ATHENS, Ga. — At halftime of Saturday afternoon's Georgia-Tennessee football game, Volunteers fifth-year senior quarterback Jarrett Guarantano had completed 11 of 13 passes for 124 yards and two touchdowns.
His passer rating was a phenomenal 215.5, and his Vols were pulling the 21-17 upset. Guarantano was 30 minutes away from his landmark victory, but they wound up being 30 incredibly long minutes.
Georgia forced two Guarantano fumbles and one interception after halftime, using a 27-0 surge to close out a 44-21 win.
"They stopped the run pretty well the whole day," Guarantano said after the onslaught. "We were able to take advantage of some of that in the passing game, but they made some good second-half adjustments. They came out with some different pressures and were able to get to me. On the one interception, their guy came free. I got hit, and the ball sailed on me.
"I thought I had two hands on the football all day in the pocket, but they did a good job of ripping it open and created turnovers."
Guarantano's passer rating wound up at 126.8, and a defining triumph rapidly gave way to a second consecutive year in which the Bulldogs pitched a second-half shutout.
"Everybody knows how good the Georgia defense is," he said. "That's not a surprise. Every single person who watches college football knows that they have the best defense in college football. We knew that, too."
Tennessee third-year coach Jeremy Pruitt was asked if he thought about pulling Guarantano in the fourth quarter.
"I don't really know how that would have helped," Pruitt said. "It starts with protection and getting guys open, and if you can't run the football, you've got a tough day's work."
The recruiting machine that has been Georgia under Kirby Smart was further evidenced Saturday by the play of several freshmen.
Running back Kendall Milton had eight carries for a team-high 56 yards against the Vols, while receiver Jermaine Burton made two catches for 26 yards. The 6-foot-1, 220-pound Milton did lose a fumble but displayed some punishing runs.
"I see our guys bounce off of him," Smart said. "He goes against our defense, and nobody is really fired up about tackling him. He had one run tonight where the refs were ready to blow the whistle, and he got seven more yards."
The first touchdown scored by a Bulldogs freshman this season went to Jalen Carter, a 6-3, 305-pound defensive lineman who caught a 1-yard pass from Stetson Bennett that extended Georgia's lead to 37-21 with 10:31 remaining.
Next in line
Any concerns Georgia might have endured after losing four-year starting kicker Rodrigo Blankenship have been eased by redshirt sophomore Jack Podlesny, who was 3-for-3 on field-goal attempts against Tennessee and made all five extra-point tries. Podlesny had a career-best kick of 47 yards and then topped it with a 51-yarder.
"We kicked more field goals this preseason than I've ever kicked in my life," Smart said. "We kicked so many field goals that I got sick of kicking field goals, but I knew what he could do. He was tried and battle-tested long before we took the field."
Georgia now holds a 25-23-2 series lead over the Vols. Tight end Tre McKitty, the graduate transfer from Florida State, made his Georgia debut Saturday and had a 19-yard reception late in the first quarter. Junior punter Jake Camarda had two kicks that averaged 56.5 yards. Smart on sophomore receiver George Pickens squirting his water bottle on Guarantano during the first half: "It was disappointing, and it's just silly behavior. When we squirt water on somebody, what are we, 7 or 8 years old?
Tennessee will hold a scrimmage Sunday night for players who did not travel to Athens or have yet to appear in a game this season, including some who were slowed during the preseason for reasons related to the coronavirus.
"We've really planned this out to give these guys an opportunity," Pruitt said. "There are a lot of guys on our team who haven't even scrimmaged this year, or they may not be playing right now. Some haven't really had an opportunity to show us what they can do, and it's not their fault.
"It's just the circumstances that we've had. We have a lot of guys who are talented but just haven't had the chance to play, and a lot of it has been because of the unknowns."
Odds and ends
Tennessee senior outside linebacker Deandre Johnson was ejected during the first quarter for a targeting call on Bennett. Pruitt on having to use eight timeouts the past two weeks on defense: "There were a couple times when we didn't have the right personnel on the field and had a few guys who got hurt. Sometimes you want to look and see what the other team is doing if it's a critical part of the game."