Tennessee tops Georgia

KNOXVILLE, TN – Tennessee took back Neyland Stadium from Georgia on Saturday.

In fact, the Volunteers took quite a bit from the No. 12 Bulldogs in a 35-14 victory. That top 15 ranking will be a memory by this evening; any realistic hope of winning the SEC East championship is gone, and whatever pride Georgia had is on life support after the worst drubbing of the Mark Richt era.

"I believe we're a better football team than showed up today, but you have to give them credit," said Richt, who freely broached the subject of depth chart changes. "They showed up ready to go."

Richt's team clearly did not. The Bulldogs' 23-3 road record under their head coach was mocked by the Volunteers and their 107,052 fans. Georgia (4-2, 2-2 SEC) had won three straight games on the Volunteers' home field but looked Saturday like it had never seen any football field, much less the turf at Neyland Stadium.

"They whupped us," senior center Fernando Velasco said. "They beat us in every aspect of the game."

It was only the second loss of more than 20 points in the Richt era, joining the 34-13 loss to LSU in the 2003 SEC Championship Game.

The halftime statistics, which might has well have been the game statistics considering the outcome was decided by the time the Volunteers (3-2, 1-1) trotted to the locker room with a 28-0 lead at the break: 59 yards, two first downs, four penalties and seven punts for Georgia; 291 yards, 14 first downs and two punts for Tennessee.

The Volunteers scored touchdowns on four of their first five possessions to put the Bulldogs in their deepest halftime hole since Richt arrived in 2001. It never got any better as a Tennessee team given up for dead after a 59-20 loss to Florida three weeks ago reclaimed a place in the SEC East race. "There was a lot of apprehension going into this football game," Volunteers coach Phil Fulmer said. "You guys don't understand how much these players care about their coaches and this program. They were really excited to come out here today and play this game and prove some of those people who may have doubted us wrong."

The Volunteers were the SEC's second-worst rushing team but averaged 4.3 yards per carry and 6.1 per play against a Bulldog defense that was ranked third in the league and 23rd in the nation. Tennessee had 411 yards and 21 first downs overall.

"We're not finding a way to make a stop," Richt said. "There are an awful lot of one-on-one situations going on out there, and we're not winning many of them. We've got to defeat a block and make a play."

Tennessee also was the SEC's second-worst defense but smothered sophomore quarterback Matthew Stafford and company, allowing just 69 rushing yards, 259 fewer than Georgia had a week ago. Starting tailback Thomas Brown left the game injured, and Stafford was lucky he didn't.

Sacked just once but harassed all night, Stafford was 16-of-33 for 174 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.

"I think (the Volunteers) were ready, and I don't know how ready we were," offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. "I didn't get them ready to play. It's not good any time you come out and get your butts whipped, which is what happened today. We didn't get off to a good start, and then, in a hostile environment, I didn't think we reacted very well."

The Bulldogs trailed 35-7 before they gained their 158th yard. They finished with 243 yards.

Georgia has to return to the state of Tennessee next week to play Vanderbilt in Nashville at 6 p.m. on Saturday. Last year's 51-33 loss to the Volunteers threw the Bulldogs into a tailspin in which they lost four of five games.

And that game seemed competitive compared to this year's version.

"Just like I told the team, we have to focus on beating Vanderbilt, period," Richt said. "If there are changes made, it'll be strictly made on performance, it won't be made because somebody is bent out of shape. I told them we may not make a change at all. The bottom line is once we decide what we're going to do, we have to work extremely hard on getting a plan ready to beat Vanderbilt."

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