Would you like to receive DawgNation news alerts? Excellent! News alerts will be displayed in your browser.
Bob Andres/AJC
Lawrence Cager had another big performance for Georgia on Saturday.

Georgia football winners and losers following Week 6 win over Tennessee

Welcome to Good Day, UGA, your one-stop shop for Georgia football news and takes. Check us out every weekday morning for everything you need to know about Georgia football, recruiting, basketball and more.

Georgia football winners and losers following Week 6 win over Tennessee

Winner: Lawrence Cager

After a 5-catch, 82-yard performance against Notre Dame, Cager followed it up with a 5-catch, 58-yard effort against the Volunteers. While his number totals weren’t eye-popping, it’s clear he and quarterback Jake Fromm have developed a real rapport.

Cager has become a trusted red-zone target, as he’s snagged a touchdown in three consecutive games for Georgia. He almost added another touchdown against Tennessee but it was negated by an offensive pass interference penalty on Cager.

But on the touchdown that counted, Fromm recognized that his 6-foot-5 wide receiver was in single coverage. He signaled to Cager to adjust his route. Cager gave a simple nod. Fromm then dropped a perfectly placed pass right into Cager’s hand to give the Bulldogs a 20-14 lead to put Georgia ahead for good.

“Cager is playing well, too. He’s got to continue to lead and help us grow; he’s done a good job of that,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said.

Cager now leads the team in catches, receiving yards and touchdowns through the first five games of the season. When Jeremiah Holloman was dismissed from the team, someone was going to have to step up and emerge as a possible go-to target. Cager looks to be turning into that guy for the Bulldogs.

Related: The fascinating story of how Lawrence Cager ended up at Georgia

Loser: The head referee from the Georgia-Tennessee game 

There were a lot of fans on both sides who were critical of the officiating on Saturday night. It was not the world’s best-officiated game and it did get very chippy at times.

But that’s not why we’re talking about referees here. Whoever had the responsibility of being the head referee — the guy in the white hat — had a tough night. The initial head referee suffered a calf injury that forced him to miss the second half.

And honestly, that might’ve been a good thing given what happened to the official who took over his responsibilities. In the fourth quarter, Georgia cornerback Eric Stokes forced a fumble on a massive hit to Tennessee quarterback Brian Maurer.

Georgia linebacker Tae Crowder picked it up and took off for the endzone. It looked like he was going to be tracked down initially, only for a Tennessee player to end up tackling the head official instead.

To quote the movie Dodgeball, “Ouchtown, population you bro.”

Winner: Eric Stokes

We mentioned Stokes above but figured we should spend a little bit more time on him given his performance on Saturday.

Stokes missed a majority of the Notre Dame game with a knee injury and his health had been a question in the lead-up to the Tennessee game.

But based on his play on Saturday, Stokes didn’t just look healthy. He looked like perhaps the best defender on Georgia’s team.

The redshirt sophomore had big shoes to fill this season, as he was likely going to be the guy replacing Deandre Baker. And so far this season, teams have started to treat Stokes with that same sort of respect.

While Georgia’s pass defense had its warts on Saturday, Tennessee didn’t have much success when targeting Stokes in pass coverage. The first touchdown came because of a breakdown in coverage by both D.J. Daniel and Richard LeCounte. The second touchdown came thanks to a great route run by Jauan Jennings and an even better throw from Maurer.

But Stokes wasn’t covering Jennings on that second touchdown. Later on in the game, the two were matched up and Stokes and Jennings did line up against each other. And the Georgia cornerback was with Jennings every step of the way and broke up the pass.

It was one of 3 pass breakups Stokes had on that night, giving him 6 on the season. In no game last season did Baker have 3 pass breakups.

Loser: Possibly Georgia’s improved rush defense

Georgia’s rush defense was once again outstanding on Saturday night. The box score will say that Tennessee finished with 70 rushing yards, but 40 of those yards came on the final Tennessee drive of the game when Georgia’s first-string defense was not on the field, given a 43-14 score.

The rush defense was much maligned a season ago, as it became a significant issue in losses to Alabama, LSU and Texas. It’s been much improved this season, as no opponent has yet topped 120 rushing yards in a game. Georgia is also the only team in the country that has not given up a rushing touchdown on the season.

The unit has been much improved and deserves to be praised. However, the unit might have suffered a significant loss on Saturday if nose tackle Jordan Davis has to miss an extended period of time.

Davis left the game in the first quarter with a left ankle injury. Davis did return to the sidelines during the game, but he was wearing a boot on his left foot and had crutches.

Kirby Smart did call the injury a sprained ankle afterward and added that, “They felt like it wasn’t as bad as other guys.”

Davis’ role as the nose tackle on Georgia’s defense is nearly as big as his 6-foot-6 330-pound frame. Davis might not pop on the stat sheet often, but he constantly occupies double teams, allowing other guys on Georgia’s defense to make plays.

Georgia shouldn’t need Davis to beat South Carolina and Kentucky. But if Davis has to miss the game against No. 7 Florida, that might be very concerning.

Winner: Georgia’s second half of defense 

Georgia has given up just one defensive touchdown in the second half all season. Against Tennessee, the Bulldogs shut out the Volunteers. While the pass defense was leaky in the first half, as it gave up just 68 yards passing in the second half.

The Bulldogs forced three sacks and two turnovers, all in the second half. LeCounte picked off a Maurer pass to go along with the aforementioned Stokes forced fumble.

The Georgia defense seems to turn it on the second half every time. But after the impressive performance, Smart wasn’t so much talking about what the defense did in the second half. It was more what they weren’t doing in the first half.

“It tells me we need to start better,” Smart said. “I don’t know that I’m concerned but when you start a game you’re going to get new plays and new scripts.”

Still, for all the concerns about Georgia’s start, the Bulldogs defense has shown every week that it’s capable of finishing the game with an emphatic response.

More Georgia football stories from around DawgNation

Dawgs on Twitter

Good Dawg of the Day