The numbers don’t lie. Georgia thrived in the second half of its 44-21 victory over Tennessee.
The Bulldogs put up 27 unanswered points against the Volunteers on Saturday night after carrying a 21-17 deficit into halftime. Tennessee’s offense was pushed back 20 yards rushing in the second half, passed for 91 and committed three turnovers. The Volunteers were held to 1.8 yards per play, while Georgia averaged 6.2 in the second half.
Reactions to second-half dominance vary across the team. For one, Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett wants to fix the Bulldogs’ first-half offensive performance.
There were plenty of offensive mistakes for him to reflect on — from a botched snap in the first half recovered for a touchdown by Tennessee’s Kivon Bennett to a failed fourth-and-goal attempt feet away from the goal line before halftime.
“Yeah, you want to be known as a second-half team, but not if it’s because the first half you played horrible,” Bennett said in a virtual press conference after the game.
Head coach Kirby Smart said on Zoom he thinks this year’s Georgia team adjusts well. He’s proud of the effort and momentum the defense created with turnovers and stops, but acknowledged poor offensive execution can get in the way of second-half comebacks.
Georgia’s offense eventually put the game away after halftime, but two pivotal turnovers early in the third quarter, a forced fumble recovered by Azeez Ojulari and an interception from Eric Stokes, started Georgia drives deep in Tennessee territory.
Despite the good field position on both drives, they each ended in a field goal by Jack Podlesny and barely allowed the Bulldogs to pull away. Smart said he was disappointed by those outcomes.
“I told the team after the game, we come out, gain all momentum back, and then we let them get the momentum by holding us to a field goal,” Smart said. “We got a chance to put somebody away. That’s what good teams do, man, they get momentum and they just run with it. We didn’t do that.”
Georgia’s defense will take away much of the praise after the Tennessee game, and it’s easy to see why. Through three games, the Bulldogs have allowed just over 32 rushing yards per game on average. The Vols’ run attack, which put up 365 rush yards in its first two games against South Carolina and Missouri combined, was held to minus-1 against Georgia. The Bulldogs sacked Guarantano five times and allowed the Volunteers to convert on four of its 17 third-down attempts.
Ojulari said big plays on defense boost the offense later in the game. His take was proven accurate, as Georgia scored 13 points in the third quarter and 14 in the fourth off the defense’s crushing effort against the Volunteers.
“We just keep feeding off each other’s energy and just keep playing hard and physical,” Ojulari said in a postgame Zoom conference. “[We are] just playing Georgia football.”
Senior linebacker Monty Rice, who scored the Bulldogs’ last touchdown in the fourth quarter off the second forced Guarantano fumble, said Georgia’s halftime mentality kept them going through the second half.
He said it’s a message where you control what you can, give credit where it’s due but realize the mistakes made in the past without letting them make you squirm.
“Just don’t flinch,” Rice said.