An upset-minded Tennessee team came up short on Saturday.
The Vols dropped a 41-17 decision to No. 1 Georgia inside Neyland Stadium.
Tennessee scored on two of their first three possessions to take a 10-7 lead into the second quarter, but the Bulldogs reeled off 27 straight points to pull away.
“Disappointed with the outcome, obviously that’s a really good football team we played in Georgia,” Tennessee Head Coach Josh Heupel said. “They deserve a ton of credit. There are some things that we had to do better to change the way the game was played in the second half and down the stretch.”
Tennessee opened the scoring with an impressive drive that was capped when Hendon Hooker hit Velus Jones Jr. for a nine-yard touchdown.
It was the first touchdown that Georgia had allowed in the first touchdown all season.After Georgia answered with a Josh Cook touchdown from 39 yards out, the teams traded punts before Chase McGrath added a 24-yard field goal to send the Vols into the second quarter with a 10-7 advantage.
Georgia, however, reeled off 17 points in the second quarter – including a nine-yard score from Stetson Bennett and another score when Bennett hit Cook for a 23-yard score.
That gave the top-ranked Bulldogs a 24-10 lead at the half.
“Love the way our kids prepared, love the way they competed, don’t question any of that,” Heupel said. “Against a good football team like that, you have to make the plays or make some plays that give you a chance to play it down to the end. You lose the turnover battle 2-0, you can’t do that. The red zone offensively, not good enough. You change those two things, you have a chance to play it down to the end. Our kids know who and what they are, what we’re building here, and we’ll continue to fight.”
Tennessee’s defense started the third quarter quick by pushing Georgia backward on the opening drive. However, the Vols were unable to capitalize.
Georgia opened the second half scoring with a field goal and then added a touchdown from Kenny McIntosh and Cook in the fourth quarter.
Tennessee capped the scoring as Joe Milton hit Cedric Tillman for a 12-yard touchdown.
Tillman finished with 10 catches for 200 yards – which made him just the eighth Volunteer in program history to eclipse 200 yards receiving in a game.
“Cedric had a huge football game if you just look statistically,” Heupel said. “It’s a great lesson for everybody inside of our program. Those who put the most into it get the most out of it. Really consistent in his approach and his behavior every day inside of our building. That’s why he has gained confidence and why he plays with great confidence.”
Hooker went 24-of-37 passing for 244 yards with a touchdown and an interception.Jabari Small had 49 yards on 12 carries, while Hooker had 17 carries for seven yards – a number that includes sacks.
“I felt like you have to run him some,” Heupel said of Hooker. “Quite a bit – I don’t know about that. They’re good in the front-seven, made it tough to run the football. We felt like we had a game plan to give us the ability. He had to run the ball more tonight just because of scrambles and some of that. I’m not sure where the rush total was, but I mean he ran around a little bit too.”
Milton finished 6-of-10 for 88 yards.
Cook finished with 104 rushing yards on 10 carries while adding three catches for 43 yards for the Bulldogs. Bennett finished the game 17-of-29 for 213 yards to go along with 40 yards rushing.
“End of the day, I think for us as a football team we’ve shown that we’ve gotten better through the course of the season,” Heupel said. “That’s true defensively, that’s true offensively. Tonight wasn’t our best football. I don’t want to take anything away from Georgia, they’re really good in all three phases of the game. When I say that, just our controllables that we can do a little bit better we need to. We’ll look at it on Monday and get ready for the next one.”
Tennessee returns to Neyland Stadium next Saturday as South Alabama comes to town.