KNOXVILLE -- Georgia did not look lethargic for a third consecutive time against Tennessee at Neyland Stadium.
Bulldogs coach Mark Richt made sure of it.
Richt set the tone for Saturday night's 20-12 triumph in Knoxville by going for first downs on fourth down on three occasions in the first quarter.
"It showed that he trusted us," quarterback Aaron Murray said. "Last week everyone was complaining that we should have gone for it, and we took that personally this week in practice. We did great in practice when it came to us earning his trust, and we made the plays tonight when we needed."
The first gamble occurred 55 seconds into the game, when a fourth-and-1 pitch from Murray to Isaiah Crowell on Georgia's 40-yard line gained 11 yards into Tennessee territory.
"I was surprised doing that on our side of the football field," Murray admitted, "but like I said, we had a great week in practice working on that kind of stuff."
Later in the opening drive, Crowell picked up 3 yards to the Tennessee 20 on a fourth-and-1 run. That drive ended with a 35-yard Blair Walsh field goal, and the Bulldogs rolled the dice again in the final minute of the first quarter from their own 43 when Murray sneaked for 2 yards on fourth-and-1.
Georgia had been 3-for-9 on fourth-down conversions before Saturday's 3-for-3 showing in the first 15 minutes.
"This week, we did a very good job of putting a plan together," Richt said. "I had more confidence in what the offensive staff put together, so I was more decisive with what to do because I had more faith in what we were doing and how we were going about it."
In last week's 24-10 win over Mississippi State, Richt was booed during the second half when he passed up a fourth-and-1 for a Walsh field goal that never got off the ground because of a low snap to holder Drew Butler. And in last December's 10-6 loss to Central Florida in the Liberty Bowl, the Bulldogs drove 95 yards to the UCF 3 on their opening possession only to eschew going for it on fourth-and-1 and settling on a 20-yard Walsh kick.
"We thought we were going to have to score some points tonight, and we had some early chances to keep the possession," offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. "On that first one, if they lined up the right way, we thought we would have that play. If they didn't line up right we would have called a timeout, but they lined up right and the kids did a great job of executing."
The Bulldogs had trailed 28-0 and 21-12 at halftime during their last two trips to Knoxville, but they went into intermission this time tied 6-6 and came out in the second half and took control. After Tennessee lost 13 yards in three plays to open the third quarter, Georgia marched 38 yards in eight plays to score the game's first touchdown and take a lead it would not relinquish.
Georgia ran 17 plays in the third quarter for 177 yards and scored two touchdowns, while the Vols ran 11 plays for 11 yards.
For the game, Murray completed 15 of 25 passes for 227 yards, with 126 of those going to freshman Malcolm Mitchell. Tennessee standout receiver Da'Rick Rogers had 71 yards, including 38 through the first three quarters.
"He's a talented a guy, and we had to be aware of him, but our players understood how to play him," Bulldogs defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. "We had to take the fight to him, but that's football."
Saturday's victory was the 100th for Richt, who is 58-29 in SEC games. The hot-seat talk that has accompanied him since the Liberty Bowl loss is certain to cool after the Bulldogs improved to 4-2 overall and 3-1 in league play entering this week's trip to Vanderbilt.
"We had a great celebration in the locker room," Richt said. "I am very humbled at the way the players and coaches responded to that victory and to me. A hundred victories is hard to believe, really, but I know these victories belong to everybody who has played during this time frame.
"I'm a blessed man."