ATHENS -- Alec Ogletrees smile never seemed to leave his face. The junior linebacker sat in a corner of the Georgia locker room, not saying anything very quotable, but his expression was enough.
Not only did Ogletree finally return to action, after being suspended the first four games, but he was the defensive star in Georgias 51-44 win over Tennessee. He had a game-high 14 tackles, along with three pass break-ups, one leading to an interception for teammate Damian Swann.
It was good. It was relief, Ogletree said. I wanted to come out there and make my presence known again.
Bacarri Rambo also returned from suspension and was second with nine tackles. The biggest was a third-down stop that forced Tennessee to settle for a field goal, although Rambos gamble-and-miss on a 22-yard pass got Tennessee downfield in the first place.
Rambo was not available to speak to the media after the game.
It wasnt certain that the two defensive stars would be back until they showed up at pregame warm-ups in uniform. When they were announced as starters, it was greeted with loud cheers from fans at Sanford Stadium.
I just went week-by-week. ... Just preparing and get ready for games when I do get back on the field, Ogletree said. It was tough. But Im a team player, so I was just out there supporting my team.
Senior cornerback Sanders Commings, himself suspended to start the season, said he understands the feelings those players faced.
I missed the first two games, and I felt great to be back out there, and I know it feels great for them, too, Commings said. They served their time, they moved on and they thrived.
Mitchell absent on defense
The easy conclusion to draw after Saturday is that the Malcolm Mitchell defensive experiment is going away.
Mitchell started at cornerback the first four games during Rambos suspension. Commings played safety the past two games. But with Rambo back, Commings slid to cornerback, and Mitchell didnt play at all on defense.
Head coach Mark Richt said Mitchell was serving as the backup nickel cornerback, behind Damian Swann. But Richt added that the coaches still are training freshman Josh Harvey-Clemons at that spot.
The Bulldogs made ample use of Mitchell on offense and special teams. He touched the ball four times on the opening drive and finished the game with four catches for 31 yards.
I have no idea, Mitchell said, when asked what he thought his role would be going forward. Every week could be different. Just gotta adjust to play.
His performance on kick and punt returns was once again a struggle. He fielded one punt he shouldnt have -- getting tackled quickly -- and let another one trickle by without fielding it, and it was downed at the 1.
After the game, Richt said Rhett McGowan had supplanted Mitchell as the main punt returner.
A sack-less game
Junior outside linebacker Jarvis Jones was held without a sack for the first time this season. So was Georgia, although defensive coordinator Todd Grantham argued that a forced fumble late in the game should have been ruled a sack.
Still, Grantham credited Tennessees protection of quarterback Tyler Bray.
Theyve got some good linemen, Grantham said. A little bit of that is they got rid of the ball quick. I thought we got more rush in the second half than the first half. I thought we pressured them pretty good in the first half. I think the guys will just continue to develop and well see if we can get a little more heat on the next guy.
Jones will enter the South Carolina game with 4.5 sacks, the same amount he had entering Saturday.
They slid their protection my way, he said. They had the tight end over there, they had the back over there. So sometimes I had three people on me. It was tough.
Georgia senior defensive end and Northside product Abry Jones started after missing a couple of practices this week with a sprained ankle. The team did not report any injuries after Saturdays game.
Keith Marshalls 164 rushing yards were the most for a Bulldogs runner since Washaun Ealey had 183 against Georgia Tech in 2009.
Georgia has scored on the opening drive on four of five games this year.