Georgia shuts down Hendon Hooker, Tennessee in statement win

ATHENS, Ga. — Defending national champion Georgia might not have been No. 1 in the first College Football Playoff rankings earlier this week, but the Bulldogs left little doubt Saturday who belongs in that top spot.

Their 27-13 beatdown of No. 1 Tennessee before a deafening crowd at Sanford Stadium was about as thorough as it gets. Senior quarterback Stetson Bennett passed for 257 yards and two touchdowns, and the Georgia defense held Tennessee’s high-scoring offense without a touchdown until the final minutes of the game.

The Bulldogs, who were ranked No. 3 in the initial CFP rankings, dominated the line of scrimmage, as Bennett repeatedly had plenty of time to throw and hit deep shots down the field of 52, 49 and 37 yards. Meanwhile, the Vols had no answers on offense for Georgia’s swarming defense. Tennessee came into the game leading the country in scoring (49.4 points per game) but was forced to punt three times in the first quarter. That’s after punting a total of 18 times in the previous eight games.

It was that kind of afternoon for the Vols, who lost their sixth straight game to the Bulldogs and were bullied physically after scoring a combined 92 points in wins over ranked opponents Alabama and LSU earlier this season.

Georgia (9-0) took a commanding lead in the SEC Eastern Division race and also put itself in prime position to make the College Football Playoff even if it were to lose in the SEC championship game, which would be similar to what happened last season.

Tennessee (8-1) was never able to get on track offensively against a Georgia defense that has allowed just eight touchdowns in nine games. The Bulldogs’ national championship defense a year ago, a defense that produced five NFL first-round selections, gave up 16 touchdowns in 15 games.

In the third quarter, the rain started pouring down, and the Bulldogs just continued to pour it on a Tennessee team that was greeted with chants of “overrated” by the Georgia student section. The Vols were playing in the loudest and most hostile environment they have faced all season. They seemed rattled by the crowd noise, which reached rock concert decibels at times. They committed one false start penalty after another, and in the first half when the game was still close, the Vols were flagged for back-to-back false starts after moving inside the 10-yard line and had to settle for a field goal.

Tennessee’s deep passing game was rendered nonexistent against a Georgia defense that was playing without its best pass-rusher, senior outside linebacker Nolan Smith, who is out for the season after tearing a pectoral muscle. The Bulldogs showed off their depth and never allowed Hendon Hooker to find any rhythm.

Hooker, the Heisman Trophy favorite entering the game, finished 23 for 33 for 195 and didn’t throw a touchdown pass for the first time in 20 games.

Hooker was sacked six times and also threw an interception in the second quarter. He was under duress for much of the game, as the Bulldogs repeatedly got pressure. He was hit hard in the final minutes and got up slowly before gingerly trotting off the field.

The Vols’ longest pass play of the game was 17 yards. They came into the game with an FBS-leading 36 plays from scrimmage of 30 yards or longer.

Georgia finished with 387 yards of total offense and was able to keep the ball away from Tennessee’s offense with longer drives. Bennett wasn’t sacked a single time.

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