A muffed punt set up a 37-yard Georgia touchdown drive that widened the gap to 24-7, however, and the Dawgs went on to hammer the Vols 41-14.
One week after winning the turnover battle 4-0 at LSU, the Vols lost it 3-0 at Georgia. All three miscues occurred in those disastrous first 24 minutes, getting the Dawgs amped up and the Sanford Stadium crowd pumped up.
"I don't care who you play, when you spit the ball up four times in your territory in the first half ... we can't play anybody and expect to hang in there," Vol head man Derek Dooley said. "Especially a team that played the way Georgia played."
After going up 7-0 with a 73-yard drive, Georgia scored its next 17 points off of Tennessee turnovers. A pass interception at the Vol 49-yard line led to a field goal. A fumbled kickoff return set up a 41-yard touchdown drive and the muffed punt return set up a 37-yard TD drive.
Dooley clearly thought Vol defenders should've stepped up in some of those short-field situations. He conceded that the three turnovers were "devastating," then added: "But you know what? When you get a good defense, they go out there and go three and out."
Tennessee's defense wasn't getting three-and-outs on this day, however. It seemed disjointed and confused at times.
"We got affected by the events that happened in the game," Dooley said. "It looked like 90 percent of their (Bulldogs') plays were efficient. Every play they ran worked."
With both teams coming off disappointing losses a week earlier, a fast start projected to be crucial. It was.
Freshman quarterback Aaron Murray spearheaded the six-play, 73-yard drive, scrambling for nine yards and rambling 35 for the touchdown.
Things began to unravel for Tennessee at this point. A Matt Simms pass was tipped by Vance Cuff and intercepted by Bacarri Rambo at the Vol 49-yard line. Georgia went up 10-0 moments later on a 42-yard Blair Walsh field goal.
Eric Gordon returned the ensuing kickoff 30 yards but fumbled. Derek Owens recovered at the Vol 41, and Murray hit Rantavious Wooten with a nine-yard TD pass three plays later as the lead swelled to 17-0.
Tennessee rallied briefly, going 80 yards in six plays to pull within 17-7. Simms hooked up with freshman Justin Hunter for 28 yards to open the drive and found him for 38 yards to close it.
Gordon muffed the punt, however, and the Dawgs got a 22-yard TD pass from Murray to A.J. Green to reclaim the momentum. A 20-yard Walsh field enabled the hosts to go to the break leading 27-7.
It was all downhill from there. Georgia bumped the lead to 34-7 on the opening possession of the second half, Murray scrambling in from five yards out.
Tennessee retaliated with a 71-yard drive capped by a two-yard Tauren Poole TD run but Georgia answered with a 66-yard drive that eliminated what little suspense was remaining.
Murray finished 17 of 25 passing for 266 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran seven times for 41 yards and two more scores. His favorite target was A.J. Green, who caught six balls for 96 yards. Caleb King led the UGA ground attack with 58 yards on 13 carries.
Tennessee's Simms completed 9 of 13 passes for 179 yards, with one TD and one interception. Hunter caught four of the balls for 110 yards. Tauren Poole rushed for 51 yards on 15 carries but, counting sacks, the Vols managed a paltry nine net yards on 26 rushing attempts. Asked if that could be attributed to growing pains for UT's young offensive line, Dooley shrugged.
"I don't know that that's growing pains," he said. "We're just not very good."