its 17 points. Is it really that important to hold it under 20? Nope. What happened in the closing minutes? Wyatt, who had already been banged up twice during the game, was injured for a third time and was helped off the field.
Memo to Georgia coach Kirby Smart: Pride doesn't matter. All that matters for this Georgia team is winning the national title. If it means winning a 56-49 shootout, so be it. Fans won't care at all. I promise.