ATHENS -- Several days before the Georgia-Tennessee game, Mark Richt was fretting his team’s special-teams shortcomings. The UGA coach expressed alarm that, if not cleaned up soon, they could cost the Bulldogs a game.
They didn’t cost a game Saturday — Georgia had too much firepower for that — but they certainly caused a lot more concern.
Special-teams miscues figured prominently in a second-quarter meltdown that stunned the Sanford Stadium crowd, turned a 27-10 Georgia lead into a 30-30 halftime tie and set up a wild second half that ended with the Bulldogs a 51-44 winner.
“It was a little bit of a comedy of errors,” Richt said of Saturday’s special-teams breakdowns, which included two missed extra-point attempts and continued difficulty in fielding kicks.
Malcolm Mitchell made the wrong decision on whether to field a punt with about 11 minutes left in the second quarter, electing to let it roll and allowing Tennessee to down it at the Georgia 1. Four plays later, the Bulldogs had to punt from the lousy field position, giving Tennessee the ball at midfield. The Vols turned that into a touchdown that cut Georgia’s lead to 27-17.
Later in the quarter — after an Aaron Murray fumble set up an 8-yard Tennessee touchdown drive that cut Georgia’s lead to 27-23 — Todd Gurley stepped out of bounds with a kickoff at his 1-yard line, again creating field-position disaster for the Dogs. Four plays later, a Keith Marshall fumble at the 18 set up another short Tennessee scoring drive that gave the Vols a short-lived 30-27 lead.
“We made mistakes, but it takes a good team to come back and finish strong,” Gurley said. “We took the win back.”
Richt made a change in response to the kick-fielding woes: Former walk-on Rhett McGowan replaced Mitchell as the punt returner in the third quarter.
“Right now, as far as I’m concerned, Rhett’s the guy,” Richt said. “I need him to make a good decision. I don’t even care if he returns the ball.”
The first of Marshall Morgan’s two missed extra points Saturday hit the upright — his fourth this season to hit the goal post and the first of those not to go through — while the other was blocked. In another kicking miscue, Jamie Lindley booted a kickoff out of bounds, giving Tennessee the ball at the 35.
But there also were some important special-teams successes for Georgia. Morgan’s 50-yard filed goal at the end of the first half restored some momentum and pulled the Dogs even at 30-30. A blocked punt by Marc Deas at the Tennessee 47 in the third quarter led to a Georgia touchdown.
“I’m glad I made that 50,” Morgan said. “If I had missed that, it would have been bad. … I’m happy with my field goals right now. I’ve just got to work on the short ones.”
– Staff writer Chip Towers contributed to this article.
COMPLETE COVERAGE OF GEORGIA-TENNESSEE GAME: