College football: No. 3 Georgia shuts down No. 1 Tennessee, remains unbeaten
In the biggest games, Stetson Bennett seems to rise to the occasion and above his often more heralded counterparts.
The Bulldogs (9-0, 6-0 SEC) were No. 3 in the first College Football Playoff rankings released Tuesday, while the Volunteers were No. 1. In the Associated Press top 25 poll, Georgia was No. 1 and Tennessee was No. 2.
The Bulldogs turned the 25th regular-season matchup of the top two teams in the AP poll into a rout that made it clear the defending national champions are still the team to beat.
Bennett improved to 23-3 as a starter at Georgia.
“Competitive excellence, competitive toughness,” said Georgia coach Kirby Smart when asked about Bennett’s ability to shine on the grandest of stages.
“He’s a winner. Let’s be honest. The guy knows how to win.”
USC looks to keep on pace in the Pac-12 standings when they face California at the Coliseum. The Trojans must improve on defense to do so.
Bennett passed for 257 yards, completing 17 of 25 attempts. He had a 13-yard scoring run in the matchup against Hooker, regarded as a Heisman Trophy favorite. Maybe Bennett should be now?
Bennett insisted his only motivation was for the team’s hopes of returning to the SEC championship game, not for his personal validation “because at the end of the day we’re playing for the East, and if we lost it’s a lower percentage we’re playing in Atlanta.”
Added Bennett: “I don’t really care about quarterback vs. quarterback.”
“I kind of feel like it was a statement win,” said Georgia wide receiver Ladd McConkey, who had five catches for 94 yards and a touchdown.
In a deafening and soggy Sanford Stadium, the Bulldogs led 27-6 before the Volunteers scored their first touchdown with 4:15 remaining.
Hooker, whose Heisman hopes were bolstered by a win over Alabama last month, passed for just 195 yards for Tennessee (8-1, 4-1). Hooker was sacked six times by star defensive tackle Jalen Carter and the Bulldogs.
Tennessee wide receiver Jalin Hyatt said Georgia’s defense was “way more physical than Alabama.”
Five-star quarterback Nico Iamaleava and Warren High’s football season ends in playoff loss to Sierra Canyon. Now he can focus on his college days.
Georgia’s special teams put more pressure on Tennessee. Punter Brett Thorson nailed a 75-yarder that went out of bounds at the Tennessee one-yard line in the first quarter. Jack Podlesny kicked two field goals.
Hooker threw an interception, lost a fumble that nearly resulted in a safety for Georgia, and didn’t throw a touchdown pass.
“They are a great ball team,” Hooker said. “They played extremely hard, and they got the win today. We have got to clean some things up. It is a learning process.”
The Volunteers came in averaging almost 50 points per game.
Tennessee rode that victory over Alabama to the top spot in the first CFP rankings. Those rankings will change Tuesday.
The Volunteers were held to two first-half field goals as Georgia took a 24-6 halftime lead. Rain in the second half made it only more difficult to move the ball against the Bulldogs’ defense.
Bennett threw scoring passes of 37 yards to McConkey and five yards to Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint in the first half.
There were more big plays in Georgia’s passing game. Bennett had completions of 52 yards to Arian Smith and 49 yards to running back Kenny McIntosh.
Tennessee: The Volunteers struggled in the big-game atmosphere, especially on offense. Crowd noise contributed to a series of false starts and illegal procedure calls.
Tennessee’s playoff hopes are far from gone, but the Volunteers are going to need some help.
Georgia: Coming into the game, no team in the Football Bowl Subdivision had more plays of at least 30 yards than Tennessee with 36.
Against the Bulldogs, the Volunteers’ longest play was a 28-yard pass to Hyatt.
After the Bulldogs lost outside linebacker Nolan Smith, Georgia’s leader with three sacks, to a season-ending injury last week, his replacement, Robert Beal, left game in third quarter because of a neck injury. Chaz Chambliss took over for Beal. ... Tennessee running back Jabari Small was taken to the medical tent in the first quarter because of a shoulder injury. Jaylen Wright took over as the lead running back.
Mo Osling III is in his first year as a full-time starter at UCLA and the defensive back leads the No. 12 Bruins with 52 tackles.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp ordered all flags in the state, including at Sanford Stadium, to be lowered to half-staff Saturday in honor of former longtime Georgia coach and athletic director Vince Dooley, who died at 90 on Oct. 28.
Georgia players wore a patch on their uniforms honoring Dooley, who won 201 games, the 1980 national championship and six SEC titles.
For the second week, Georgia players also wore a helmet decal honoring Bulldogs legend Charley Trippi, a Pro and College Football Hall of Famer who died Oct. 19. There was a moment of silence for Dooley and Trippi before the game.
Tennessee returns home to play Missouri on Saturday. The Volunteers have won the last three games in the series, including a 62-24 victory at Missouri in 2021.
Georgia begins a stretch of back-to-back SEC road games when it plays at Mississippi State on Saturday night. Georgia has won the last three games in the series.
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