ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia fans no doubt came away from Saturday’s 51-44 win against Tennessee breathing a sigh of relief -- and perhaps questioning what they thought they knew about the fifth-ranked Bulldogs.
Georgia (5-0, 3-0 SEC) scored 40-plus points for the fifth straight game, but huge errors allowed what was shaping up as a blowout win to turn into a nail-biter. And the Bulldogs know they’re fortunate to have survived those errors against an offensive team as explosive as Tennessee (3-2, 0-2). They might not be so lucky next time if such errors occur again.
Let’s review some of the highlights and low-lights of the game from a Georgia perspective:
1. Tailback tandem
On a night where Georgia re-named its radio booth after legendary play-by-play man Larry Munson -- who famously proclaimed “My God, a freshman,” after a Herschel Walker touchdown run against Tennessee in 1980 -- it was appropriate that a pair of freshman tailbacks ran wild against the Volunteers.
Todd Gurley (24 carries for 130 yards and three touchdowns, including a 51-yard score) and Keith Marshall (10 carries for 164 yards with touchdowns of 75 and 72 yards) had their best games yet. And that’s saying something. Even if both of them made their first legitimate freshman blunders -- Gurley screwed up on a kickoff return, forcing Georgia to start a drive at its 1, and Marshall lost a fumble at Georgia’s 18-yard line to help Tennessee mount a short touchdown drive -- they continued to leave teammates shaking their heads over such productive play from two freshmen.
2. Streak continues
Georgia topped the 40-point barrier for the school-record fifth straight game and the Bulldogs needed almost all of those points to prevail in the highest-scoring game in series history. The previous high was 84 points in Tennessee’s 51-33 win in 2006.
Georgia also improved to 5-0 for the first time since 2006. The Bulldogs started 5-0 three times in Mark Richt’s first six seasons at Georgia, but had not done so in the last five seasons.
3. Defense back at full strength
Obviously it was far from a perfect effort from Georgia’s defense -- Tennessee had 478 yards on 85 plays -- but the Bulldogs got solid debut outings from Alec Ogletree (career-high 14 tackles, plus a tipped pass that led to a Damian Swann interception) and Bacarri Rambo (nine tackles) in their returns from four-game suspensions.
As rough as the night was overall for the defense, Georgia forced turnovers on each of Tennessee’s last three possessions -- two interceptions by Sanders Commings and a fumble recovery by John Jenkins -- to seal the victory.
1. Second-quarter implosion
Georgia led 27-10 early in the second quarter before two botched kick returns left Georgia at its 1 to start drives and two Bulldogs fumbles set up Tennessee at the UGA 8- and 18-yard lines. This after Tennessee scored a first-quarter touchdown off an Aaron Murray interception. Next thing the Bulldogs knew, they trailed 30-27 just before halftime when it looked like they were going to win in a rout.
For that reason, Marshall Morgan’s 50-yard field goal that made it 30-30 at halftime might have been one of the biggest plays on a night where the two teams combined for 13 touchdowns and 1,038 yards of total offense.
2. Special teams mishaps
Aside from the two kick-return screw-ups -- one by Gurley on a kickoff and one where Malcolm Mitchell failed to catch a punt that Tennessee downed at the Georgia 1 -- Morgan also failed on two PAT tries. The Vols blocked one and the other caromed off the left upright. In the Bulldogs’ defense, Morgan’s long field goal and Marc Deas’ third-quarter blocked punt helped redeem the special-teams units a bit.
3. Struggles against the run
Georgia had another rough night against the run, allowing 197 yards to Tennessee -- including 104 yards to Rajion Neal and a 46-yard touchdown run by receiver Cordarrelle Patterson. The cornerstone of Georgia’s defensive improvement in 2011 was its stiff performance against the run -- it ranked 11th nationally with 101.2 rushing yards allowed per game -- but the Bulldogs were 49th at 135.5 ypg entering Saturday’s game, and they will drop further after the Vols enjoyed success moving the ball on the ground.
In five games, Georgia's opponent has had a rusher with at least 80 yards in four of them -- including a pair of 100-yard rushers.