ATHENS – Two teams heading in different directions met at Sanford Stadium on Saturday, and Georgia’s upward trajectory continued after a 38-12 win over Tennessee.
Installed as 31-point favorites, the No. 2-ranked Bulldogs struggled for long periods against their visitors. But a two-quarterback drive late in the second quarter – started by Justin Fields and finished by Jake Fromm – helped get the offense on track in what to that point had been a 10-0 game.
And then both quarterbacks played on a long scoring drive to assure victory late in the fourth quarter. D’Andre Swift’s 14-yard touchdown run capped that 13-play, 75-yard drive that lasted 7:39 and made it 31-12. That was a theme that would be repeated often as the freshman Fields alternated with Fromm throughout the contest.
The victory for the Bulldogs (5-0, 3-0 SEC) knotted the all-time series with Tennessee at 23-23-2. Georgia won last year’s game 41-0 in Knoxville. The Bulldogs have also won seven of the last nine meetings since 2010 and 13 of 19 since 2000.
The Vols, in their first season under former Georgia defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, fall to 2-3 and 0-2 in SEC play. Tennessee travels to Auburn next Saturday.
Pruitt was making his first appearance in Sanford Stadium since 2016, when he served Mark Richt as defensive coordinator for two seasons. Pruitt took a long walk around the field two hours before kickoff and ended up talking for several minutes to Mark Christiensen, the Bulldogs’ longtime wheelchair-bound volunteer trainer, in the West grandstands. Otherwise, his appearance drew neither a positive or negative response.
Georgia jumped on Tennessee fast, but that was more a matter of good fortune more than brilliant scheming. The Bulldogs faced third-and-9 at the Vols’ 31 on their first possession when linebacker Darrell Taylor beat right tackle Isaiah Wilson badly and managed to knock the ball loose from Jake Fromm as he rared back to pass.
Luckily for Georgia, Isaac Nauta was right there. The junior tight end scooped up the ball on a perfect bounce and ran it 40 yards down the right sideline to the East end zone. The play was officially scored as a 31-yard touchdown, and the PAT gave the Bulldogs a 7-0 lead just over six minutes into the contest.
That ended up being a significant break for Georgia, which struggled for offensively for much of the first half. The Bulldogs could muster only a field goal over the next 24 minutes. They even brought in Fields at quarterback in an attempt to get things going.
They finally did. With Fields starting the drive and Fromm ending it, Georgia mounted a 12-play, 70-yard scoring drive. It ended with 30 seconds remaining in the half on a 1-yard run by D’Andre Swift for a 17-0 lead.
The importance of the possession was evident in the 11 plays before that. Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney went deep into his playbook, calling a counter play for Brian Herrien for a 6-yard gain on fourth-and-1 at the Tennessee 32 and two nifty pass plays for 12-yard gains to Riley Ridley and Jeremiah Holloman to set up the Bulldogs with first-and-goal.
Georgia was able to go into the locker room with a three-score lead knowing it would get the ball to start the second half.
The Bulldogs then made good on it in the third quarter. This time Fields finished a drive that started with Fromm, and Fields finished it in style. He scored on a 12-yard keeper to cap off a 10-play, 75-yard drive, that was paced by four Fromm passes for 40 yards.
Tennessee didn’t go down easily. The Vols scored on a 37-yard pass on a 10-play 75-yard drive that was extended by a personal foul call on Georgia’s D’Andre Walker after a third-down stop. The Vols would add another score with a 35-yard TD catch by Ty Chandler early in the fourth quarter. Two failed 2-point conversions kept the margin at two scores.