FEELS LIKE ‘98: Riding its first 8-0 start since the undefeated 1998 national championship season, No. 2/3 Tennessee clashes with top-ranked Georgia at 3:30 p.m. Saturday in Athens. It represents just the third AP No. 1 vs. No. 2 regular season meeting between SEC teams in history. The other two were No. 1 LSU at No. 2 Alabama in 2011 and 2019. The road team Tigers won both. It’s also just the second No. 1 vs. No. 2 contest that Tennessee has been involved with. The No. 1 Vols beat No. 2 Florida State, 23-16, to win the national title in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan 4, 1999. UT is seeking its first victory over an AP No. 1 since defeating Auburn, 38-20, on Sept. 28, 1985. The Vols already own a victory over Coaches Poll then-No. 1 Alabama earlier this season. Georgia and Tennessee have never faced off as top-five teams at the time of the meeting. The Bulldogs have won 16 in a row in Sanford Stadium, while the Vols are seeking their first victory there since the 2016 Hail Mary. • DOMINATING UK: Tennessee’s defense intercepted Will Levis three times and held the Wildcats to just 98 yards through the air as the Vols dominated No. 19/17 Kentucky, 44-6, last Saturday night in Neyland Stadium. QB Hendon Hooker accounted for 268 yards of total offense and four touchdowns, and WR Jalin Hyatt broke Marcus Nash’s (1997) single-season record for receiving scores with a big 138-yard, two-touchdown night. Hyatt leads the nation with 14 receiving TDs, four better than the next closest player. Hooker was 19-of-25 for 245 yards and three TD passes, while adding a rushing score. The Vols held the Wildcats to just 3.25 yards per play and 205 total yards, the fewest allowed by UT against an SEC foe since 193 vs. Kentucky on Nov. 29, 2008. The six points were also the fewest allowed by the Vols vs. an SEC opponent since they defeated Mississippi State, 34-3, on Oct. 18, 2008. LB Juwan Mitchell, CB Doneiko Slaughter and CB Brandon Turnage all registered interceptions, while Mitchell was the squad’s leading tackler with eight. • HEUPEL ERA: The 27th head coach in UT history, Josh Heupel’s 43 victories since the start of the 2018 season are tied for eighth among active FBS head coaches. Heupel became the seventh-quickest active FBS coach to reach the 40-win plateau (54 games). Heupel now owns six wins over top 25 teams at UT, including three on the road (No. 25 LSU, No. 14 Pitt, No. 18 Kentucky). The six is tied with Phillip Fulmer (1992-94) for the most ranked wins over the first 21 games of a UT career. Heupel is 6-4 vs. ranked teams at UT. • THE NATION’S NO. 1 OFFENSE: Tennessee’s high-powered offense is No. 1 in the nation in scoring (49.4), total offense (553.0) and passing efficiency (198.51). The Vols are second in the nation in passing offense (353.4) and passing efficiency (198.58). The Vols have put up at least 30 points in a league-best and school-record 11 straight games. UT leads the SEC in six different offensive categories: scoring offense, total offense, passing offense, completion percentage (71.3), passing efficiency and passing yards per completion (15.79). • THE NATION’S NO. 1 RESUME: Tennessee is the only program in the nation this season with five or more wins vs. AP Top 25 teams at the time of the meeting. It’s the first time in school history that they have achieved that feat in a regular season and the first in an entire season (including SEC Championship and bowl game) since 1998 (won six). Tennessee owns the nation’s highest current ranked win of the year with Alabama holding at No. 6 in the AP and Coaches. The Vols also own a 27-point road win at current No. 15/17 LSU. This is the first time since 2016 that UT has played six or more ranked teams in a season. The 38-point margin of victory over then-No. 19/17 Kentucky marks UT’s largest over a ranked SEC opponent since Oct. 13, 1990 (def. No. 9 Florida, 45-3). The Vols’ AP No. 2 ranking is their highest since Dec. 2, 2001 (2).
