KNOXVILLE -- The first three plays were a indicator of what was to come.
Then the second-half meltdowns that haunted Tennessee last season reared their ugly heads.
After the Volunteers went three plays and punted to start the second half of a tie game, Georgia answered with two quick touchdowns as the Bulldogs won 20-12 on Saturday night in front of a capacity crowd of 102,455 at Neyland Stadium.
The win was the 100th in the career of Georgia coach Mark Richt, who is now 4-2 in Knoxville. After starting the season 0-2, the Bulldogs join South Carolina with just one loss in the Southeastern Conference's up-for-grabs East Division.
"We have the feeling that we are going in the right direction now," said Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray, who was 15-of-25 passing for 227 yards. "It was a big win for us and obviously it was Coach Richt's 100th win, so we were all pumped. He might not have said it all week -- he wasn't talking about it -- but all the players were talking about it in the locker room during the week.
"We wanted to win this because it was a big SEC game, but also wanted to win this for Coach Richt, too."
Similar to the Vols' defeat at Florida three weeks earlier, the greater loss might not have been on the scoreboard. UT quarterback Tyler Bray left the game with about five minutes left in the fourth quarter after he hit his throwing hand on the helmet of Georgia linebacker Christian Robinson while following through on a throw.
The sophomore left the field with his thumb heavily wrapped with ice.
"He's not a doctor, so he doesn't know," UT coach Derek Dooley said. "He hurt his thumb, that's what we knew, and we'll find out when we X-ray it."
Already without star receiver Justin Hunter, who sustained a season-ending knee injury in a 10-point loss to the Gators, UT could ill afford to lose their playmaking quarterback entering games against top-ranked LSU and second-ranked Alabama. Backup Matt Simms entered the game and led the Vols to their first touchdown of the night.
"He took us down for a score. That was something we didn't go do all game," Dooley said. "Of course, the situation was a little different. Matt's a senior, and I knew we were going to need him. He knew we were going to need him."
By then, the game was effectivel6 out of reach after the Bulldogs took a two-touchdown lead midway through the third quarter.
The teams combined for just six possessions in the first half after Georgia had three drives of 10 or more plays and UT had two drives that went 14 plays.
Georgia safety Bacarri Rambo tackled UT freshman tailback Marlin Lane for a 2-yard loss on the first play from scrimmage of the second half. Two plays later, center James Stone's snap went over the head of the 6-foot-6 Bray for a 15-yard loss.
Georgia drove 38 yards after Matt Darr's punt, and freshman Isaiah Crowell plunged in from a yard out after a pass-interference penalty in the end zone negated a third-down stop.
The Vols managed a first down on the next drive, but Lane lost yards on consecutive plays before catching a pass down the middle on third-and-16 and popping back up after Georgia linebacker Michael Gilliard tackled him 3 yards short of the first down.
Lane kept running for what appeared to be a 66-yard tying touchdown after the officials ruled that his knee didn't hit the ground. The call was correctly reversed, and UT punted.
Murray narrowly missed on two deep play-action passes in the first half, but the sophomore hit freshman receiver Malcolm Mitchell in stride for a 71-yard play. Crowell's touchdown run made it 20-6 with a little more than 10 minutes gone in the half.
The Vols were tied or within one possession of Oregon, Florida and Alabama in home games last season, but they lost those games by a combined 80 points.
"We came out in the third quarter and had a little meltdown for a couple of possessions," Dooley said. "We lost our composure a little bit. We pressed, got anxious and frustrated, and that was disappointing. We don't just stay calm and execute like good veteran football teams do."
Bray, who entered the game completing 68.5 percent of his passes, had completed 18 of 33 for 251 yards when he left the game. His streak of 10 games with at least two touchdown passes -- a mark previously held by Peyton Manning with seven -- came to an end.
Georgia's run might just be starting. The Bulldogs don't play Alabama, LSU or Arkansas from the SEC's West Division and now gave won four consecutive games.
"Coach Richt said at halftime that it was basically a 0-0 game, and that we had a fresh start after the half," said cornerback Brandon Boykin. "He wanted us to come out and play a fast second half, and I think we did that."
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...