ATHENS, Ga. — Tennessee emerged from between Sanford Stadium’s fabled hedges Saturday with its SEC East dream alive and well.
But, man, what a finish.
Jauan Jennings hauled in a 43-yard Hail Mary from Joshua Dobbs as time expired to give the Vols a 34-31 victory.
Ten seconds earlier, Georgia’s Riley Ridley had given the Bulldogs a miracle, catching a 47-yard touchdown to make it 31-28, Georgia.
Two Georgia penalties and Evan Berry’s 20-yard kickoff return gave the Vols one last chance with four seconds on the clock.
Dobbs heaved the ball into the end zone and Jennings came down with it.
And while it’s way too early to party like it’s 1998, Tennessee is 5-0 for the first time since its national championship season.
The No. 11 Vols are off to a 2-0 SEC start after vanquishing rivals Florida and Georgia in consecutive weeks and in the same season for the first time since 2004.
In typical fashion, Tennessee had to rally out of a hole — 17-0 this time.
Both teams got touchdowns by recovering fumbles in the end zone. Tennessee’s came late.
Georgia led 24-21 but was backed up near its goal line. Derek Barnett sacked quarterback Jacob Eason in the end zone.
Corey Vereen fell on the football. With 2:56 to play the Vols led for the first time all day, 28-24.
Less than a minute later, Malik Foreman intercepted Eason at the UT 36.
When Eason got another chance, he found Ridley for the score. But it wouldn’t be the last score.
Georgia (4-1, 2-1 SEC) scored 10 points off fumbles — and took seven Tennessee points off the scoreboard with another recovery.
The Bulldogs had just taken a 7-0 lead on Sony Michel’s 14-yard touchdown run when UT’s Alvin Kamara fumbled after a short pass reception.
Georgia took over at the Tennessee 37. The Vols’ defense limited the damage to a 27-yard Rodridgo Blankenship field goal for a 10-0 lead.
Tennessee’s offense finally got on track, driving for a first down at the Georgia 24. From there Dobbs hit wide-open Jalen Hurd for an apparent touchdown.
But Bulldog defensive back Deandre Baker hit Hurd, too. The unsuspecting Hurd fumbled in the end zone and Aaron Davis recovered for a Georgia touchback.
The Bulldogs proceeded to drive downfield to the Tennessee 2. Michel took a handoff but fumbled into the end zone when hit by Vol linebacker Colton Jumper.
Eason, the freshman quarterback, got to the football first. Touchdown, Georgia.
The 17-0 hole, however, wasn’t too much for a resilient Tennessee to overcome.
The Vols got on the scoreboard with 12 seconds left in the first half. Dobbs scrambled on third-and-goal from the 4 and got the ball to the pylon as he was knocked out of bounds.
The play was reviewed but the touchdown stood.
For the third time in five games, Tennessee trailed at the half, this time by 17-7.
The Vols quickly made it 17-14 in the third quarter, Dobbs hitting Hurd for a 19-yard score.
But Georgia answered with a big play, a 50-yard TD bomb from Eason to Isaac Nauta.
The fourth quarter began with Georgia on top 24-14 but only for seconds.
On the first snap after the teams changed ends, Kamara took a short pass from Dobbs, broke a tackle and finished for a 16-yard touchdown to make it 24-21.
Mike Strange, USA Today