Georgia shut down Hendon Hooker, Tennessee in winning statement

ATHENS, Georgia — Defending national champion Georgia might not have been first in the college football playoff seedings earlier this week, but the Bulldogs left no doubt on Saturday who belongs in that first. square.

Their 27-13 loss to No. 1 Tennessee in front of a deafening crowd at Sanford Stadium was about as thorough as it gets. Senior quarterback Stetson Bennett passed for 257 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another, and the Georgia defense kept the Tennessee offense without a touchdown until the final minutes of the game.

“The players on this team have bought in,” said Georgia coach Kirby Smart, who is 5-0 at home against top-10 ranked teams in the AP. “They understood the plan. They executed the plan. They played extremely physically. They played without ego and they played complementary football, which is always important. I’m really proud of the way our guys played. .”

The Bulldogs, ranked No. 3 in the initial CFP standings, dominated the line of scrimmage as Bennett repeatedly had plenty of time to throw the ball. He hit shots deep down the field from 52, 49 and 37 yards. Meanwhile, the Vols had no offensive response for Georgia’s teeming defense. Tennessee entered the game leading the nation in scoring (49.4 ppg), but was forced to punt three times in the first quarter alone. That’s after throwing a total of 18 times in the previous eight games.

“I think physical strength won out. We talked all week about chasing with a goal,” said Smart, whose defense was missing its best passing thrower, senior outside linebacker Nolan Smith, who is out for the season with a torn pectoral muscle.

Georgia (9-0) took a decisive lead in the SEC East Division race and also put itself in prime position to make the college football playoffs even if it were to lose in the championship game. the SEC, which would be a similar scenario to what happened. last season.

Bennett, 25, was once again the picture of poise for the Bulldogs. “Just a winner,” Smart called him. Bennett was also a little disturbed by what he said were 600 to 700 calls he received all day Friday from Tennessee fans after his cell phone number was leaked to the public.

Along with his two touchdown passes, Bennett rushed for a 13-yard touchdown run in the first quarter and quickly held his hand to his helmet as if making a phone call. He threw a 37-yard touchdown pass to Ladd McConkey on the Bulldogs’ next possession and turned to where the Tennessee fans were seated and raised his hand to his helmet again.

“I wouldn’t say it was motivation,” Bennett said of the phone calls, “but there’s probably something there, so yeah.”

The Vols (8-1) were shaky early on and couldn’t take a touchdown after a Georgia fumble, and it only got worse for them from there. Pre-snap penalties, particularly false start penalties, plagued a Tennessee offense that couldn’t protect senior quarterback and Heisman Trophy favorite Hendon Hooker. The Vols also haven’t won many one-on-one perimeter matchups against Georgia defensive backs.

“We didn’t play our best football,” Tennessee coach Josh Heupel said. “It’s partly because they have a very good football team. At the end of the day, you hate the result, but you have to reset.”

It was Georgia’s sixth straight victory over Tennessee, which was physically bullied after scoring a total of 92 points in wins over ranked opponents Alabama and LSU earlier this season.

“They’re a lot more physical than Alabama,” said Tennessee wide receiver Jalin Hyatt, who was limited to six catches for 63 yards after catching 11 touchdowns in his previous four games. “As I said, the mistakes were on us, and we have to improve and do a better job and be ready. [next week] for Missouri.”

In the third quarter, rain began to fall on Sanford Stadium, and the Bulldogs continued to pour it on a Tennessee team that was greeted with chants of “overrated” by the Georgia student section. The Vols were playing in the loudest and most hostile environment they had faced all season. They were clearly buffeted by the noise of the crowd, which sometimes reached the decibel levels of rock concerts.

“Even when it was raining, there was no free seat in the house except those [Tennessee] bought,” Smart said. “Our fans were the elite today. We asked them to be. They answered. They get the vote for second place.”

Hyatt said it was sometimes so loud that players couldn’t hear Hooker’s instant call.

“Give their fans credit. They disrupted what we wanted to do on offense today,” Hyatt said.

The Georgia defense has allowed just eight touchdowns in nine games this season and made life miserable for Hooker, who was held without a touchdown pass for the first time in 20 games. He was also sacked six times (five times in the second half) and finished with just 195 passing yards.

“I feel like we were really prepared for today, and I felt like it showed,” said Georgia cornerback Kelee Ringo, who intercepted Hooker in the box area. goals in the second quarter.

Tennessee’s passing game has been rendered non-existent against a Georgia defense that has been plagued with injuries this season. But the Bulldogs showed their depth and didn’t let the Vols’ style and explosiveness affect them like others Tennessee has faced this season. The Vols had just one pass over 17 yards, and they entered the game with 36 FBS-leading plays from a 30-yard or longer scrimmage.

“You play Tennessee and they go for the first-round knockout,” Smart said. “You have to survive it.”

Keeping Hooker at bay was essential. Going into the game, he had scored 59 touchdowns and thrown just three interceptions since taking over as starter in Week 3 last season. When he was knocked to the ground on Tennessee’s final fourth play, he was slow to get up and trotted gingerly to the sideline.

Heupel said he would be “real” about the loss with his players.

“And at the same time understand that we are a good football team,” Heupel said. “That didn’t happen tonight on the 60 minute clock. That’s what’s great about sports. You only get one chance man. We’ll get back to work.”

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