There are several ways to contain Tennessee’s offense.
One, control the line of scrimmage.
Two, don’t get beat deep.
Three, don’t misalign or miscommunicate.
Georgia (9-0) checked all those boxes and held the Vols (8-1) to their lowest point total under Josh Huepel with an impressive 27-13 victory Saturday over the top-ranked team in the College Football Playoff ratings.
“We played with a chip,’’ said Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett, who completed 17 of 25 passes for 257 yards and accounted for three touchdowns. “We’re the reigning No. 1 and you have to come play us on our home field.’’
Tennessee wasn’t up to the task.
The Vols’ offensive line, which played so well in a win over Alabama, was dominated by Georgia’s front seven. The Bulldogs, who had 10 sacks in eight games, recorded a season-high eight sacks and forced two fumbles.
And Georgia’s frenzied fans, who some suggested would not be a factor, caused eight pre-snap penalties as the nation’s top-scoring offense never found a rhythm.
“We didn’t start well in any phase of the game,’’ said Heupel, whose offense was held without a first-half touchdown in 58 games as a head coach. “A lot of self-inflicted wounds. At the end of the day, I didn’t like the way we started.’’
Those self-inflicted wounds put Tennessee behind the chains and led to a miserable 2 for 14 on third-down conversions.
During one possession, a third-and-2 turned into a third-and-12 after two illegal procedure penalties. Another third-and-12 turned into a third-and-17 after another pre-snap penalty. In total, UT had 10 third-downs of at least 5 yards and five where UT needed at least 10 yards.
“Offensively, it wasn’t clean all night,’’ Heupel said. “It wasn’t efficient. We couldn’t finish the job. Our staff and players have got to own this one.’’
Heupel was frustrated by the missed third down attempts.
“You’re not going to sustain anything (if you can’t convert on third down) so you’ve got to create some big plays and we didn’t create big plays.’’
Georgia’s defense, ranked No. 1 in the SEC against scoring and total yards allowed, limited UT’s run game to 94 yards on 42 carries. It harassed Hooker all day. The receivers seldom got open. And Hooker, in a rare occurrence, didn’t find a couple of receivers open downfield.
“Definitely, the game plan, they didn’t want us to go deep,’’ said UT receiver Cedric Tillman, who caught seven passes for 68 yards. “They wanted us to throw short routes.
“Obviously, they are a great coached team and they did what they were supposed to do.’’
Tillman admitted Georgia’s crowd got to the Vols.
“One of the things you can’t do is let the crowd get involved,’’ Tillman said. “That had an impact on us.’’
Heupel said UT didn’t communicate on offense as well as it should have.
“We didn’t handle the noise, the energy, the atmosphere,’’ Heupel said.
UT not only scored a season-low 13 points, the Vols had just 289 total yards, about 280 below its season average.
“We didn’t play our best football,’’ Heupel said. “Credit Georgia, which is a really good team.’’
Too good for Tennessee.
Georgia clearly is the more talented team. And it did something few have been able to do – throttle UT’s offense.
Georgia’s goal was to hold UT under 30 points.
The Bulldogs did that with ease.
The win put Georgia right back in position as a favorite to be in the College Football Playoff.
And made the Vols path to Atlanta and the CFP that much harder.