Georgia tailback Kendall Milton (22) takes the handoff from QB Stetson Bennett

3 things: Georgia defense special, quarterback needs work, competition at RB

ATHENS — Georgia coach Kirby Smart sensed his team was a bit off entering Saturday’s game against Tennessee.

The Bulldogs beat Tennessee 44-21 on Saturday at Sanford Stadium, but the score was misleading.

The level of offensive play — inconsistent and at times undisciplined — was more in line with what Smart suggested some 48 hours earlier on his coach’s show.

“Not as sharp or crisp as we’ve been in the past at this time,” Smart said.

At this time last year, Smart pointed out, the Bulldogs had gone through a spring session, a full fall camp and played two or three weak opponents.

As it is, Smart said, Georgia hasn’t “played enough guys.”

Especially not on offense, where Georgia’s struggles have been camouflaged by a defense that scores points, forces turnovers and gets its offense back on the field quickly after forcing three-and-outs.

Tennessee led Saturday’s game 21-17 at the half, but as Smart himself pointed out, it wasn’t because they were outplayed.

It was because the Bulldogs were self-destructing.

“Look guys it wasn’t like they were dominating the first half, okay?” Smart said, still irritated at the absurdity of it all.

“We snap one over the (quarterback’s) head, we give them 7 (points),” Smart said. “They’re not running the ball real well, they throw a deep touchdown pass after a bad call by me on fourth-and-1 (at the UGA 35), so they get another touchdown.

“Then, they beat a guy they were one-on-one on the outside, it was a 50-50 ball that we lost, and the receiver made a helluva play and the quarterback made a helluva throw.”

There are other teams with better quarterbacks, better receivers, better offensive lines and better running backs than Tennessee.

It’s worth noting Georgia plays an opponent that’s better in all phases of the game than the Vols in the form of Alabama next Saturday.

Here are three takeaways on Saturday’s 44-21 win over Tennessee

Special defense

In the second half, Vols’ QB Jarrett Guarantano was 12 for 23 for 91 yards and was sacked five times, intercepted once and forced into a fumble.

The defense has scored in two of three games this season.

Quarterback push

Stetson Bennett is an inspirational story and a likable player and student-athlete worth the wait in any autograph line.

Bennett is playing well enough to win, but he’s not necessarily playing extremely well.

Bennett was an efficient 16-of-27 passing for 238 yards and 2 touchdowns, and he carried 6 times for 22 yards and a touchdown. Two passes were tipped at the line, a would-be interception was dropped, and another was prevented by Darnell Washington’s offensive pass interference.

Most alarming, George Pickens — the Bulldogs most talented skill position player — was targeted only three times, finishing with two catches for 14 yards.

Bennett spreads the ball around well, a key component to the Air Raid. But for Georgia to be at its best, Pickens needs the ball in his hands more than twice.

Smart says Bennett needs to improve

“The little things of changing the protection, looking at what play, somebody disguising the coverage well, he’s growing with regards to the way he handles that,” Smart said.

“He can’t hold the ball for a long time when we’re in certain protections …  he’s got to protect the ball, that’s a big part for him, is giving our defense a chance to go out there and play by protecting it.”

RB competition

Kenny McIntosh slid right into the running back role James Cook had been playing before a shoulder injury against Auburn sidelined him this week.

McIntosh appeared explosive with 8 carries for 45 yards and 2 catches for 36 yards, in addition to a 42-yard kick return.

But there could be room for competition at the power back role where Zamir White appears to be struggling, having carried 22 times for 50 yards.

Freshman Kendall Milton had 8 carries for 56 yards, including one highlight tote that saw him fight through two tackles and gain and an extra 7 yards.

These are the sort of things that could have been sorted out in spring drills or in non-conference buy games.

There are more odds and ends, receivers and linemen committing silly penalties and costly snaps from the center.

But the above three issues are worth keeping an eye on moving forward.

Georgia 44, Tennessee 21 stories

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Football observations after Georgia’s 44-21 win over Tennessee