Saturday, the No. 10 Bulldogs weren’t enough of either. After spotting themselves a 17-point first-half lead, Georgia wilted in every phase of the game, and No. 13 Tennessee became just the second team ever to score more than 50 points in Sanford Stadium while rallying to 51-33 victory.
The Bulldogs led 24-7 after fullback Brannan Southerland scored on an 8-yard reception with 4:50 left in the second quarter, but its momentum under senior quarterback Joe Tereshinski stopped there. Everything else fell apart, too.
The collapse was most shocking on defense. The Bulldogs entered the game leading the nation in scoring defense but gave up 17 more points than they had in the first five games combined. Only Florida, 52 points in 1995, has scored more on Georgia’s home turf.
Tennessee scored on six consecutive possessions starting in the second quarter. Its total was the most points Georgia had given up anywhere since Georgia Tech scored 51 in 1999.
The Volunteers improved to 5-1 overall and 1-1 in the SEC, while Georgia lost for just the second time in the last seven games of this series and fell to 5-1 overall and 2-1 in the SEC. The Bulldogs return to Sanford Stadium this Saturday to play Vanderbilt.
Georgia almost saved itself on special teams as Mikey Henderson had an 86-yard punt return for a touchdown in the first half and Thomas Brown had a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the second half.
However, even that phase of the game let them down when Tennessee freshman Antonio Wardlaw blocked a Gordon Ely-Kelso punt and recovered it in the end zone with 12:52 remaining in the game to put the Volunteers ahead 38-27.
Brown’s kickoff return on the ensuing possession closed the gap to 38-33 with 12:34 remaining. Georgia’s defense couldn’t hold that gap, though.
Georgia found some offensive life in the first half under Tereshinski, who returned after missing three games due to an ankle injury. He was 7-for-9 passing for 127 yards and one touchdown in the first half as his much-maligned receiving corps made play after play.
Mohammed Massaquoi, A.J. Bryant and Southerland all made spectacular catches in the first half, but it was the Volunteers’ high-flying offense and opportunistic defense that had the last word.
Georgia held Robert Meachem, the nation’s third-most prolific wide receiver to two catches in the first half, but the Volunteers poked hole after gaping hole in the Georgia’s zone pass coverage in the second half.
The Tennessee defense did its part, too. Tereshinski was intercepted in Bulldog territory on two of the Georgia’s first three drives of the second half, and he fumbled away the ball on a last gasp fourth-quarter possession. On the Bulldogs’ first possession of the half, linebacker Ryan Karl tipped a pass that was intercepted by cornerback Antwan Stewart at Georgia’s 18-yard line. Tennessee scored seven plays later.
Tereshinski was picked off again in Bulldog territory on Georgia’s third possession of the half. This time cornerback Jonathan Wade stepped in front of a pass at the Bulldogs’ 36-yard line. Three plays later, Tennessee quarterback Erik Ainge found Meachem for a 15-yard touchdown to give the Volunteers a 31-27 lead with 14:18 left in the game.
As Tennessee’s offense ground out yards, Georgia’s reverted to bad habits. On their first four drives of the second half, the Bulldogs had an average starting field position of their own 10-yard line and gained a total of 93 yards.
Henderson’s return was the sixth-longest punt return in Georgia history and the longest since Jake Scott took one back 90 yards in 1968, also against the Volunteers. Georgia actually came within inches of blocking Britton Colquitt’s kick on the play Henderson scored, but a diving Ramarcus Brown missed the ball. Brown then got up put a dominating block on Colquitt to seal Henderson’s score.
Brown’s kickoff return was Georgia’s longest since Lindsey Scott returned one 99 yards against LSU.
Still, Georgia’s undefeated season was undone, and its quest to defend its SEC Championship took a step backward.