Georgia vs. Tennessee score, takeaways: No. 3 Dawgs suffocate No. 1 Vols offense in dominant rivalry win
Georgia got a leg up in the SEC East race and College Football Playoff chase by handing Tennessee its first loss of the season
No. 3 Georgia dominated No. 1 Tennessee on a rainy day at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Georgia, that proved even more depressing for the Volunteers' national championship aspirations. The Bulldogs jumped into first place alone atop the SEC East standings after a 27-13 demolition of the rival Vols that continued Georgia's torrid run as reigning champions and knocked Tennessee from the ranks of the unbeaten.
Tennessee entered the game with the best scoring offense in the country, but Georgia's dominant defense -- led by star defensive lineman Jalen Carter -- held the Vols without a touchdown through three quarters. Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker, a Heisman Trophy candidate entering the game, didn't have a single passing play of 20 or more yards despite that being a staple of this up-tempo attack.
Georgia QB Stetson Bennett IV scrambled for a 13-yard touchdown on the Dawgs' second drive, making it a 7-3 ballgame early in the contest. The defense pinned Tennessee deep, and Paxton Brooks was forced to punt out of the shadow of his own goal post. That set Georgia's offense up in great field position, and Bennett immediately tossed a 37-yard touchdown to Ladd McConkey to make it a 14-3 game. Bennett followed that up with a 5-yard strike to Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint in the second quarter to jump out to a 21-3 lead. At that point, it was smooth sailing for the reigning champions.
What are the primary takeaways from Georgia's romp?
Stetson Bennett had the keys
It was clear from the moment Georgia took an offensive snap that coach Kirby Smart and offensive coordinator Todd Monken gave Bennett the keys to run the offense, and the veteran kept his foot on the gas. He hit Arian Smith on a 52-yard bomb down the middle on the first play of the second drive, which really set the tone. His touchdown run came three plays later after he escaped pressure and dove for the pylon. Monken called 21 pass plays in the first half as opposed to 15 running plays -- one of which was Bennett's scramble for six.
Hooker came in with the Heisman hype but Bennett proved that he was the best quarterback on the field in this one. That's becoming pretty commonplace these days. He came in averaging 293.6 yards per game despite not having to do too much in the fourth quarter of most of his games. Should Bennett now be mentioned in the Heisman conversation? Hooker had an awful day between the hedges while Ohio State star C.J. Stroud was less-than-stellar in the win over Northwestern. Seems like better late than never to add Bennett to the Heisman discussions.
Georgia's front seven wreaks havoc
Georgia's defensive front not only dominated the game but reminded the college football world that its defense can still win a championship. The Bulldogs sacked Hooker six times and notched eight tackles for loss on the afternoon, and that was the biggest reason this game got sideways in the first half. Jalen Carter had a strip sack on Hooker late in the first quarter that swung momentum to the red and black. Tennessee offensive lineman Javontez Spraggins picked it up and barely got it out of the end zone to avoid a safety, but it gave Georgia great field position and Bennett the chance to hit McConkey downfield. It was the sequence that set the tone for the entire game.
The defense's ability to get Tennessee's offense behind the sticks prevented it from cranking up the tempo and put Hooker in some terrible situations. That paid off in a big way during a second half that included five Georgia sacks against a Tennessee offensive line that was gassed.
Lack of explosiveness in Tennessee passing game
Tennessee came into the game ranked 12th in the nation in passing plays of 20 or more yards (40). It had just one on Saturday, and it came in the fourth quarter when the game was essentially over. Hooker was running for his life for the entire game, and even when he had time (which wasn't often), the Georgia secondary was perfectly content playing over the top and forcing those stout receivers underneath.
It wasn't due to lack of effort, though. Hooker overthrew Jalin Hyatt down the right sideline in the first quarter in what could have loosened up the Bulldogs defense a little bit. He was picked off by Kelee Ringo on the goal line when he tried to force one into Cedric Tillman despite fantastic coverage by the star defensive back.
It was as if Tennessee didn't have a changeup. There was no adjustment, and it was unable to play outside of its comfort zone. Great teams can win that way, but this offensive performance shows that there is still some work to do in order for coach Josh Heupel and his program to contend at an elite level.
Tennessee's CFP chance not dead
This loss will likely keep the Volunteers out of the SEC Championship Game, but its chances to earn a berth in the College Football Playoff field remain alive. If they can run the table over their final three games (vs. Missouri, at South Carolina, at Vanderbilt), there are several scenarios that could develop in Tennessee's favor.
A one-loss Tennessee team that has a win over a one-loss Alabama would look very good to the committee, even though the Crimson Tide would have an SEC title to boast in that scenario. If Georgia wins the SEC Championship Game, Tennessee would have an airtight case to be called the second-best team in the SEC. That would put it at the top of the one-loss pecking order since it would have the best loss in the country.
There is plenty of football left to be played and many more scenarios are bound to develop between now and Selection Sunday. This loss does eliminate any margin for error moving forward, however.
Linebacker Robert Beal is down
Georgia is already thin at linebacker after the season-ending pectoral injury to Nolan Smith, and fellow linebacker Robert Beal had to leave just 40 seconds in the third quarter. If Tennessee can crank up the tempo, the loss of Beal would be enormous. He took over Smith's role as the "quarterback of the defense," and is in charge of getting the rest of the defense lined up.