KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The stage is set now. No more speculation needs to be made, no more hypotheses need to be thrown out. Georgia is the team to beat in the SEC East, and the Bulldogs are heading headlong into a late-October matchup with Florida to prove it.
Their biggest hurdle until then was cleared on Saturday. No. 7 Georgia beat Tennessee at Neyland Stadium. Smoked them actually, 41-0, appropriate with the Vols dressed in their smoky greys. It was the first time Tennessee has been shut out since 1994.
The Bulldogs (5-0, 2-0 SEC) shot out to a 24-0 lead before halftime. That could have been a statement in and of itself, except Georgia led 24-3 in the second quarter the last time it was at Neyland and couldn’t make it stand up.
The Bulldogs did this time — and then some.
“They’re buying into the culture of toughness, effort, running to the ball, running the ball on offense,” Kirby Smart said of his undefeated Dawgs. “If you grow on that, with the backs we’ve got here and the offensive line, you’ve got the chance to be successful.”
The difference in that year and this one was Georgia’s suffocating defense. Tennessee had less than 130 yards offense through three quarters. The Bulldogs forced the Vols into 4 turnovers, including a masterful strip of Tennessee’s John Kelly after a 44-yard reception. Aaron Davis yanked out the ball, J.R. Reed recovered, and that thwarted the Vols’ first big threat of the second half.
A lot of demons were squashed in this one. Nick Chubb got to stomp one of them. After suffering that devastating left knee injury on the first play here in 2015, he had 109 yards when he left the game for good after three quarters. And walked out without the slightest limp.
And freshman quarterback Jake Fromm passed another first-year test. He notched his first SEC road win, and he did it with 2 rushing touchdowns. Running the football is a skill set we hadn’t yet seen from the young pup from Warner Robins. He passed for a TD, too.
We even saw Jacob Eason play again. The Bulldogs starting quarterback at the outset of the season, he came in with his left knee heavily wrapped in black to finish a game Georgia led by 6 touchdowns with 8:47 remaining.
Georgia coach Kirby Smart will pick all kinds of holes in this one about what his charges did wrong here and there. And there were mishaps. There were also some injuries to cause concern, such as Trent Thompson hurting his right knee.
But the reality is, the Bulldogs never were threatened in a rivalry road game. And with Vanderbilt and Missouri up next, they shouldn’t be threatened again until they get to Jacksonville.
And maybe not then.