Georgia knocks off Tennessee in SEC shootout

semerson@macon.comSeptember 29, 2012 

ATHENS -- Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley were stars, as Herschel Walker watched.

Alec Ogletree was sterling in his season debut, and Bacarri Rambo had his moments, too.

And in the end, Georgia won and stayed unbeaten. But it got quite a scare from Tennessee, holding on for a 51-44 win Saturday.

It was the seventh-highest scoring non-overtime game in SEC history. And it marked the most points Georgia has scored against Tennessee.

“Well that was fun. I’m sure CBS enjoyed that,” Georgia head coach Mark Richt said. “It was good to win.”

There was drama. Georgia trailed late in the first half, and Tennessee twice had possession while trailing by seven points late in the fourth quarter. But the Bulldogs, struggling on defense much of the game, were able to get the final stops and overcome their earlier turnovers and mistakes.

“This game reminds me a lot of the South Carolina game last year, but the difference is we found a way to win it this year,” Grantham said. “So that’s a credit to the players, improving their mental toughness and finding a way to stick together and make plays when you’ve got to. The bottom line is you’ve gotta win the game.”

Marshall had touchdown runs of 75 and 72 yards. Gurley had three touchdowns. The pair of freshman tailbacks -- nicknamed ‘Gurshall” by teammates -- combined to rush for more than 300 yards, with Herschel Walker watching from the stands.

“I’m in awe, really,” said receiver Michael Bennett, who had two touchdowns himself. “You can just tell God’s blessing is just on them right now. They’re playing out of their minds. As freshmen, as 18-year-olds to really do that, it’s unheard of.”

On defense, Ogletree led the team in tackles, and in the first half, he batted a ball that Damian Swann intercepted. Rambo, like Ogletree returning from a four-game suspension, had a key third-down stop in the first half.

Grantham indicated that the return of Rambo and Ogletree did help the team, even if it didn’t reflect it in the score.

“They’re playmakers. They’re in the top five of playmakers on our team,” Grantham said. “You know we had our hands on some more balls (Saturday), and we just didn’t bring them in.”

It could have been a blowout at the half and was headed in that direction with Georgia leading 27-10. But then the Bulldogs unraveled. They fumbled twice deep in their own possession and twice started the offense at its own 1, on a punt and a kickoff. Marshall Morgan also missed an extra point.

The crowd was stunned with 42 seconds left in the half, when Tennessee’s Raijon Neal rumbled into the end zone, giving the Volunteers a lead.

But Morgan redeemed himself a bit, booting a 50-yarder as the half ended to tie it.

“We were a little rattled there for a second, but we have great leadership on the team,” Bennett said. “That was a big drive for us to come and get that field goal by Marshall Morgan. After that we composed ourselves and just did a great job of settling us down.”

The Bulldogs did restore order quickly after halftime. The defense forced a punt, and the offense moved downfield, Bennett hauling in an 8-yard touchdown pass to put them back ahead.

The special teams then worked in Georgia’s favor. Marc Deas blocked a Tennessee punt, and it was recovered at the Vols’ 47. A few plays later, Murray and Bennett hooked up for another touchdown, this time 32 yards on a crossing pattern.

And then the extra point was blocked. It was the fourth failed PAT this season for Georgia.

Tennessee wasn’t out of it yet. It answered with a 46-yard run by receiver Cordarelle Patterson, who chose Tennessee over Georgia on National Signing Day in February. Patterson was supposed to throw a pass, but the receiver downfield was covered, so Patterson tucked and reversed field.

Marshall answered. He went 72 yards for another long touchdown run, and Murray hit Marlon Brown to convert the two-point conversion.

It was 51-37, and there was still 3:06 left in the third quarter.

“The only team that can really beat us right now is ourselves. We showed that a little bit in the second quarter,” Bennett said. “But if we take care of the turnovers, we played a dang near perfect game on offense.”

Tennessee got back within seven with 8:56 left as Raijon Neal scored on a 9-yard run. Then the Vols got the ball back with 7:31 left and drove to midfield.

Georgia’s pass rush, not a factor to that point, came up big. Damian Swann’s cornerback blitz forced Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray to rush a throw, and Sanders Commings intercepted it on the sideline. The Bulldogs took over on their 36 with 5:55 left. But they went three-and-out and punted again.

This time, the Vols drove deeper into Georgia territory, reaching the 27. But after a false start penalty, Bray was forced to scramble, and nose tackle John Jenkins knocked the ball loose.

Rambo emerged from the pile with the football. Georgia took over with 1:22 left. A minute later, the official scorers changed the fumble recovery to credit it to Jenkins.

But it still wasn’t over. Georgia couldn’t get a first down and had to punt with 24 seconds left. Commings then made his second interception of the fourth quarter after the ball was tipped.

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