How fitting that when Mark Richt notched his 100th win as head coach of the Georgia Bulldogs Saturday night, it was in the same place that he won his first signature victory a decade earlier.
OK, this time there wasn’t quite the excitement of the famed “hobnail boot” comeback at Knoxville’s Neyland Stadium, but considering all the turmoil his program has been through the past three seasons, Georgia’s 20-12 win over SEC East rival Tennessee had to be one of the sweetest moments Richt has experienced in some time.
The Dogs got a crucial win in their quest to turn a season that started out 0-2 into a return trip to the Georgia Dome thanks to another stellar performance by Todd Grantham’s defense, which held the Vols to a stunning minus 20 yards for the night rushing and mostly limited UT’s hot-handed young QB, Tyler Bray, to short or medium completions.
The first half was a strange one, with both teams moving the ball up and down the field with relative ease (this despite Georgia’s Isaiah Crowell being off the field much of the time with a hurt wrist) and yet unable to get more than a pair of field goals each (and welcome back, Blair Walsh!)
Then, fortunately, the Dogs avoided the second-half doldrums that have plagued them the past couple of weeks, with Crowell scoring two touchdowns while the defense pitched a shutout in the third quarter.
The first scoring drive came after a poor Volunteers punt from their end zone gave Georgia the ball at the UT 38. With the help of a pass interference flag, the Dogs finally cashed in a drive. Then after the Vols were frustrated on the next drive (thanks to a video review that turned a touchdown reception into a fourth-and-3 punt), Aaron Murray hit Malcolm Mitchell for a 73-yarder that set up another TD run for Crowell, who was more effective in the second half, finishing with 58 yards on 18 carries.
The bad news was that Mitchell limped off the field with a hurt hamstring and sat out the rest of the game. Let’s hope he bounces back quickly from that, because the speedy freshman is a major weapon.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Georgia win if there weren’t flaws to chew over. The game shouldn’t have been that close, but Murray, who was a decent 15 of 25 for 227 yards passing on the night, overthrew wide open receivers several times.
And then in the fourth quarter Georgia self-destructed on a drive that had reached the UT 23-yard line before the Dogs seemingly decided to see how many penalties they could draw in one series of downs (the answer was five). Mike Bobo haters had good reason to froth at the mouth on that drive, as the UGA playcaller apparently decided to run up the white flag when it was second-and 56, handing the ball to Richard “One Yard and a Cloud of Dust” Samuel on two consecutive plays before Georgia punted, let UT get a good return and then allowed 15 more yards to be tacked on for a late hit.
The fact that Tennessee wasn’t able to turn all of that into points right away tells you how good the Georgia defense was, but when the Dogs got the ball back Bobo was back in his “I never met a lead I didn’t want to sit on” mode.
UT almost made a game of it, even after Bray went out with a hurt hand, as Tennessee tight end Mychal Rivera, who had five catches for 85 yards, made a spectacular grab of a pass from Vols backup Matt Simms at the 1 to set up a UT touchdown.
That’s where Tennessee’s poor special teams play made the difference, with the PAT blocked and then the onside kick attempt going out of bounds.
And so Georgia remains alive in the SEC East race.
Whew. As Richt told Chuck Dowdle in the locker room, “I’d like to see us have a little bit less drama in some of the games.”
This still isn’t a team where you want to look beyond the next week’s opponent, but as Richt noted, “If we just keep getting better, who knows?”
Feel free to share your views of Georgia’s big win in Knoxville.
Oh, and happy birthday to my Vols pal Joey. I have to admit I’m glad you didn’t get the present you wanted, but I hope otherwise it was a great day for you!
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