"(Richt) has nerves of steel,'' said offensive tackle Jon Stinchcomb.
How big was the gamble? To that point, Milton had netted one yard on four carries. On third down, Milton had been stuffed for no gain on a run up the middle.
Another defensive stop would have provided an added momentum boost to the Tennessee offense, which then would have been perhaps one big play away from winning the game. But after leaning on his defense and special teams for three quarters, Richt gave his offense a big vote of confidence.
"I just went in the huddle and told the guys the game is in our hands,'' said quarterback David Greene. "I said 'How bad do you want it?'"
Needing only two yards to clinch the win, Milton instead ran for 25 yards before he was knocked out of bounds at the Tennessee 10.
"We knew we had to get one first down, just one first down (to run out the clock),'' Richt said. "I hate it that it took four downs, but we got it.''
Similarly, in the season opener against Clemson, Richt sparked some second-guessing by successfully going for the first down on fourth-and-one from the Georgia 39 with 40 seconds left and the Bulldogs clinging to a 31-28 lead.
In each case, the statement from Richt, and the performance from his team, was bold and confident. The big run from Milton clinched a win over Tennessee for the third straight year and triggered another celebration from Georgia fans.
Unlike the 2000 home win over the Vols, the Georgia fans didn't storm the field and attack the hedges or goal post, but perhaps the fans sense there may be greater cause for celebrations later in the year.
"We have an opportunity to do something special,'' Richt said. "But every single game in the next five games, every single game is for the Southeastern Conference championship and (Georgia players) need to treat it that way.''
Each of the three wins over the Vols has been a landmark. In 2000, Georgia ended a streak of nine straight losses in the series. In 2001, Georgia won at Knoxville for the first time since 1980. And this year, Georgia beat a top 10 team from the Southeastern Conference at home for the first time since 1976 and moved to 6-0 overall and 3-0 in the SEC for the first time since 1982. For the record, 1976 and 1982 were SEC championship seasons for Georgia, and with Saturday's win before a Sanford Stadium sellout crowd of 86,520, the Bulldogs are officially stamped as the favorite in the SEC East.
"Everything is just working right,'' said senior linebacker Boss Bailey in attempting to explain what has kept Georgia undefeated for the first half of the season.
Everything? The offense, though impressive at times in last week's win at Alabama, has yet to hit stride on a consistent basis, but Georgia's defense and special teams delivered efforts worthy of a championship contender against Tennessee (4-2 overall, 1-2 SEC).
Bailey blocked a 44-yard field goal attempt by Tennessee's Phillip Newman in the second quarter. Reggie Brown blocked a punt through the end zone for a safety in the first quarter. Billy Bennett was perfect on field goal attempts from 27, 44 and 47 yards.
Brown caught an 11-yard scoring pass from David Greene in the third quarter for Georgia's only touchdown, and that provided enough cushion for the Bulldogs to win despite having only 29 yards rushing on 19 carries from Musa Smith.
Smith left the game in the fourth quarter with a jammed neck, but the injury is not thought to be serious. Tennessee star receiver Kelley Washington was held to two catches for minus-13 yards through three quarters before adding a 45-yarder in the final quarter. The Georgia defense gave up a few long runs but played well enough to keep the Vols off the scoreboard for three quarters. Tennessee quarterback Casey Clausen was held out with a shoulder injury. C.J. Leak was the fill-in starter, but true freshman James Banks saw more time.
The elusive Banks rushed for 35 yards on 14 carries and completed 10 of 15 passes for 168 yards and a touchdown. Banks' scrambling which sapped the Georgia defense, but still the Vols would have preferred to have Clausen.
Asked if he believed Tennessee would have won with Clausen, Washington said "Definitely.'' "I definitely feel like we would have won the game with Casey in there,'' Washington said. "... Casey can do a lot of things that we were not able to do today because of inexperience at quarterback.''
But, said Vols coach Phillip Fulmer: "Give Georgia a lot of credit for the win. They are a good team.''
Charles Odum is the beat writer for Dawg Post in Athens. He has over 20 years of experience covering Georgia football. He can be reached here: CEOdum@aol.com
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