Georgia linebacker Jordan Jenkins (59) and safety Marc Deas (23) celebrate with fans after the Bulldogs defeated the Tennessee Volunteers 34-31 in overtime at Neyland Stadium on Saturday. (Jim Brown/USA Today Sports)
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Well, this certainly wasn’t what the experts projected — not overtime between two teams that looked to be on different ends of the SEC spectrum.
In the end, sixth-ranked Georgia eked out a 34-31 win over Tennessee on a 42-yard field goal by Marshall Morgan on the first possession of the extra period.
Talk about a crazy finish.
Pig Howard appeared to have given the Vols the first lead of overtime but lost control of the ball and fumbled through the end zone, giving the Bulldogs the ball and a chance to win the game.
Morgan did that, drilling his kick after three offensive plays to send Georgia players swarming onto the field.
Tennessee coach Butch Jones almost got the signature moment he was looking for.
Rajion Neal’s 7-yard run with 1:54 left in regulation seemed to put the game away. But quarterback Aaron Murray, much like he did last week against LSU, brought the Bulldogs back and sent the game into overtime when he zipped a 2-yard pass to Rantavious Wooten with just five seconds left in regulation.
Bulldog injuries added to Saturday’s intrigue.
One week after losing star tailback Todd Gurley for an unspecified time to a sprained left ankle, the Bulldogs (5-1, 3-0) potentially were dealt an even harsher blow when backup Keith Marshall was forced to leave late in the first quarter with an apparent knee injury.
Leading 3-0, Georgia was driving when Murray attempted a pass to Marshall, who was hit on the right knee by the helmet of cornerback Cameron Sutton and had to be helped from the field.
Unfortunately for Georgia, that wasn’t all.
Starting wide receivers Michael Bennett — who missed most of last year with a torn ACL — and Justin Scott-Wesley both went down with third-quarter injuries and did not return. Bennett injured a knee, while Scott-Wesley’s ailment was unspecified.
The Bulldogs could have used them.
“There (were) a lot of guys going down; a lot of guys got hurt,” coach Mark Richt said. “We had guys who couldn’t finish the game; that was obvious. Young players had to step up. Mike (Bobo) as the play caller had to figure out who’s in, who’s out, what do they know? It handcuffed us just a tad but we kept fighting, playing and found a way to win.”
Georgia appeared to have the game well in control, up 17-3 on first-half touchdown passes of 1 yard to Chris Conley and 4 yards to Wooten.
But the Vols found a way to get right back into the game.
A diving 19-yard touchdown catch by freshman Marquez North was followed by a blocked punt by Jalen Reeves-Maybin that Devaun Swafford scooped up and returned 15 yards for a touchdown with 1:25 left in the third.
Georgia had an answer, getting an uncharacteristic run of 57 yards by Murray to the Tennessee 4. That set up Brendan Douglas’ 2-yard run to put the Bulldogs back up 24-17 on the first play of the fourth quarter.
On Tennessee’s ensuing drive, the Bulldogs appeared to have the Vols (3-3, 0-2) stopped on fourth-and-5 before a defensive delay of game moved Tennessee just inches a from first down inside Georgia territory.
The Vols went for the first, and Neal got that and more, taking a pitch 44 yards for a first down. Neal, who rushed for a game-high 148 yards, also scored on a 1-yard run to tie the game with just over 12 minutes to play.
“I think I’ve aged 10 years over the past two games,” Murray said. “I’m just glad we were able to come back and get this win.”
Notes: With his 19-of-35 effort, Murray became the SEC’s all-time leading passer with 11,625 yards. … Besides Gurley, Georgia also played without starting free safety Tray Matthews, who remained in Athens after straining his hamstring on Tuesday. Backup Connor Norman also did not play, evidently due to a concussion. … Saturday marked the first time the Vols donned their new Smokey Gray uniforms, which were unveiled on Aug. 15 at Tennessee’s media day. … Georgia freshman J.J. Green replaced Marshall and rushed 17 times for a career-high 129 yards.