The Georgia defense celebrates a fumble recovery late in the game against Tennessee on Saturday at Sanford Stadium in Athens.
ATHENS -- Georgia came out on fire early Saturday night, but miscues on defense and special teams continually kept Tennessee in the game. However, when crunch time came for the defense, it stepped up with three crucial takeaways.
Sanders Commings picked off two late passes, and John Jenkins recovered a fumble in the fourth quarter to help Georgia hold on for a 51-44 victory over Tennessee on Saturday.
The Bulldogs (5-0, 3-0 SEC) have scored more than 40 points in their first five games, the first time a Georgia team has ever done that. But despite all the scoring and an early lead of 17 points, Tennessee didn't fold.
Down 7-0 after a Todd Gurley TD run, Tennessee (3-2, 0-2 SEC) tied the game up on a pick six. Aaron Murray (19 of 25, 278 yards, 2 TDs, INT) threw a pass on first and 15, and Byron Moore picked off his fourth pass of the year after a deflection at the line and returned it 35 yards for a score.
"The coaches just continue to put me in the right positions, and I've just got to make the plays," Moore said. "I'm worried about getting wins right now. Whatever my stats are, that's what they're going to be. I'm just trying to do what I've got to do to help this team win."
Keith Marshall (10 carries for 164 yards, 2 TDs) brought the crowd to its feet on the first play of the next possession. The freshman busted past the line to the left and was barely touched on his 75-yard dash to the end zone to put Georgia on top 14-7.
Tennessee drove the ball 58 yards in 10 plays to cut the deficit to four points. Georgia then responded, taking the ball 75 yards on eight plays in just 2:34, capped off by a 1-yard TD run by Gurley for a 21-10 Georgia lead.
Damian Swann picked off a Tyler Bray pass on third down a couple of minutes into the second quarter at the Georgia 44. Two plays later, Todd Gurley (24 carries, 135 yards, 3 TDs) countered behind the line and ran 51 yards to the end zone. Marshall Morgan hit the left upright on the extra point attempt, putting the score at 27-10.
After trading possessions, the Vols began to get back into the game.
Tennessee held Georgia inside its own 10 despite a penalty that gave the Bulldogs a 1st and 5. The Volunteers took over at midfield, and Bray led his team 50 yards in 10 plays, capped off by a one-yard TD run by A.J. Johnson. Derrick Brodus converted the kick to put the score at 27-17.
Herman Lathers forced a fumble on the next Georgia possession, giving the Vols the ball at the Bulldog 8. Bray hooked up with Zach Rogers for a 4-yard score, but a missed extra point by Brodus kept the score at 27-23.
Tennessee took its first lead of the game with 0:42 to go in the first half. After recovering a fumble by Marshall at the Georgia 17, Tennessee punched the ball with a pass from Bray to Rajion Neal for a 30-27 lead.
Georgia showed its first life on offense in quite a while with a short time to drive the field. Murray connected on three passes to get the Bulldogs down to the Tennessee 33 with four seconds before halftime. Morgan put a 50-yard kick between the uprights and knotted the game at 30-30 going into the locker room.
Georgia coach Mark Richt said his team had a good attitude after the first half.
"I thought our team did a great job at halftime of not bickering, finger-pointing or whatever," Richt said. "It's basically 0-0. We've got to come out and play 30 minutes."
The Bulldogs regained the lead in the second half. After stopping Tennessee and forcing a punt, a big pass from Murray to Arthur Lynch (3 catches, 75 yards) and runs by Gurley got Georgia into the red zone. Murray connected with Michael Bennett (5 catches, 70 yards, 2 TDs) from eight yards out for a TD, putting the home team back on top 37-30.
Marc Deas came up big for Georgia after the defense stopped Tennessee near midfield. The sophomore broke through the line and blocked a punt, allowing the Bulldogs to start from the Tennessee 46. Gurley had a big run of 11 yards, and Murray again found Bennett for a touchdown, this time from 32 yards. The extra point was blocked, giving UGA a 43-30 lead.
The Vols put another score on the board minutes later, cutting the deficit to 43-37. On the fifth play of the drive, Tyler Bray handed off to Cordarrelle Patterson, who was ready to throw a pass downfield. Seeing that was covered, Patterson cut upfield between a couple of solid blocks in the right side. He then cut back to the left side of the field and ran past the defense to make the score 43-37.
Marshall took another turn at showing off his skills. He took a handoff up the middle through a giant hole, running past the entire defense untouched for his second TD. The two-point conversion pass from Murray to Marlon Brown was good, putting Georgia up 51-37.
Raijon Neal (23 carries, 104 yards, TD) brought Tennessee back within a score with a nine-yard TD run with 8:56 to go. But the fumble recovery by Jenkins and a pair of picks by Commings helped the Bulldogs seal the conference victory.
Tennessee coach Derek Dooley was disappointed after the loss but had praise for both teams after a hard-fought game.
"I hope we at least showed that we've got a little resilience in our ball club," Dooley said. "Now we've just got to learn confidence, and we'll have a lot of opportunities to do it. We're going to learn from it. There's a lot of mistakes, a lot of issues on defense stopping the run, and we've got to correct it in this open date or we're not going to beat anybody."