Georgia Bulldogs show Tennessee they're an imposing bouncer here to provide order | Toppmeyer
The Bulldogs aren’t flashy. They methodically conduct their business. You may not notice them until you must stare them in the face, hoping to slip past them, and they block your advance.
Georgia passed what likely will be its last real test before the SEC Championship by grinding Tennessee into submission in a 41-17 victory Saturday at Neyland Stadium.
Tennessee (5-5, 3-4 SEC) operates at the fastest pace of any SEC team, and that tempo affected Georgia’s vaunted defense on a 77-yard game-opening scoring drive. The Vols’ 7-0 lead marked the largest deficit the Bulldogs (10-0, 8-0) have faced this season.
Tennessee added a first-quarter field goal and had 159 yards in the opening 15 minutes.
Then the 100,074 in attendance witnessed why Georgia’s defense is drawing comparisons to Alabama’s 2011 unit, which allowed nine offensive touchdowns all season en route to a national championship.
Here’s the drive chart of Tennessee’s final five possessions before halftime:
- Three plays, negative-7 yards. Punt.
- Four plays, 13 yards. Interception.
- Three plays, 1 yard. Punt.
- Five plays, 20 yards, Punt.
- One play, negative-5 yards. End of half.
Tempo can’t flummox a defense if the drive doesn’t last longer than a few plays.
Entering the season, I doubted this Georgia team cut from a vintage cloth could win a national championship in a quarterback-driven era. Visions of 2019 LSU and 2020 Alabama lingered in my mind. Those teams went undefeated thanks to historically great offenses and quarterbacks who became first-round NFL Draft picks.
Such a team hasn’t emerged this season.
TENNESSEE FOOTBALL REPORT CARD:Tennessee football vs. Georgia report card: Vols' best effort yields middling marks
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In the absence of a Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase tandem or a Mac Jones, DeVonta Smith and Najee Harris triumvirate, a Georgia team powered by nose tackle Jordan Davis and destructive linebackers Nakobe Dean, Channing Tindall and Quay Walker looks all the more menacing. These guys aren’t coming to hang 50 points. They’re coming to wreck your weekend.
When Tennessee had a chance late in the third quarter to cut Georgia’s lead to two scores, Tindall extinguished the threat by sacking Hendon Hooker twice in a span of three plays. In the fourth quarter, Tindall sacked Hooker and forced a fumble that the Bulldogs recovered, stopping a Vols drive inside the 10.
Tindall leads Georgia in tackles, and he doesn’t even start, a sign of how deep Georgia’s defense is.
The nation’s best team has a 5-foot-11 starting quarterback who is a former walk-on. Stetson Bennett IV doesn’t have NFL scouts salivating. Georgia could become the first national champion with a starting quarterback who goes undrafted since 2015 Alabama won the crown with Jake Coker at the controls.
But let’s put to bed the idea that Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart needs to switch to backup quarterback JT Daniels, a former five-star recruit who opened the season as the starter before dealing with injuries.
Bennett does enough with his legs and his deep ball to keep Georgia’s offense viable, especially when James Cook rushes for 104 yards like he did Saturday.
Georgia will play Charleston Southern and Georgia Tech the next two weeks, meaning it likely won’t be challenged again until perhaps by Alabama in the SEC Championship.
Say this for Tennessee: The Vols challenged Georgia’s defense as well as any team has. UT's 17 points were the most Georgia has allowed this season. Tennessee had three second-half drives reach Georgia territory that didn't yield points. Turn a couple of those opportunities into touchowns, and the Bulldogs could have experienced their most anxiety since a 10-3 victory over Clemson in the season opener.
Representatives from the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl were on hand Saturday to monitor Tennessee, and the Vols look worthy of a Florida bowl bid.
As for Georgia, college football’s bouncer will continue to offer clarity to this chaotic season. Future opponents should enjoy the journey to the head of the line, because when you meet the Bulldogs face-to-face, it’s not much fun.
Blake Toppmeyer is an SEC Columnist for the USA TODAY Network. Email him at BToppmeyer@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer. If you enjoy Blake’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it.