Dawg whuppin'

Several unexpected developments combined Saturday at Neyland Stadium to produce an outcome that was ... well, unexpected.

A Tennessee ground attack that sputtered throughout the first four games of the season cranked out 190 yards.

A Tennessee rushing defense that was awful through the first four contests limited a good Georgia run game to just 69 yards on 25 carries.

A Tennessee punt coverage unit that ranked dead last nationally at 28.8 yards per return limited the Bulldogs to 11 yards on two runbacks.

A Tennessee offense that routinely failed to convert on third-and-short in Games 1-4 succeeded with stunning regularity in Game 5.

And a Tennessee attack whose previous attempts at gadget plays backfired miserably scored a tide-turning touchdown on a 56-yard flanker pass from Lucas Taylor to LaMarcus Coker.

The result: A Tennessee team that looked fundamentally unsound and generally incompetent in September opened October with a smashing 35-14 upset of 12th-ranked Georgia.

Coming off an open-date week, the Vols appeared to be significantly better in rushing offense, rushing defense, punt coverage and short-yardage offense than they were in Games 1-4.

Head coach Phillip Fulmer hinted in his post-game comments that the dramatic improvement was more a matter of eliminating disastrous plays than it was producing great plays.

"It's been a battle," he said. "We're a young football team in a lot of places. We're young and sometimes we act kind of stupid, to be honest with you. We do stupid things. But we're doing FEWER stupid things ... and that made a big difference."

The main reason for the upgrade in Tennessee's ground game was Arian Foster. Showing a burst he hadn't exhibited since his freshman season, the junior tailback rushed 17 times for 98 yards and three touchdowns. Montario Hardesty, back from a sprained ankle that caused him to miss Games 3 and 4, chipped in 68 yards and a TD on 14 carries.

Meanwhile, the main reason for the upgrade in Tennessee's run defense was better shedding of blockers and better tackling. The defense also got a huge assist from Britton Colquitt, whose booming kickoffs kept Georgia in mediocre field position most of the afternoon.

"The kicking game showed up because we worked like hell on it," Fulmer said. "Short yardage ... we worked like heck on it to get it to where we want to get to."

As for the razzle-dazzle pass play from Taylor to Coker, it was a case of making the perfect call at the perfect time.

"When you start getting pressured man-to-man, that guy (Coker, coming out of the backfield) can get lost," Fulmer said.

Oddly enough, quarterback Erik Ainge – cast in the unlikely role of blocker – got just enough of a hard-charging defensive end for Taylor to unload his pass a split-second before he was blasted to the turf.

"I don't know that Erik Ainge made a crunching block," Fulmer deadpanned, "but he got in the guy's way long enough for us to get it off. It's a little bit of a risk but the rewards are high if you get it done."

Given how poorly Tennessee's defense played in Games 1-4, Vol fans surely groaned when Georgia won the coin toss and elected to receive. Tennessee's defense forced a three-and-out, however, and that seemed to give UT's players and fans alike a lift.

The Vol offense crisply marched 81 yards in 12 plays with its opening possession, Foster scoring from nine yards out for a 7-0 lead.

Taylor hit a wide-open Coker with the flanker pass on the first play of the second quarter, boosting the lead to 14-0. Ellix Wilson blocked a Brian Mimbs punt moments later, then Tennessee raced 48 yards in seven plays to go up 21-0. Hardesty did the honors with a 10-yard burst off right tackle.

The Vols weren't through, however. After another three-and-out by Georgia, Ainge hit freshman Denarius Moore with a 34-yard pass and two plays later Foster bolted 22 yards around right end for a score that widened the gap to 28-0.

Georgia finally dented the scoreboard with a seven-play, 74-yard touchdown drive in the third quarter but Tennessee responded with a 13-play, 65-yard drive that ate up 7 minutes and 10 seconds. Foster knifed over left tackle for the TD, putting the Vols on top 35-7 entering the final period.

The Bulldogs concluded the scoring with a two-yard fourth-quarter pass from Matthew Stafford to Tripp Chandler.

Ainge finished 17 of 22 passing for 165 yards. Taylor, in addition to throwing his pass to Coker, led the Vols in receiving with six catches for 50 yards. Austin Rogers added five grabs for 61 yards.

Georgia tailbacks Knowshon Moreno (13 carries for 30 yards) and Thomas Brown (six for 20) were stifled by a swarming Vol defense. That put a bigger burden on Stafford, who completed just 16 of 33 passes for 174 yards.

Georgia slips to 4-2 overall and 2-2 in SEC play. Tennessee, 3-2 and 1-1, bore little resemblance to the team that was mauled by Cal (45-31) and Florida (59-20) in September.

"We put it together much better tonight," Fulmer said. "It's only a start for us, a step in the right direction, but I'm really proud to get this done tonight."

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