KNOXVILLE — No. 19 Georgia (4-2, 2-2 SEC) blew a 21-point, first-half lead and came up short after a furious comeback attempt to lose to Tennessee (3-3, 1-2) 38-31 Saturday night at Neyland Stadium. The loss snapped a five-game winning streak over the Vols and put the Bulldogs two games behind Florida, which beat Missouri Saturday night, in the SEC’s Eastern Division race. Here’s the Bulldogs’ grades for that effort:
Georgia lost its best player on this side of the ball – tailback Nick Chubb – to a leg injury on the first play of the game. Obviously, that has to impact production and alter the game plan. Nevertheless, Sony Michel filled in and responded with 145 yards on 22 carries and Georgia managed 444 yards on the night. But the Bulldogs had issues making plays when they had to, once again posting a miserable third-down conversion rate (28.5%, 4-for-14) and recording only 15 first downs overall. Quarterback Greyson Lambert was slow getting started again and finished 15-of-32 passing for 279 yards and two touchdowns. But put Georgia in position to extend the game and was on the money with two of the biggest throws of the game, one of which was dropped by Reggie Davis and the other of which was knocked away on the game’s last play.
The only thing keeping this from being a total failure was the Bulldogs had a 96-yard fumble return for a touchdown by Leonard Floyd and had to play most of the night without one of their best players in outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins (hip flexor). Otherwise, they were dominated by a team that came in as one of most one-dimensional offenses in the league. Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs had a career night, passing for 312 yards and three touchdowns and rushing for 118 and two more scores. And the Vols won more of the crucial battles, converting 8-of-18 third downs, scoring a touchdown on fourth-and-nine and scoring touchdowns on 4-of-6 red-zone chances. With the game on the line, the Vols marched 78 yards in eight plays to score the winning touchdown.
SPECIAL TEAMS: D
Again, the only thing keeping this from being an F is Reggie Davis’s 70-yard punt return for a touchdown. Otherwise, Sony Michel fumbled the ball away on a kickoff return, Marshall Morgan missed another field goal (41 yards), Collin Barber shanked another punt and UT’s Evan Berry had 103 yards on three kickoff returns, including a 46-yarder that set up a score.
It’s not a small thing when you lose your best player on offense (Chubb) and arguably your best player on defense (Jenkins) to injuries. So the coaches deserve credit for putting Georgia in position to build a 21-point first-half lead. But then the Bulldogs managed to let momentum slip away in the span of 37 seconds by giving up two Tennessee touchdowns at the end of the first half, which ultimately resulted in the largest letdown of the Mark Richt era. Things like throwing a low-percentage deep ball on third-and-four at the Tennessee 24 midway through the second quarter instead of running the football possibly twice if needed to get a first down and keep the drive sustained (which led to a missed field goal and a blown opportunity) loom large in a game like this.
Even after losing Chubb on the first play, Georgia should have won this game. Tennessee is a good football team with good players and was desperate to break a five-game losing streak to the Bulldogs. The Vols deserve credit. But by blowing a three-touchdown lead on national television and letting Tennessee prevail, Georgia not only lost footing in the Eastern Division race, but also in recruiting to a rival program that makes its living in the Bulldogs’ home state.