KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – An energized Tennessee squad surged ahead of No. 1 Georgia twice in the first half, but the unbeaten Bulldogs overcame a second-quarter deficit to defeat the Vols, 41-17, in front of a Homecoming crowd of 100,074 on Saturday at Neyland Stadium.
UGA (10-0, 8-0 SEC) fell behind 7-0 and 10-7 after UT (5-5, 3-4 SEC) scored on two of its first three possessions, but tallied 27 unanswered points to pull away from the upset-minded Big Orange.
Tennessee wide receiver Cedric Tillman turned in an impressive performance. The redshirt junior hauled in 10 passes for 200 yards, marking his career bests in both categories, and tied a personal best with a touchdown reception. The 200 yards were the most recorded by a Vol receiver since Cordarrelle Patterson had 219 against Troy on Nov. 3, 2012.
Redshirt senior quarterback Hendon Hooker posted career highs for pass completions and attempts, going 24-for-37 and carding his third-best yardage total this season with 244. He threw for a touchdown and had an interception, only his third pick of the year.
Defensively, redshirt junior linebacker Jeremy Banks tied a career high set during the Ole Miss game with 15 tackles vs. Georgia. It was his fourth consecutive game with 10+ tackles after having no contests with more than nine in his first 30 outings. Senior cornerback Alontae Taylor also registered a career high in stops, coming up with 10 on the evening.
Georgia won the pregame coin toss and deferred, kicking off to the Vols. The Big Orange offense took advantage of the opportunity, starting the game with a statement and marching 77 yards in 10 plays. Hooker carried twice for 21 yards and completed three of four pass attempts for 21 more, including a nine-yard scoring toss to Velus Jones Jr. that gave the redshirt senior wide receiver a TD reception for the third consecutive game. Redshirt senior Chase McGrath booted the extra point through the uprights to put the home team on top, 7-0 with 11:43 to go in the opening quarter.
The Bulldogs responded on the next series, covering 78 yards in six plays, capped by running back James Cook’s 39-yard touchdown carry. Jack Podlesny added the PAT to knot the score at seven with 9:11 to go in the first quarter.
Following an exchange of punts, the Vols seized the lead back just before the end of the opening stanza. Tennessee methodically covered 76 yards in 13 plays, including a third-and-12 completion of 29 yards from Hooker to Tillman. After the drive stalled at the UGA seven, McGrath came on to drill a 24-yard field goal to make it 10-7 UT with 1:39 to go.
The Vols’ 10 first-quarter points were the most points Georgia has given up in any quarter this season. The Bulldog defense had not allowed a touchdown in the first period in 2021 prior to this game.
UGA tried to punch back and moved to the UT 22 before the Vols’ defense halted the Bulldogs’ progress. Georgia had to settle for a 40-yard Podlesny field goal to tie the game up at 10 with 9:42 left in the half.
After picking off a Big Orange pass with 8:56 to go before the intermission, the Bulldogs set up shop at the Tennessee 40. Georgia needed five plays to cash in, getting into the end zone on a nine-yard rush from quarterback Stetson Bennett. Podlesny’s PAT put the visitors up for the first time in the game, 17-10, with 7:24 remaining in the opening half.
UGA added another score with 37 seconds left in the half, getting a 23-yard pass from Bennett to Cook. Podlesny’s point-after allowed the Bulldogs to take a 24-10 lead into the locker room.
Georgia was the first to get on the board in the second half, but the Vols limited the Bulldogs to three points. After UGA earned a first down at the UT 15, the Big Orange defense came up with three straight stops and yielded only a Podlesny field goal that pushed the score to 27-10 with 4:41 remaining in the third period.
The Bulldogs added a pair of touchdowns and Podlesny PATs in the fourth frame. Cook had a five-yard run with 13:14 to go, and Kenny McIntosh contributed a five-yard scoring carry of his own with 7:03 remaining.
Redshirt junior quarterback Joe Milton III took over at quarterback late in the fourth quarter and led the Vols on a 10-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. The key plays on the march were a 53-yard pass play from Milton to Tillman and a 12-yard scoring connection between the duo. McGrath’s PAT gave the Vols 17 points for the contest, which is the most UGA has surrendered in 2021.
Next week, the Vols are back in action at Neyland Stadium, as they host the Jaguars of South Alabama. Kickoff is slated for 7:30 p.m., and the game will be televised on ESPNU. Tickets for the contest are available at AllVols.com.