KNOXVILLE — Tennessee had the opportunity Saturday to measure up against the very best college football has to offer.
The Volunteers came up way, way short.
Top-ranked Georgia easily made the No. 21 Vols its latest conquest with a 38-10 thumping inside a sold-out Neyland Stadium, marking the seventh consecutive series victory by the Bulldogs, with all seven transpiring by double digits. Georgia redshirt junior quarterback Carson Beck performed a pre-Thanksgiving carving by completing 24 of 30 passes for 298 yards and three touchdowns.
“I’m really proud of our resiliency,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “The kids knew it would be a tough environment, and they responded to a not-so-great start. We continue to improve and get better. All we’re trying to do is find the best version of ourselves.”
Georgia not only improved to 11-0 in its quest to become the first program to win three consecutive Associated Press national championships — the AP poll was unveiled in 1936 — but established a Southeastern Conference record with a third straight 8-0 league mark. The Bulldogs also equaled the SEC standard of 28 consecutive victories, which was set by Alabama during the 1978-80 seasons and matched by the 1991-93 Crimson Tide, and they can establish the mark at 29 in their regular-season finale next Saturday night at Georgia Tech.
With divisional play going away next season with the arrivals of Oklahoma and Texas, Smart wound up going 20-0 against SEC East teams in their home stadiums. His four trips to Neyland Stadium have resulted in triumphs by an average score of 41-10.
“That team has continued to get better throughout the course of the season,” Heupel said. “I don’t know how many first-round draft picks they’ll have, but they are still big, long, athletic and physical, and they play with great fundamentals and technique.
“That’s a good football team. To do what they’ve done, you have to be a good team.”
When asked his assessment of the two-time national champs, Tennessee senior linebacker Aaron Beasley said, “As far as talent goes, I feel like they’ve had a little more talent in the past, but what you see out of them is a very sound team. They play as a team, and that’s the common theme I’ve seen out of them.”
Jaylen Wright gave the Vols a 7-0 lead on the game’s first play from scrimmage with a 75-yard touchdown run, but Tennessee again had no answers when an opponent went on a scoring surge. The Vols previously allowed 26 consecutive points at Missouri, 27 straight at Alabama and 33 in a row at Missouri, and they had their quick 7-0 advantage Saturday turn into a 24-7 deficit until Charles Campbell’s 37-yard field goal at the halftime horn made it 24-10.
“I don’t think there is just one common thread,” Heupel said. “I thought in this one that our guys continued to compete in terms of trying to sustain and make competitive plays, and I feel like this was different from early in the year when we were at Florida.
“At the end of day, as a program, you’ve got to find a way to be good enough on a Saturday afternoon, and that’s from me, our assistants and everybody who suits up.”
The Vols dropped to 7-4 overall and 3-4 in SEC play heading into next Saturday afternoon’s regular-season finale against visiting Vanderbilt.
After falling behind 11 seconds into the game, Georgia took its first possession 51 yards in 11 plays before settling on a 42-yard Peyton Woodring field goal to pull within 7-3. The Bulldogs went ahead to stay at 10-7 on a nine-play, 65-yard second drive that culminated with an 18-yard touchdown pass from receiver Dillon Bell to a wide-open Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint.
Bell and Rosemy-Jacksaint were popular targets of Beck, combining for 12 receptions, 181 yards and three touchdowns.
The Bulldogs used a nine-play, 80-yard drive that consumed 5:02 of game clock to take a 17-7 lead at the 8:04 mark of the second quarter. Beck connected with All-America tight end Brock Bowers for 21 yards to the Tennessee 11, with the score from Beck to Bell transpiring from 9 yards out.
“We let their quarterback out early in the game to make some plays with his feet on third down,” Heupel said. “That let them sustain some drives.”
Georgia kept the pedal down with an eight-play, 71-yard touchdown drive that included another 21-yard hookup, this time from Beck to Bell, and ended with Beck’s 3-yard pass to Bowers that made it 24-7 with 1:31 before halftime.
The Bulldogs piled up 472 yards of total offense, went 9-of-13 on third-down conversions and racked up 40 minutes and 58 seconds of possession time. Tennessee was only 2-of-11 on third down and tallied 277 yards, including just 202 after the inaugural snap.
“There has been a lot of good ball played by the orange in this stadium for a while, but tonight that was certainly not it,” Heupel said. “It’s been a long time since we’ve looked up at scoreboards the way we have this year, but give Georgia credit. They’re a good football team, and they have been for a while.
“What they’ve done over these last couple of years is really special.”
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com.