It took Tennessee just seven seconds to blow a fourth quarter lead for the fourth time this season. But in a game that featured as many plot twists as an M. Night Shyamalan movie, the Vols refused to let their second half curse define them Saturday.
Josh Dobbs scampered for a 5-yard touchdown with 5:48 left to play in the game, and Tennessee’s defense held down its end of the bargain to cement a come-from-behind, 31-24, win over No. 19 Georgia in Neyland Stadium, snapping a five-game losing streak to the Bulldogs.
Dobbs threw for 312 yards, rushed for 118 more and accounted for five total touchdowns as Tennessee (3-3, 1-2 Southeastern Conference) roared back from a 24-3 deficit for its first SEC win of the season.
"Very, very gutty performance," Butch Jones said. "He made plays when we had to. I thought our receivers stepped up, made some big plays. We were able to catch in advance. We talked about playing complementary football in all three phases. We gave them 14 points in the first half, but then you go on and you outscore a good football team 35 to 7. It speaks volumes.”
The game started about as bad as the Vols could have hoped for, and it seemed as if the same miscues and blown chances that have plagued the team for much of the 2015 season would be its undoing once again.
After methodically driving down to Georgia’s 4-yard line with 6:14 to play in the first quarter, running back Jalen Hurd fumbled into the hands of Leonard Floyd, who rumbled 96 yards for a touchdown to put the Bulldogs up 7-0.
An Aaron Medley field goal pared the lead down to four, but a 28-yard touchdown catch by Malcolm Mitchell extended Georgia’s lead to 14-3 at the start of the second quarter.
The turning point in the game, however, came after Reggie Davis returned a punt 70 yards for a touchdown to give Georgia a 24-3 lead. Tennessee began a drive with 3:16 to play in the half when Josh Smith plucked a Dobbs pass out of the air on fourth-and-eight and sprinted into the end zone to cut the score to 24-10.
Georgia fumbled the ensuing kickoff and Tennessee recovered, wasting no time at all to make it a one-score game when Alvin Kamara hauled in a 2-yard touchdown pass.
“It’s awesome having that trust of my teammates," Dobbs said. 'I trust these guys with everything on and off the field. I love my teammates. I’ll do anything for them. I tell them that all the time. We did a great job of having each other’s back – offense, defense, and special teams.”
The second half became a seesaw affair in which the two teams traded blows on the chin. Tennessee scored twice in the third quarter, once on a Josh Dobbs 1-yard run before Kamara found paydirt again on another 2-yard pass, for Tennessee’s first lead of the night. But on the first play of the fourth quarter, Lambert found Davis on a 48-yard touchdown strike to tie the game and bring a deafening Neyland Stadium to silence.
Tennessee shed its persona as a team that can’t seal the deal, however, systematically moving the ball on Georgia’s defense and ending the eight-play, 78 yard drive with Dobbs’ fifth touchdown of the night to put Tennessee ahead 38-31 to seal the win and enter a bye week with as much positive momentum that can be mustered.
“It give us confidence as a team. It lets us know we’re good," left tackle Kyler Kerbyson said. "It just felt like everything was slipping away in those three losses, but this one really changes your mindset as a player and lets you know you’re a really good team and you guys mesh really well. This was definitely huge for us.”