No. 3 Georgia makes statement with dominant 27-13 win over No. 1 Tennessee

The biggest game of the season was a completely one-sided affair.

No. 3 Georgia, the defending national champions, welcomed No. 1 Tennessee to Athens on Saturday and made it very clear that the SEC East still belongs to the Bulldogs with a commanding 27-13 victory.

Tennessee opened the scoring with a field goal, but it did not take too long for Georgia to completely seize control of the game as senior quarterback Stetson Bennett made multiple big plays in the first quarter.

First, on a third-and-10 play from the Tennessee 13, Bennett deftly avoided pressure and outran the Vols defense and dove to the pylon to put Georgia up 7-3. Later in the first quarter, after an epic 75-yard punt from Brett Thorson gave UGA the field position edge, Bennett found speedy wideout Ladd McConkey behind the defense for a 37-yard touchdown.

That 14-3 lead was more than enough for the mighty Georgia defense.

Tennessee entered Saturday’s game with the No. 1 offense in the country, averaging 553 yards and 49.4 points per game. But the Vols just could not get anything going against the Bulldogs.

Tennessee scored just six points in the first half as it punted three times and Hendon Hooker tossed just his second interception of the season. Meanwhile, Georgia added to its lead on a slick touchdown catch by Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint and a field goal right before halftime.

UGA’s lead was 24-6 at the break. And in the second half, the Bulldogs were content to control the clock on offense and let their defense — and a raucous crowd at Sanford Stadium — handle the rest.

Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker, left, fumbles as he is hit by Georgia defensive lineman Jalen Carter (88) in the end zone during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022, in Athens, Ga. Tennessee recovered the ball and avoided a safety. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Tennessee just had no answers. The offense was completely out of sync and struggled mightily to get into any sort of rhythm. The Vols committed seven false-start penalties and the receivers that have been running free all season were covered up brilliantly by the Georgia secondary.

UGA was content to force the Vols to matriculate down the field with short passes. It was not a successful recipe for an offense that has been so adept at hitting explosive plays all year long.

In this game, Tennessee averaged just 3.85 yards per play after averaging 7.4 on a per play basis through its first eight games. Hooker, who entered the game as the betting favorite to win the Heisman, had a rough outing. He was limited to just 195 yards on 23-of-33 throwing and was sacked six times. Jalin Hyatt, the nation’s leader in touchdown catches (14), was a non-factor, as was the UT running attack.

In all, Tennessee would gain only 289 yards, many of which came in the fourth quarter when Georgia had a commanding lead. The Vols reached the end zone just once — with 4:15 to play when the game was already decided.

The win was an emphatic statement from Georgia, which will almost certainly vault up the CFP rankings to No. 1 on Tuesday.

With the win, Georgia is now 9-0 overall and 6-0 in SEC play. The Bulldogs have a commanding lead in the SEC East with road games against Mississippi State and Kentucky coming in the next two weeks. A path back to the SEC title game — and the College Football Playoff — is clear.

Tennessee, meanwhile, drops to 8-1 overall and 4-1 in league play. Though a spot in the SEC title game is now unlikely barring Georgia being upset, there is still an outside shot at a College Football Playoff berth.

Tennessee can hang its hat on that massive win over Alabama from Oct. 15, but it has no margin for error moving forward. If the Vols finish 11-1 with their only loss coming on the road vs. Georgia, they will certainly remain in the conversation all the way to the end. Tennessee must rebound quickly with three division opponents remaining on the schedule — Missouri, South Carolina and Vanderbilt. The Missouri and Vanderbilt games will be played in Knoxville.