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October 11, 2008As far as opportunities go, 10th-ranked Georgia certainly had enough chances to make Saturday's game against Tennessee a little less nerve-wracking that it might ordinarily had been.
Just the same, although the Bulldogs were not exactly crisp in regards to their red zone efficiency, their 26-14 win before a sold out Sanford Stadium crowd of 92,747 was enough to ease head coach Mark Richt's mind.
"I don't think we're going to let the red zone get us in the tank too bad, other than we're going to look and see what we could have done better," Richt said. "You mostly can tell already what we can do better but right now we're happy for the victory, we gained some momentum back after that tough loss two weeks ago."
The final score could have been worse than it was.
Georgia (5-1, 2-1) finished 5-for-7 versus Tennessee in the red zone, but was forced to settle for three of Blair Walsh's four field goals. Two more opportunities were wasted on interceptions by quarterback Matthew Stafford, one in the end zone by Vol safety Eric Berry and another by defensive endRobert Ayers at the Tennessee 13.
"It was man-to-man and he (Berry) just did a great job of getting his hands on our receiver," Stafford said. "Our guy didn't even have a chance to run his route, I threw it to a spot and he ran the route for us and made the pick."
Obviously, the news wasn't all bad for Stafford and the Bulldogs.
The junior quarterback enjoyed his first 300-yard game of his collegiate career, completing 25-of-36 passes for 310 yards and one touchdown. Stafford's third-quarter interception was one of two picks he threw on the afternoon. Knowshon Moreno once again led Georgia's ground attack with 27 carries for 101 yards.
Georgia outgained Tennessee in total yardage, 458 yards to 209, all but one coming through the air.
"I know it wasn't too pretty. We had a chance to really open that game up and we didn't do it," Stafford said. "We had to kick four field goals and I threw two picks which killed the momentum. I was proud of the guys. The offensive line had a great game and we had a good drive in the fourth quarter when we were able to grind out the clock."
Stafford wasn't kidding.
The Bulldogs enjoyed a nine-point lead at 23-14 before effectively putting the game away with a 17-play, 76-yard drive that took 10:55 off the scoreboard clock. Walsh culminated the drive with his fourth field goal, a 28-yarder to account for the final 26-14 score with 2:49 to play.
Defensively, despite giving up a 60-yard pass to set up Tennessee's second touchdown, Georgia's defense was effectively able to stymie the Vols for most of the game.
Georgia held Tennessee to just one rushing yard on 15 attempts, and although the Bulldogs sacked quarterback Nick Stephens just twice, got enough pressure to keep the sophomore off-balance. Stephens finished the game 13-of-30 for 208 yards and two touchdowns.
"Obviously I'm disappointed with the loss," Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said. "Georgia is a very good team and I congratulate them. Our offense just couldn't get it going today. We have to make some plays to back up the defense who are putting eight men in the box."
It was a different Bulldog team that opened the game so lethargic two weeks ago against Alabama.
This time, after stopping Tennessee (2-4, 0-3) on its opening possession thanks to a sack of Stephens by Corvey Irvin, the Bulldogs started their first drive at their own 21-yard line and went right to work.
Methodical as it was, it took Georgia 11 plays to move down to the Tennessee 38 where the Bulldogs faced a third-and-10.
Georgia was able to convert and then some. Following a screen to fullback Shaun Chapas, the redshirt sophomore rumbled to the one, taking advantage of some excellent blocking from Clint Boling and Ben Jones to set up a 1-yard plunge by Brannan Southerland who was making his first appearance at fullback since off-season foot surgery.
The Bulldogs tacked on a pair of field goals of 34 and 20 yards from Walsh to push the lead to 13-0 with 12:54 left in the third before the Vols finally got on the board on a 2-yard pass from Stephens to Gerald Jones with 3:08 left in the half. The score was set up by a 60-yard pass from Stephens to Denarius Moore.
Tennessee had the momentum, and after kick returner Richard Samuelmisplayed the ensuing kickoff forcing Georgia to start from its 3-yard line with barely a minute to play in the half.
The Bulldogs faced a third-and-8 from the 6, but Stafford found Moreno for a 14-yard pickup to the 20. But sit on the ball? Not Georgia.
A subsequent 17-yard pass to Demiko Goodman in conjunction with a 15-yard personal foul on the Vols put the Bulldogs on 16 setting up a 9-yard pass two plays later from Stafford to Mohamed Massaquoi for a 20-7 halftime lead.
Massaquoi finished with five catches for 103 yards, while freshman A.J. Green caught a team-high seven passes for 53 yards.
Walsh's third field goal, a 41-yarder, came on the first play of the fourth quarter to put Georgia up 23-14 after Tennessee scored on a 12-yard pass from Stephens to Lucas Taylor to draw the Vols within six.
The Bulldogs host Vanderbilt next week and learn Sunday if the contest will be played at 12:30 or 8 p.m.