NOTING THE TENNESSEE-GEORGIA SERIES •Georgia leads the all-time series, 26-23-2. It’s the 31st consecutive season that these two teams are meeting, a streak that dates back to 1992. •Georgia has won five in a row in the series with all five of those coming by double-digits. • For the first time in series history, the game will feature a top-five matchup. Tennessee and Georgia have faced off in 16 games where both teams were ranked in the AP Poll and only four of those have had both teams in the top 10 (2005 lost in Knoxville, 2002 lost in Athens, 1999 won in Knoxville, 1998 won in Athens). The Vols are 10-5 and 2-2, respectively in those contests. •Tennessee is looking for its first win over Georgia since Oct. 1, 2016, when Jauan Jennings hauled in a 43-yard Hail Mary from Joshua Dobbs as time expired, giving the Vols a 34-31 triumph in Athens. That was the last time both teams were both ranked at the time of the meeting (#11 UT, #25 Georgia). • Tennessee defensive line coach Rodney Garner served in the same role at Georgia for 15 seasons from 1998-2012 on Mark Richt’s staff. Garner also served an assistant head coach from 2005-12. The Bulldogs won five SEC East titles and two SEC titles during his tenure. • Also on Georgia’s staff at the time was Tennessee secondary coach Willie Martinez. Martinez was in Athens from 2001-09 (secondary) and was the defensive coordinator under Mark Richt from 2005-09. • Vols outside linebackers coach/special teams coordinator Mike Ekeler was the inside linebackers/defensive special teams coordinator on Richt’s Georgia staff from 2014-15. • This is just the ninth meeting between the two teams in the month of November. Before 2021, the last November edition of the game was on Nov. 3, 1973. • The two teams will face off on Nov. 18 next season in Knoxville. That will be the latest calendar date between the two teams since the scoreless tie on Nov. 21, 1906, in Athens. • A total of 235 miles separate the two campuses.
An energized Tennessee squad surged ahead of No. 1 Georgia twice in the first half, but the unbeaten Bulldogs overcame a second-quarter deficit to defeat the Vols, 41-17, in front of a Homecoming crowd of 100,074 on Saturday at Neyland Stadium. UGA fell behind 7-0 and 10-7 after UT scored on two of its first three possessions, but the Bulldogs tallied 27 unanswered points to pull away. The 17 points and 387 total yards were the most allowed by Georgia all season as they came in allowing 6.6 ppg and 238.8 ypg. WR Cedric Tillman hauled in 10 passes for 200 yards, marking career bests in both categories. The 200 yards were the most recorded by a Vol receiver since Cordarrelle Patterson had 219 against Troy on Nov. 3, 2012. QB Hendon Hooker posted then-career highs for pass completions and attempts, going 24-for-37 and carding his third-best yardage total this season with 244. He threw for a touchdown and had an interception, only his third pick of the year. He guided the Vols on a 10-play, 77-yard drive on the game’s first possession, culminating with a 9-yard touchdown pass to Velus Jones Jr. on third down. It was the first, first-quarter touchdown allowed by Georgia all season. UT followed that up two drives later, going 76 yards on 13 plays before settling for a Chase McGrath 24-yard field goal that gave the Vols a 10-7 advantage at the end of the first quarter. The Bulldogs came in allowing only 12 total points in first quarters all season. They pulled away late in the second quarter and then outscored the Vols 17-7 in the second half. Defensively, LB Jeremy Banks registered his fourth straight double-digit tackle game with a career-high-tying 15. CB Alontae Taylor registered a career high in stops with his first career double-digit tackle game with 10. Tillman capped a dominating night with the final score, hauling in a 12-yard TD pass from Joe Milton III.
GEORGIA GAME NOTES
A HISTORIC MEETING IN THE UT SERIES Saturday’s game with Tennessee will mark the first 1-2 matchup in Dooley Field at Sanford Stadium history and just the third top five matchup. In 1983, No. 3 Auburn edged No. 4 Georgia 13-7 while in 1942, No. 5 Georgia blanked No. 2 Ga. Tech 34-0. Georgia leads the all-time series with Tennessee 26-23-2 including winning the past five meetings. The Bulldogs are 5-1 against the Vols under Kirby Smart, the lone defeat coming in 2016 on a Hail-Mary by Josh Dobbs in Athens. He completed a 43-yard pass to Jauan Jennings as time expired to lift No. 11 Tennessee past No. 25 Georgia 34-31. Last year in Knoxville, top-ranked Georgia posted a 41-17 win. Along with CBS broadcasting the game, ESPN College GameDay and SEC Nation will be in Athens. This marks the eighth time GameDay comes to Athens. A 1-2 AP MATCHUP Georgia (8-0, 5-0 SEC) remained in the top spot in the latest Associated Press (AP) poll while Tennessee (8-0, 4-0 SEC) moved into a tie with Ohio State (8-0) for No. 2. This Saturday in Athens will be the 25th regular-season game where the top two teams in the AP poll square off, and the first such meeting between the Bulldogs and