Georgia Makes a National Statement

AP Photo/Wade Payne

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Georgia will wake up in the morning morning in command in of the SEC Eastern Division. By bedtime, it can expect to find itself in the nation's Top 5.

The No. 8 Bulldogs thrashed No. 13 Tennessee 41-14 on Saturday in front of 107,517 in the Volunteers' Neyland Stadium.

"I thought that Clemson score (30-0) was outrageous, but this is a great score," senior cornerback Bruce Thornton said.

It was Georgia's fourth straight victory over Tennessee and its biggest since a 44-0 win in 1981.

"We want to let everyone know the tide has turned," safety Thomas Davis said.

The Bulldogs improved to 5-1 overall and 3-1 in the SEC and moved one game ahead of the Vols for first place in the division. Georgia could lose one more conference game, provided its not to Florida, and still be guaranteed a trip to the SEC Championship Game.

"It feels good to be in the driver's seat," Monticello linebacker Odell Thurman said.

It was Tennessee's worst home loss since a 31-0 defeat against Florida in 1994. The Vols, who haven't won a conference title since its 1998 national championship season, fell to 4-2 overall and 2-2 in the SEC. Tennessee isn't out of the picture, yet, though. Their remaining league schedule consists only of Alabama, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt.

On a day dubbed by ESPN as "Separation Saturday," the Bulldogs came away a big winner. The three teams directly in front of them in the Associated Press Top 25 -- No. 5 Florida State, No. 6 LSU and No. 7 Arkansas -- and No. 3 Ohio State all lost.

"It just shows this program has came a long way, a long way," receiver Damien Gary said.

Georgia outgained Tennessee 414 to 248 and held the Vols to 61 rushing yards on 27 carries.

"We really felt confident going in that we could stop their running game, and we just had to see if the could throw against us," defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder said.

Tennessee quarterback Casey Clausen, who will finish his career winless against the Bulldogs, was 11 of 23 for 165 yards and was picked off two times to go along with the Volunteers' two fumbles.

Sean Jones led Georgia with seven tackles and had a game-changing 92-yard fumble return for a touchdown, but defensive end David Pollack was the biggest force in the second half. He finished with six tackles, two sacks and three tackles-for-loss.

"We tried to do what we did last week and that's throw the ball, but we couldn't block David Pollack," Volunteer offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said. "He basically took over the game."

Georgia quarterback David Greene, who will finish his career 2-0 in Knoxville, was 22 of 27 passing for 228 yards and one touchdown despite playing less than three quarters.

"Offensively, without a doubt, it was our best football game," Georgia coach Mark Richt said.

Tennessee's only meaningful points of the game came on a fantastic 90-yard touchdown catch by Mark Jones, who wrestled away a ball it appeared Decory Bryant had intercepted and scored with 13:14 left in the first half to pull the Vols within three at 10-7.

The game was close until the final play of the half. Tennessee trailed 13-7 but had a third-and-goal from Georgia's 1-yard line with seven seconds left in the half. However, when Clausen turned to hand the ball to tailback Cedric Houston, the ball hit the leg of lead blocker Troy Fleming and bounced onto the ground.

Jones picked it up and ran 92 yards for a touchdown as time expired. Billy Bennett's point after gave Georgia a 20-7 lead and momentum that would only grow. It was one of four Volunteer turnovers and Georgia's first fumble return for a touchdown since Cap Burnett had a 4-yard score in the 2000 Oahu Bowl, Jim Donnan's last game.

"Fortunately the ball rolled around and there was green grass in front of me," Jones said.

"It was one of those great moments for a defense," VanGorder said. After Tennessee went four-and-out on the first possession of the second half, Georgia put together its most impressive drive of the season, going 78 yards in 15 plays and going up 27-7 on a 6-yard touchdown run by Michael Cooper with 9:09 left in the third quarter. It was the first of the Bulldogs' 21 points in two minutes, 35 seconds and the beginning of the end for Tennessee.

On the first play of the Vols' next drive, Pollack ran over tackle Sean Young and hit Clausen, who threw a wobbly ball that was picked off and returned to Tennessee's 5-yard line by Thurman.

Three plays later, running back Tyson Browning scored on an 8-yard touchdown run to put Georgia ahead 34-7 with 7:36 left.

On the second play of Tennessee's next drive, defensive lineman Kedric Golston tipped a Clausen pass that was intercepted by fellow lineman Robert Geathers at the Tennessee 22-yard line, setting off an ugly scene. 

First the Vols' Jabari Davis was flagged for a personal foul. That set off a scrum between several players that led to Georgia linebacker Derrick White being ejected from the game for throwing a punch at Fleming.

"That kind of shows a team falling apart," Gary said. "That shows (Tennessee's) character."

The Bulldogs' offense seemed unfazed by the commotion and scored on their first play, a 22-yard run by freshman running back Kregg Lumpkin with 6:34 left in the quarter.

Georgia has two games it will be heavily favored to win, against Vanderbilt and UAB, coming up next, but Richt was unwilling to discuss anything but the obvious after Saturday's win.

A "We're in good shape, but everybody is still in the race," he said. "Right now we're just in the lead by one game. There's not a lot of margin for error."

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