Hail Mary leads to "Rocky Top" celebration for Tennessee
Georgia was in a state of euphoria after quarterback Jacob Eason found receiver Riley Ridley in the end zone for a 47-yard touchdown with 10 seconds left to play against Tennessee.
Even though time was left on the clock, it seemed like Georgia had just pulled out a fourth-quarter victory.
The Bulldogs began celebrating in the end zone, but it was nothing too extravagant to warrant a flag, at least yet. But joining in the celebration was sophomore defensive back Rico McGraw, who ran onto the field without a helmet on. Since the game wasn't over, Georgia was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct and received a 15-yard penalty on the ensuing kickoff.
(Fast forward to the end of this video, taken by GridironNow.com's Dan Mathews, to see the aforementioned penalty.)
That penalty turned out to be costly as place-kicker Rodrigo Blankenship was then forced to kick off at the Georgia 20-yard line instead of the 35.
The Bulldogs called for a sky kick, meaning head coach Kirby Smart wanted the special teams unit to kick the ball high in the air and tackle the return man as soon as possible. The goal was also not to allow kick returner Evan Berry to get the ball.
But two things worked against Georgia on this play: 1) Tennessee lined up in a different return formation, with players up and away from the end zone, as if to anticipate a sky or squib kick. 2) Blankenship's kick traveled only 48 yards, with Berry still catching the ball at the Tennessee 32-yard line.
Despite seeing Tennessee's alignment, Georgia decided to stick with its original plan, which may have cost the Bulldogs in the end.
"It was a little different. They had everybody up," Smart said. "I thought they had their hands team out there. It didn’t matter. We’d already called what we called. We didn’t dictate what we did off of what they did. We decided what to do when we sent them out there."
Upon catching the ball, Berry returned the ball an additional 20 yards and set Tennessee up with one final play as four seconds remained on the clock.
Quarterback Joshua Dobbs threw a Hail Mary to the left side of the end zone, with receiver Jauan Jennings leaping high to catch the ball. The Sanford Stadium crowd grew mostly quiet with the visiting Volunteers fans erupting in cheers. The Tennessee players then ran on the field to celebrate, helmets off and all since the clock hit triple-zero.
Smart expressed frustration over not only the execution of the kickoff but of how the special teams played throughout.
"That is deep for Rodrigo," Smart said a tad sarcastically about the 48-yard kickoff. "I was disappointed he didn’t kick it deep all day. That’s what we’re trying to do. We put our best players we can on kickoff coverage. That’s what broke my heart on special teams, guys. We challenged them all week to out-special teams these guys, because they are good at what they do."