Volunteers. The Bulldogs have been No. 1 now for the past four weeks. The last time the Vols were as high as No. 2 came in 2001, and that year they would finish fourth. The Georgia-Tennessee game will mark the 53rd all-time meeting (including postseason games) between the AP’s No. 1 and No. 2 squads since the poll began in 1936. The last 1-2 regular season games both involved Alabama and LSU. In 2019, the No. 1 Tigers beat No. 2 Alabama in Tuscaloosa and went on to win the SEC and national title. In 2011, top-ranked LSU outlasted No. 2 Alabama in overtime. However, the two would meet again for the BCS national championship, and the Crimson Tide won the rematch. The first College Football Playoff rankings of the season will be released Tuesday night. The Bulldogs were ranked No. 1 in the first five CFP rankings last year and earned a spot in the playoff as the No. 3 seed with a 12-1 mark. Georgia would beat No. 2 seed Michigan 34-11 in the Orange Bowl semifinal in Miami and then top seed Alabama 33-18 in the National Championship game in Indianapolis, Ind. FLASHBACK: TOP-RANKED DOGS DOWN VOLS 41-17 The Bulldogs outgained Tennessee by 100 yards (487-387) and forced the game’s only two turnovers that UGA turned into 14 points to help give Georgia a 10-0 start. Current Buffalo Bill James Cook set the tone during the rout last year in Knoxville by carrying the ball 10 times for 104 yards and two touchdowns. However, it was the Vols who struck first with a 77-yard scoring drive in the opening frame. The score was knotted at 7-7 and then 10-10 during the second quarter before the Bulldogs pulled away. Stetson Bennett finished 17-for-29 for 213 yards and touchdown pass to Cook while also rushing for a score. Current Miami Dolphin Channing Tindall had eight tackles, including a career high three sacks. He forced a fumble on one of his sacks that the top pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, Travon Walker, recovered at Georgia’s 27 yard line.
Bennett 22-3 As A Starter at Georgia * Senior Stetson Bennett, a native of Blackshear, Ga., began his career with the Bulldogs as a walk-on in 2017 when he was redshirted. Bennett transferred to Jones College (Miss.) where he started in 2018 and then returned to the Bulldogs on scholarship in 2019. He saw action that season in five games including throwing passes in four of them. In 2020, he started five games and then got the nod in the final 11 contests of the 2021 national championship season. * In his Bulldog career, Bennett is 22-3 and has completed 64.1 percent of his passes (472-for-736, 6,650 yards, 48 TDs, 17 INTs). * Currently ranks third nationally among active players in Total Offense Yards Per Play for a career at 8.36, which is on pace for a school record (7.69 by Aaron Murray). Current active national leader is C.J. Stroud (9.55, Ohio State) followed by Grayson McCall (8.57, Coastal Carolina). * Bennett took off for a career-long 64-yard touchdown run during the win over Auburn, giving the Bulldogs a 28-3 edge at the start of the fourth quarter. His scoring scamper was the longest for a Georgia QB since 1976 when Ray Goff flew 73 yards for paydirt in a 41-0 win at Clemson. * On the road against South Carolina, Bennett connected on 16 of 23 passes for 284 yards and two touchdowns to go along with a rushing touchdown and 36 yards on the ground. * Bennett joined Tim Tebow (four) as the only two SEC players since 2004 to have at least four consecutive games with 250 passing yards and one rushing score. Aaron Murray is the only other Bulldog quarterback to have at least 250 passing yards and at least one rushing score in four games overall during a season (2013). * Bennett earned Walter Camp National FBS Offensive Player of the Week and Manning Award National QB of the Week honors while leading No. 3 Georgia to a 49-3 rout of No. 11 Oregon in this season’s opener. He directed the Bulldogs to seven touchdowns on their first seven drives and finished 25 of 31 for a career-high 368 yards and two touchdowns. Bennett also had a 1-yard rushing score against the Ducks. Bennett’s 368 passing yards in the win was the most in a season opener by a Bulldog since 1994 when Eric Zeier tallied 485 yards in a road win over South Carolina. * He ranked fourth nationally in Passing Efficiency (176.7) last year, which broke the school record in that category previously belonging to Aaron Murray (174.8, 2012). * Bennett helped Georgia complete a historic 8-0 SEC regular season and its first undefeated regular season since 1982. * During the CFP National Championship Game versus No. 1 Alabama, Bennett finished 17-for-26 passing with 224 yards, two touchdowns and no picks. Trailing 18-13 with 10:14 left in the game, Bennett directed a four-play, 75-yard scoring drive that gave the Bulldogs a one-point lead at the 8:09 mark (a two-point conversion failed). Georgia never relinquished its lead to collect its first national championship in 41 years. Bennett was named the game’s Offensive MVP as was the case in the CFP Semifinal Orange Bowl victory over Michigan.