KNOXVILLE, Tenn.—The Georgia Bulldogs are ranked No. 1 and just finished off a perfect run through the Southeastern Conference schedule.
They’re not satisfied yet.
Stetson Bennett ran for a touchdown and threw for another as Georgia routed Tennessee 41–17 Saturday.
The Bulldogs (10–0, 8–0, No. 1 CFP) went unbeaten in the SEC regular season for the first time since the league split into divisions in 1992 and went to an eight-game schedule.
“Nobody thinks they’ve arrived,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “There’s things we can continue to work to get better at, and they’ll continue to do that. But tonight? They went through a tough gauntlet in our league and played well.”
Georgia already had its fourth berth in the SEC championship game in five years locked up coming into this game. The Bulldogs last went undefeated in league play in 1982 with a 6–0 mark, also the last time the Bulldogs started 10–0.
“I mean 39 years, I mean it’s special …” Bennett said.
The Bulldogs actually trailed by their largest margin this season after Tennessee scored a touchdown on the opening drive. Georgia also was down 10–7 at the end of the first quarter, new territory for the Bulldogs, who had only trailed by a field goal each to Auburn and Missouri.
Georgia responded by reeling off 27 straight points, including 17 in a dominating second quarter. Derion Kendrick intercepted a pass by Hendon Hooker, and Channing Tindall stripped Hooker of the ball—Tindall had three of Georgia’s six sacks.
“We didn’t come up here to take shots,” Smart said. “We came up here to throw them.”
Bennett converted the interception into a 9-yard TD run midway through the second, and he capped a 90-yard drive with a 23-yard TD pass to James Cook just before halftime. Cook also ran 10 times and matched his career high with 104 yards and two more TDs. Stetson finished with 213 yards passing and ran for 40 more.
Tennessee (5–5, 3–4) had five-time NFL MVP Peyton Manning, former All-Star first baseman Todd Helton and WNBA champ Candace Parker on hand along with an announced crowd of 100,074 for a team coming off a win at Kentucky, its first upset of a Top 20 team on the road since 2006.
The Vols’ biggest win in this game came in with 3:38 left before lots of empty seats. Joe Milton hit Cedric Tillman on a 12-yard TD, giving Tennessee the most points scored against Georgia in a game this season.
“Me personally, just knowing how hard I am on myself and how much of a standard I hold for this defense, I’m not happy about that touchdown,” Georgia linebacker Nakobe Dean said.
Tennessee came in second in the Bowl Subdivision scoring an average of 1.59 points per minute. Georgia and the stingiest scoring defense, which had allowed 6.6 points a game, simply smothered the Vols. The Bulldogs held Tennessee to 9 yards total offense in the second quarter.
“You’ve got to make some plays to give yourself a chance to play it to the end,” first-year Tennessee coach Josh Heupel said. “Red zone wasn’t good enough. Losing the turnover [battle] 2–0 hurt.”
Georgia: The Bulldogs may not have turned in the dominating defensive performance they’ve become known for this season. But they proved they could power through with several sick players. Smart said they pulled defensive lineman Jalen Carter, who had received fluids intravenously, at halftime because his fever was over 100.
Tennessee: Hooker had his worst game this season coming off his best game in last week’s win over Kentucky with two turnovers, including only his third interception of the season. The Volunteers had chances to stay in this game. But they settled for a field goal after getting to the Georgia 7, turned it over on downs twice in Georgia territory, once at the Bulldogs 17 and Hooker’s fumble came on third-and-6 at the Georgia 7. Heupel pulled Hooker for Milton on the next drive.
“We were just a little bit off. A couple throws sailed on him,” Heupel said of Hooker.
Georgia certainly didn’t hurt itself. Beating an SEC rival should be impressive enough to receive all first-place votes again.
Georgia hosts Charleston Southern with the Bulldogs’ SEC slate finished. Georgia then finishes the regular season against Georgia Tech.
Tennessee hosts South Alabama in the Vols’ first night kickoff since losing to Ole Miss.
By Teresa M. Walker