KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Forty-one to nothing.
It’s one of those scores that can’t be ignored. It’s one of those results that sends shockwaves through SEC locker rooms.
“Did you see Georgia beat Tennessee 41-0 at Neyland? Wow!” one player surely told his buddy in the next locker after taking off his shoulder pads and glancing at the scores on his phone app.
Dang is right!
It was the 800th victory in program history for Georgia. That’s 11th nationally all-time. And as coach Kirby Smart said when informed of that fact, “That’s awesome.”
But this victory was even more awesome in the here and now than what it meant historically. It sent a message. It served notice.
Most of the Georgia players followed the lead of their head coach Saturday and downplayed every aspect of the game beyond its factual basis of being “one more win.” But this was thorough and dominating in the way Alabama’s 59-0 whitewashing of Vanderbilt was last week in Nashville.
Like it or not, it was attention-getting.
There’s been only one other time the Bulldogs beat Tennessee this badly and that was 1981 when they shut them out 44-0 in Athens. The Vols hadn’t been blanked at home since losing to Florida 31-0 in 1994.
Georgia gave up 142 yards and hasn’t allowed a touchdown in SEC play. Indeed, the first-team defense hasn’t given up but two TDs all season. The Bulldogs are perfect in the red zone on offense, not just on Saturday, but for the season.
They’re getting it done.
Senior outside linebacker Lorenzo Carter was one Georgia player who acknowledged that a message had been delivered on Saturday, not just to Tennessee, but the whole of the league.
“I hope so,” said Carter, whose fumble recovery represented one of the four turnovers the Bulldogs forced from Tennessee. “We know people see what’s going on. But all that means is we have to work that much harder. Everybody’s going to be coming for us now.”
Fellow senior Sony Michel echoed that sentiment.
Asked if Georgia had served notice that it was a power to be reckoned with this season, the tailback said, “I think so.”
“But that can be a negative,” he went on. “It’s almost like a distraction. You want to keep the guys on the team poised. Every week is a challenge for us. Now we have something that everybody wants and they want to take it from you. That’s the hard part.”
These are seniors espousing the messages of their coach. Smart has been down this road a time or two at Alabama, with everybody hyping the Crimson Tide up and singing their praises along the way. So the second-year UGA coach expends as much energy pointing out deficiencies and deflecting hype as he does anything else.
“There’s certainly a lot of things we can improve on,” Smart said in his postgame remarks. “Communication skills back and forth, handling the environment, making tackles. But I’m proud of the way the team competed.”
Yeah, when you win by nearly six touchdowns on the road, you’ve probably competed pretty well.
No one was more satisfied with the result than Nick Chubb. The Bulldogs’ quiet-spoken star tailback stayed far away from hyperbole, as usual. But there was a glow about him, a stuck-on smile that told you he was feeling really good about a lot of things.
Certainly he was pleased with his 109 yards rushing in his first trip back to the place he last left on a stretcher. It was the 20th 100-yard rushing game of his storied career. That puts him incredibly close to Herschel Walker (28) for the school record.
But it was really the team victory that left Chubb basking. He thought when he left Neyland Stadium the last time that he’d never be back. But fate and circumstances would lead him to returning to Georgia for the senior season he never sought and now he’s feeling really good about that turn of events.
“We have a good team,” Chubb acknowledged. “We’ll just take it day-by-day and not get ahead of ourselves. We’ll let y’all take care of that. … But being a part of this team and walking off that field today was definitely a blessing.”
It was a blessing born not by one flukish day up on Rocky Top, but of hours of repetitive, hard-nosed practices that are starting to pay dividends in Year 2 under Smart.
Smart said he felt like the groundwork for Saturday’s victory was laid on the Woodruff Practice Fields in midweek. He talked about how the players seemed to have bought into the weekly “grind” and are understanding why it is they do the things that they do.
He admitted to feeling a confidence he hadn’t felt before in his brief stint as the Bulldogs’ head coach.
“It’s the first time I really felt comfortable that we were ready to play,” he said. “Knowing the environment we were coming into, you never know. But I think it comes down to practice. If you form good habits, those habits start to form you. If you do it in practice it starts to carry over into games and we’re starting to do that with a little more confidence.”
Yes, and it shows.
Now is not the time for Georgia or its fans to start making posters reading “Bring on Bama.” Heck, Smart’s liable to blow a gasket if he hears anyone say, “Bring on Vandy!”
As one might expect, Smart ended his presser singing the praises of the Vanderbilt, which is the next stop on UGA’s biannual two-step through Tennessee. The Commodores lost to Florida 38-24 on Saturday, their second straight loss including their debacle against Alabama.
“We’re starting to see how good we can be, but they can’t start believing the hype,” Smart said. “They’ve got to stay focused and keep working and that’s the challenge our coaching staff and our organization has.”
The good thing for Georgia is, with performances like it had against Tennessee on Saturday, it doesn’t need to say a word. The Bulldogs’ play is doing all the talk for them.