Sony Michel sat down and did his best to fight back the tears forming in his eyes. Maybe 10 minutes had elapsed from the game ending, with the scoreboard reading “Tennessee 38, Georgia 31.”
The Tennessee fans sang “Rocky Top” in unison in between various chants, as Michel walked through a hallway on the ground level of Neyland Stadium to a tiny, packed interview room. Michel’s statistics, in relief of injured running back Nick Chubb, showed his talent and playmaking ability — 22 carries for 145 yards.
For Michel, it wasn’t enough. As the game slowly sank in, Michel zeroed in on the lone mistake he made during the game.
With No. 19 Georgia (4-2, 2-2) leading 24-10, Michel fielded a kickoff and ran it 17 yards before fumbling it away. Tennessee (3-3, 1-2) and scored a touchdown five plays later.
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“I made the biggest mistake that turned this game around,” Michel said. “I want to take this game on myself. I lost this game because of me.”
While Tennessee was able to take advantage of the play, it’s hard to argue Georgia lost the game because of one mistake. The Bulldogs, who held a 24-3 second-quarter lead at one point, committed seven penalties for 51 yards, had trouble tackling Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs whether he was in the open field or running between the tackles, and allowed 519 total yards.
“They didn’t have an answer for the offense, so that’s the attitude we went out there with, ‘Hey, they can’t stop us, we’re going to be all right, we’re going to keep scoring, as long as the defense comes up with a few stops, we’re going to win this game,’ ” Tennessee offensive tackle Kyler Kerbyson said.
The Georgia offense went three-and-out five times and was forced to punt on seven possessions. Quarterback Greyson Lambert only completed 15 of his 32 passing attempts, although he did total 279 yards for two touchdowns.
Junior receiver Reggie Davis dropped what would have been the game-tying touchdown with a little more than four minutes to go in the game.
Senior wideout Malcolm Mitchell said he wished he was by Michel when he began blaming himself for Georgia’s loss. Mitchell said that there wasn’t one play by one player that cost the team the victory.
“I wish he never would have made that comment,” Mitchell said. “If I was by him, I wouldn’t have let him make that comment because the game is 60 minutes. It’s a team effort. We’re supposed to have his back. I just don’t like when teammates put the blame on themselves, because they’re not the only one on the field.”
Georgia is now in big trouble when it comes to its quest for an SEC East division title. The Bulldogs have now lost their second consecutive conference game and are no longer in control of attaining its goals.
They’ll need plenty of help to get to Atlanta following this loss.
“You lose control, but so many things can happen in this league,” senior inside linebacker Jake Ganus said. “We’ve seen it. I haven’t been in this league but a year, but I’ve watched it my whole life. You never know what can happen. We just have to focus ourselves and focus on Missouri.”
Georgia jumped out to its 24-3 lead thanks to a big defensive play from outside linebackers Davin Bellamy and Leonard Floyd. Bellamy forced a fumble on Tennessee running back Jalen Hurd near the goal line, and Floyd returned it 96 yards for the game’s first score.
After a Tennessee field goal, Georgia scored 21 unanswered points — a Mitchell 28-yard reception, a Marshall Morgan 37-yard field goal and a 70-yard punt return for a touchdown by Davis.
From there, Tennessee roared back with 28 consecutive points while dominating time of possession. The Volunteers ran 90 plays and held the ball for 34 minutes and 3 seconds. After Georgia tied the game up at 31 on a 48-yard touchdown from Lambert to Davis, Dobbs scored what would be the game-winning score on a 5-yard rushing touchdown with 5:48 left to play.
Georgia head coach Mark Richt reflected on Saturday’s loss, which drops the Bulldogs to the background of the SEC race.
“It’s sickening to everybody,” Richt said. “The coaching staff spends 80 hours a week grinding, everybody is, not just us. Our players putting the hours they put in, plus school, academics and all that kind of thing. It’s a big sacrifice from January until (Saturday). So it hurts; it’s painful, but that’s sports, that’s football and that’s part of life. So we have to deal with it, we’ve got to stick together, we have to work hard and find ways to improve to the point that we can get that victory next week.”