Saturday, October 11, 2008

#10 Dawgs Dominant Over Vulnerable Vols 26-14

Athens, Georgia — When Georgia’s offense took the field early in the fourth quarter Saturday, Matthew Stafford laid it on the line.

“I challenged the guys before that drive,” the Georgia quarterback said. “I said, ‘We know we’re running the ball. They know we’re running it. What are you gonna do about it?’”

Stafford’s offensive line — hurt this season by youth, injury and inconsistency — did what few may have expected. They allowed the Bulldogs to, in essence, run out the clock on a victory over Tennessee.

The drive covered 76 yards in 17 plays, included two passes, and produced a 28-yard Blair Walsh field goal that made the final score 26-14. But the important part was that the drive lasted a whopping 10 minutes and 55 seconds.

“I kept telling them in the huddle, ‘You’re taking over the game!’” Stafford said.

“It took away any chance of a comeback [Tennessee] had,” fullback Brannan Southerland said. “Exactly what we needed when we needed it.”

Truth is, Georgia should have had the game in hand before then. But two turnovers in the red zone — interceptions of Stafford passes — had kept the Vols close. The turnovers not only prevented Georgia scores, but wound up leading to Tennessee’s two touchdowns. On another occasion, Georgia settled for a field goal after A.J. Green dropped a Stafford pass in the end zone.

So the Bulldogs clung to a 23-14 lead when its offense decided to play keep-away in the fourth quarter. On the drive, Georgia repeatedly ran to the left side — the same side of the line that had lost tackle Vince Vance to an apparently serious knee injury in the second quarter. It didn’t matter which tailback Georgia had in the game, Knowshon Moreno or Caleb King. The yards — the first downs — kept coming.

“The toss sweep was working,” said tight end Bruce Figgins, on the field for all but three plays on the drive, “and I think Tennessee was hurting a little more than we were. We manned up right there.”

Said coach Mark Richt: “I think our offensive line grew up to a certain degree.”

“We took this whole game as a challenge,” offensive tackle Clint Boling said, “especially after what happened last year,” a 35-14 loss at Tennessee.

The fourth-quarter drive was one of two remarkable possessions Saturday by a Georgia offense that otherwise sputtered at times, particularly in the red zone. The other key drive came at the close of the first half, immediately after Tennessee had scored its first touchdown to cut Georgia’s lead to 13-7.

“We needed to regain the momentum there,” Stafford said.

From its own 3-yard line, the Bulldogs went 97 yards in just two minutes and eight seconds — the opposite end of the spectrum from the fourth-quarter drive.

The drive started slowly, two Moreno runs netting just two yards, but then a series of Stafford completions moved the Dogs hastily down the field. From the Tennessee 9, with nine seconds left in the half, Stafford found Mohamed Massaquoi in the end zone.

“I love those situations,” Stafford said. “As a quarterback, you got to.”

The win, which improved Georgia to 5-1 (2-1 SEC), wasn’t all about offense. The defense limited the Vols to one yard net rushing and just 10 first downs — and enjoyed watching most of the fourth quarter from the sideline.

“I had to sort of figure out what to do,” cornerback Asher Allen said with a smile. “We would love for that to happen all the time.”


Sources: WSB, Photo Credit AP

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