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The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Roger Clarkson breaks down Georgia-Tennessee

Georgia dodged a freight train on Saturday.

The Bulldogs made enough mistakes to lose. But they forced enough to finally subdue Tennessee 51-45 on Saturday at Sanford Stadium. No. 5 Georgia preserved its unbeaten season.

Georgia played well for long stretches. But those stretches didn’t last, and when the Bulldogs didn’t play well, they left a foul stench on the field that would have embarrassed a skunk.

Freshmen running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall had another in a series of highly productive games. Aaron Murray threw accurately, for the most part. The defense made plays when it absolutely needed to, especially at the end of the game.

But mistakes came almost as fast and furious as the points. Georgia’s special teams were dreadful much of the night but made two spectacular plays, a 50-yard field goal and a blocked punt, that reversed momentum at crucial times. Multiple turnovers by the offense put the defense in poor positions. But the defense also whiffed on plays and Tennessee took advantage.

Georgia won by surviving the miscues and sudden reversals instead of collapsing when seriously challenged. But the ante goes up this week with a trip to South Carolina.

The Good

Georgia stood up to knockout punches from Tennessee that would have floored Bulldogs teams in years past.

Georgia built quick leads and promptly coughed them up much of the night. But when the outcome hung in the balance, Georgia’s defense produced the difference.

Tennessee trailed 51-44 and had the ball with 7:31 left in the game before Georgia ended Tennessee’s last three possessions with turnovers.

Sanders Commings picked off a pass to stop Tennessee at the 50-yard line with 5:55 left. John Jenkins recovered a Tennessee fumble at the Georgia 31 with 2:44 left. Then Commings choked out the Volunteers’ last gasp with an interception at the Georgia 48 with seven seconds left.

Tennessee had Georgia’s defense backpedaling much of the fourth quarter. But the three forced turnovers gave Georgia some fresh legs to survive the game.

The Bad

Georgia, especially its offense, did a miserable job of finishing halves. Georgia was within one big push of sending Tennessee over the cliff in the second quarter but unraveled like a cheap sock in the final 11:48 before halftime.

Georgia looked ready to start warming up the reserves in the second half when Todd Gurley broke off a 51-yard touchdown run to give Georgia a 27-10 lead with 11:48 left in the second quarter.

But a strange succession of major Georgia miscues served up 20 points to the Volunteers. Malcolm Mitchell misplayed a punt and Gurley botched a kickoff return to give Georgia back-to-back possessions at its own 1-yard line. Aaron Murray and Keith Marshall fumbled, which led directly to Tennessee touchdowns that gave the Volunteers a short-lived 30-27 lead. Marshall Morgan helped salvage the situation with a 50-yard field goal to tie the game going into halftime.

Georgia’s second-half shortcomings weren’t as spectacular as the first half. But they were almost as harmful. Georgia’s offense had three chances to run out the clock in the last 8:56 of the game but only produced one first down. Georgia went three-and-out in its final two possessions when just one more first would have ended the suspense. The inability to control the ball in the final minutes left a tired defense on the field. But the defense took care of business itself by forcing three turnovers.

The Ugly

Until those last three drives, Tennessee played defense in name only. Georgia gained 538 yards and had 19 first downs in the first three quarters alone. Marshall scored on a 75-yard run, Gurley scored on a 51-yard run. Murray hit Michael Bennett for back-to-back touchdowns to start the third quarter.

Georgia scored on sustained drives and on big plays. But turnovers, some forced and others unforced, more than made up for the bloated yardage figures. Even after giving up ground, Tennessee stayed in the game and had a chance to send it to overtime at the end.

What’s Next

Georgia (5-0, 3-0 in the Southeastern Conference) travels to South Carolina (5-0, 3-0) next week in what could be an elimination game for the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division title.

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