ATHENS, Ga. — Sophomore cornerback Damian Swann notched the first interception of his career in the second quarter. Linebacker Alec Ogletree tipped Tyler Bray’s pass before Swann made a one-handed catch for the turnover.
Swann’s pick was the first of three for the Georgia defense, which entered Saturday’s game with two interceptions as a unit this season.
“It wasn’t the prettiest (interception),” Swann said. “But it felt good to get the first one under my belt.”
Swann said he learned to be patient this season, but when Ogletree batted Bray’s pass, his instincts took over.
“A lot of guys said they were around me,” said Swann, who finished with six tackles, including one for a loss. “I was always taught to catch the ball at the highest point, so I went up as high as I could to go get it.”
“I just grabbed it, wrapped it up and gave it to the ref.”
Cornerback Sanders Commings, a former Westside standout, added two fourth quarter interceptions, the sixth and seventh of his career.
“Both of the (interceptions) felt good,” said Commings, whose second interception ended Tennessee’s last-ditch drive with seven seconds to play. “I saw the ball well and was able to get there in time. It’s always great to help the team, especially late in the game.”
Georgia coach Mark Richt was pleased to see his secondary come up with big plays against Tennessee’s vaunted aerial assault.
“That was awesome,” Richt said of Commings’s interceptions. “I told (the defense) the ball is going to hit you in the hands and you gotta catch it. I felt like there would be times when they throw it and it’s going to hit the (defensive back) in the hands.
MOMENTUM SWING: After observing the first few Tennessee punts Saturday night, Marc Deas thought the Georgia defenders could block one before the game was over.
“They were leaving a big gap,” Deas said. “I knew we could get it.”
With Georgia leading 37-30 in the third quarter, Deas’ premonition became reality.
The redshirt sophomore got a hand on the ball as it left Tennessee punter Matt Darr’s foot, giving Georgia the ball on the Tennessee 35 to start a quick Bulldog touchdown drive.
Deas said had he not been chipped by a Tennessee punt protector, he would’ve gotten both hands on the ball and possibly returned it for a touchdown.
“The Tennessee player grabbed my shoulder a little bit, which caused me to only get one hand on it,” said Deas, who quit the Georgia program briefly in March before returning two weeks later. “If he didn’t do that, who knows what would have happened.
“Just to get that one hand on (the ball) was a special feeling for me.”
TIGHT ENDS BREAK OUT: After a quiet start to the season, Georgia’s tight ends delivered a big game against Tennessee on Saturday.
Arthur Lynch had three catches for 75 yards, and backup Jay Rome snagged a one-handed catch in the first half for a 21-yard gain.
“Last week I didn’t play as well as I wanted to,” Lynch said. “I really wanted to focus this week and not have any missed assignments, mental errors or drops.”
Lynch caught a 16-yard pass from quarterback Aaron Murray near the end of the first half. Two plays later, kicker Marshall Morgan booted a 50-yard field goal as time expired to tie the game at 30.
“That momentum boost on the field goal by Morgan was huge,” Lynch said. “We said, ‘OK, it’s 0-0.”
Rome’s only catch put Georgia in Tennessee territory late in the first quarter and eventually led to a touchdown.
“I knew if I could get a clean get-off and get back into the secondary that Murray would put one on me,” Rome said. “When I saw the safeties moving, my eyes lit up. I got a clean get-off.”
Murray nearly overthrew Rome, but the 6-foot-6 tight end plucked the pass out of the air.
“I saw the ball coming a little high, so I just went up and got it,” said Rome, who also plays basketball for Georgia. “I felt like the play needed to be made. I remember it being high, jumping up and getting it.”
BENNETT HAS BIG SECOND HALF: There were no big adjustments or secrets behind Michael Bennett’s second-half explosion against Tennessee.
The wide receiver, who didn’t catch a pass in the first half, brought in five receptions for 70 yards and two big scores for Georgia.
“I think we just stuck to the game plan we had,” Bennett said. “It just happened that the ball came to me a few more times, and I knew going into the game that I’d get a few passes. You just have to make the most of your opportunities.”
The redshirt sophomore certainly did that. Facing man-to-man coverage most of the second half, Bennett caught an 8-yard pass from Murray in the third quarter, giving Georgia the advantage 37-30.
“Michael is a steady guy for us,” offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. “He has sneaky speed, knows how to run routes and did a good job for us.”
On their next possession, the Bulldogs added to their lead when Bennett caught a 32-yard scoring pass.
“We had to keep our feet on the gas and continue to score points,” Bennett said. “It’s good to have these close games once and while, where you can really see the character of the team.”
QUICK HITS: Georgia has now won 15 consecutive regular season games. The streak ranks as the second-longest active regular-season winning streak in the nation behind LSU, which entered the weekend with 17 straight regular-season victories. The streak is the longest regular season winning streak under Mark Richt. … Georgia scored 40-plus points for a school-record fifth consecutive game. … Georgia and Tennessee combined for the most points in series history with 95. The previous high was 84 in 2006 when Tennessee won 51-33. Tennessee’s 44 points Saturday night are the most by a Bulldog opponent in a losing effort in regulation. … Georgia converted a two-point conversion in the third quarter when Murray connected with Marlon Brown, giving the Bulldogs a 51-37 lead. Georgia is now 2 for 2 on the season in two-point conversions. … Captains for Saturday’s game were redshirt sophomore safety Connor Norman, junior linebacker Jarvis Jones, senior wideout Marlon Brown and senior defensive end Abry Jones. … Coaches for both teams wore Coach to Cure MD patches Saturday to raise awareness and funding for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy research.