I guess we should consider ourselves lucky that the Georgia charter flight didn’t crash on its way back to Athens Saturday night. There’s plenty to chew on in Georgia’s thrilling 34-31 comeback overtime win at Tennessee, but three injuries to key contributors cast a dark shadow on a hard-earned win that kept Georgia’s SEC and national hopes alive.
The Dawgs jumped out to a solid 17-3 halftime lead on the back of two Aaron Murray touchdown passes. The Vols managed a field goal on their only deep drive of the half, but the Georgia defense put together one of its best 30 minutes on the season. There was effective pressure against a very good offensive line, and Tennessee couldn’t manage enough big plays to sustain any other scoring chances.
Georgia missed a great opportunity to put the game away early in the third quarter. A long run by J.J. Green set the Dawgs up in the red zone, but two ineffective runs, an incomplete pass, and another delay of game penalty led to a missed field goal. Tennessee took the ball and drove for their first touchdown of the day to cut the Georgia advantage to seven points. The Vols blocked a punt a few series later to tie the game, and the stage was set for a finish that included another late Murray-led scoring drive, a fumble out of the end zone on Tennessee’s overtime possession, and a clutch field goal by Marshall Morgan to claim the win.
- If you had to point to one reason why Georgia couldn’t put the game away earlier, going 4-of-13 on third downs should be near the top of the list. As has often been the case, the Dawgs rarely needed third down on their scoring drives – they only faced two on their first half scoring possessions, and both of those were 3rd-and-1. If Tennessee could get Georgia to third down, they were able to get off the field and keep Georgia from running away with the game.
- What’s remarkable then about the drive that sent the game into overtime was that Georgia converted three third downs. 75% of Georgia’s third down conversions came on that one drive, including the Murray-to-Wooten touchdown pass in close quarters with just eight seconds left in regulation. That was a great time to start making plays to keep a drive alive.
- If there’s a key play from the first half, it might be the fourth down conversion on Georgia’s second quarter scoring drive. Tennessee had just kicked a field goal to trim Georgia’s lead to seven, and they had stoned Georgia on a telegraphed run up the middle on 3rd-and-1. Instead of another long field goal attempt, Georgia went for it. Murray’s pass was tipped ever-so-slightly at the line, but it remained on target to Chris Conley slanting in from the outside. The conversion led to a touchdown, and that completion made Murray the SEC’s career leader in passing yardage.
- On the flip side, Tennessee converted 10-of-20 third and fourth attempts. Their three fourth down conversions were all very short yardage, and it might even be fair to point to what happened on third down to set up those conversions. Regardless, the ability of Tennessee to move the chains kept them in the game, and it leaves Georgia dead last in the SEC in opponent third down conversions.
- Allowing 10 points through three quarters is a pretty good job by the defense, but that fourth quarter was terrible. Georgia should feel fortunate that Tennessee scored early enough to leave plenty of time to drive for the tie. Tennessee’s last drive of regulation felt like the Georgia drive that ended the South Carolina game – the defense looked powerless.
- If there was a bright spot on defense, it was the defensive line. Garrison Smith played well, but Ray Drew continued to stand out. He’s drawing double-teams and is still getting into the backfield. That pressure became less effective as the game went on, though, and Tennessee’s stout offensive line took over.
- Special teams was its usual good and bad. What’s another blocked punt? The missed block by Hicks was clear enough. The real mystery on special teams was the punt returns. I’m hoping the Tennessee punter just had the game of his life, because there’s no other decent explanation for having to go backwards to field a punt more than once.
- Newcomers continue to learn lessons under fire. Hicks has to follow through with every block, and he can’t coast on what he did in the first two games. Leonard Floyd is a beast rushing the passer, but his discipline setting the edge needs a lot of work. We saw it on goalline plays against LSU, and it came up again on the long run to the outside on a 4th-and-1. Quincy Mauger looked promising in his first start, but he too got caught looking in on another fourth down conversion.
- Aaron Murray now has fourth quarter touchdown passes in three of Georgia’s four wins that could individually define a season and a career. He’s always had the numbers, but now those numbers are tied to some huge moments. It’s asking a lot to go back to this well nearly every week, but it’s clear now that even more will be asked of Murray and the players left standing.
- That QB run is something Murray has shown a time or two, and it was great to see him reach the point where he’d usually slide and instead decide to say “screw it” and power on. It was, considering the context and the way momentum had swung, every bit as meaningful and spectacular of a play as Cam Newton’s run against LSU in 2010.
- Murray’s run also makes you wonder if some zone read might be a way to get some more mileage out of Georgia’s running game with its top two options sidelined. You wouldn’t want to run Murray more than a couple of times, but that’s all it would take to get defenses thinking.
- We also have to tip the cap to Green and Douglas. Green put up over 100 yards in a little more than three quarters. Douglas shook off a drop on the final drive to reel off that important third down swing pass that set up the tying score. 62 of the 75 yards on that final drive came from these two true freshmen.
We’ll end by sending our best thoughts and prayers to Marshall, Bennett, and Scott-Wesley. The CBS shots of both the injuries and their reactions were heartbreaking. It had to be ten times as rattling to their teammates. Kudos to them for salvaging the game and to those who stepped up when their number was called. The coming weeks will tax the creativity of the staff and the readiness of some inexperienced players. Georgia’s goals are still intact and reachable, but the climb just got a lot tougher.