KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – It was the first play. Tennessee came out lined up in a bunch formation. On the left side of the field, Tyrique McGhee was ready.
“We had prepared against the bunch all week,” said McGhee, the Georgia sophomore cornerback. “I read it perfectly, broke on the ball …”
And made an interception, thus setting the tone for another fantastic game for Georgia’s defense. The only thing that had been missing from the Bulldogs’ resume’ this young season was a shutout, and they got it on Saturday, 41-0 over SEC rival Tennessee.
Tennessee had not been shut out since the 1994 season, a span of 289 consecutive games. That had been the fourth-longest active streak at the FBS level. The team that handed Tennessee that shutout in 1994, Steve Spurrier’s Florida Gators, went on to win the SEC East and beat Alabama in the SEC Championship Game.
It was Georgia’s first shutout in three years, going back to a 34-0 win at Missouri. Tennessee had 142 yards of total offense and tailback John Kelly, who entered the game as the SEC’s leading rusher, was held to 44 yards.
“To have a shutout, to have a goose egg, that’s something you dream about on defense,” said sophomore safety J.R. Reed, who had an interception and a fumble recovery. “And that’s something we preach every day.”
Georgia has now, in back-to-back weeks, held SEC opponents without a touchdown. Mississippi State managed just a field goal last week.
Early on Saturday, Georgia’s offense was sputtering a bit. But a great defense takes pressure off the offense, as this game showed.
“It’s really comforting, knowing we can go out there and be relaxed and just play,” senior tailback Nick Chubb said. “Because our defense is very stout.”
This doesn’t come as a huge surprise. Georgia returned all but one starter from a unit that was pretty good last year. The only question was whether it would improve to great. So far it has.
In fact, it rivals the defenses that Kirby Smart coached at Alabama. Now Georgia’s head coach, he stopped a reporter who referred to “your defense” after Saturday’s game.
“That’s not my defense. Coach Tucker does a tremendous job with that defense,” Smart said, referring to defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. “They play hard for Coach Tucker. At halftime I didn’t have to go over and see the defensive players. They had it under control, the adjustments, doing a really nice job. So give credit where credit is due.”
Senior outside linebacker Lorenzo Carter said before the season started that the goal was domination. He was asked after Saturday’s game if they were accomplishing that.
“I feel like it. I feel like we’re on the path to domination,” Carter said. “But it doesn’t stop now. We’ve got to keep working.
“Because it’s easy to listen to everybody in the media, and everybody in Athens, because they see what’s going on, and they love it. But it’s not easy for us to keep focus. So it’s the job of the leaders and the coaches to keep us focused and make sure everyone’s working hard and keeping on the same path we’ve been on.”