Joshua Dobbs threw for three touchdowns and ran for two more, leading Tennessee back from a 21-point deficit to beat No. 19/16 Georgia, 38-31, on Saturday at Neyland Stadium.
“You always need to win,” Tennessee head coach Butch Jones said. “That’s what it is. When these players have given so much of themselves and the chemistry that we have, the brotherhood, the togetherness — everyone talks about having each other’s back. Like I said earlier, it galvanized us and brought us closer. For them to feel this way tonight and our fans to feel this way is very rewarding.”
Saturday’s win tied for Tennessee’s (3-3, 1-2 SEC) third-largest comeback in program history. The Vols trailed, 24-3, late in the second quarter before scoring two touchdowns right before the half and three more in the second half. It also marked the second-largest UT comeback in Neyland Stadium history. The Vols rallied back from a 25-point deficit against Vanderbilt in 1987.
The win also marked UT’s first win over Georgia (4-2, 1-2 SEC) since 2009.
Dobbs threw for a career-high 312 yards, going 25-for-42, and also ran for 118 yards. Dobbs’ performance on Saturday marked just the second time in Tennessee history that a Vols quarterback has thrown for 300 yards and run for 100 yards. He accomplished that feat last year when he threw for 301 yards and ran for a career-high 166 against South Carolina.
Jalen Hurd finished with 21 rushes for 80 yards. Nine different Vols caught a pass in the win. Alvin Kamaracaught five passes for 31 yards and two touchdowns. Josh Malone had five catches for 60 yards and Ethan Wolf had three catches for 56 yards.
Georgia running back Sony Michel gained 145 yards on 22 carries and added 26 yards on three catches. Greyson Lambert was 15-for-32 for 279 yards and two touchdowns. Malcolm Mitchell had five catches for 85 yards and one touchdown and Reggie Davis had three receptions for 101 yards and one score.
Georgia suffered a major loss early in the game when star running back Nick Chubb went down with a left knee injury on the Bulldogs’ first play from scrimmage.
The Bulldogs took a 7-0 lead with 6:14 left in the first quarter when Hurd fumbled at the four-yard line and Leonard Floyd returned the ball 96 yards to the opposite endzone.
Tennessee got on the scoreboard in its next possession when Aaron Medley made a 22-yard field goal on the ensuing 14-play, 67-yard drive.
Georgia grew its lead to 14-3 when Lambert hit Mitchell on a 28-yard touchdown pass to the right side of the end zone.
Marshall Morgan made a 37-yard field goal with 4:47 left in the second quarter and one minute later Davis returned a punt 70 yards for a score to push Georgia’s lead to 24-3.
The Vols found some momentum late in the second quarter, answering with a touchdown on their next possession. On 4th-and-8, Dobbs found Josh Smith over the middle for a 39-yard touchdown pass to pull UT to within 24-10.
On the following kickoff, the Vols forced a fumble on Michel’s 17-yard return and John Kelly recovered the ball at the UGA 25. Dobbs capped a five-play, 25-yard scoring drive with a two-yard touchdown pass to Kamara to pull Tennessee to within 24-17 at the half.
UT had 256 yards of offense at halftime to Georgia’s 236. Dobbs threw the ball to eight different players in the first half for 187 yards. Georgia dominated the ground game with Michel rushing for 124 yards on 13 carries before the break.
Tennessee tied the game at 24-24 on its second drive of the third quarter. Dobbs ran in a one-yard touchdown to cap a six-play, 67-yard drive that featured a pair of big plays. Preston Williams hauled in a 33-yard pass and Hurd gashed the Georgia defense for a 20-yard run to the two-yard line on UT’s longest touchdown drive of the game.
The Vols took their first lead of the game with 1:26 remaining in the third quarter. Dobbs found Kamara again for a two-yard touchdown pass to the front left pylon to wrap a seven-play, 56-yard drive and put UT ahead, 31-24.
Georgia tied the game at 31-31 when Lambert hit Davis for a 48-yard touchdown pass down the right sideline on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Dobbs marched the team down the field again with big plays through the air and on the ground. He capped a drive that included a 34-yard pass to Wolf and a 24-yard pass to Alex Ellis with a five-yard touchdown run to give Tennessee a 38-31 lead with 5:48 remaining.
Georgia nearly tied the game with 3:52 left when Lambert heaved a 3rd-and-9 pass down the middle of the field that Davis dropped at the goal line.
The Bulldogs’ final drive of the game started at their won 1-yard line after Tennessee punter Trevor Danielbooted the ball 56 yards down the field and the ball bounced out of bounds in front of the left pylon. Georgia drove the ball to the Tennessee 27-yard line before Lambert’s last-second heave to the right side of the endzone fell incomplete.
Saturday’s game marked Tennessee’s first comeback win from a deficit of 21 points or more in the last 25 times it has trailed by that margin.
For Georgia, it was the first time in which the Bulldogs had led a game by 21 points and lost in 55 such instances.
The Vols have a bye week before returning to action on Oct. 24 against Alabama at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa.