KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - They said Georgia was charmed the last time it ventured into these parts.
The Bulldogs were wide-eyed and new to this big-win thing two years ago, when they left Neyland Stadium with a pulsating two-point victory and confidence they could beat anyone anywhere.
That team was learning how to win. This one has learned how to dominate.
Sparked by a game-turning play on the final snap of the first half and a dominating third quarter, No. 8 Georgia pinned a 41-14 whipping on No. 13 Tennessee on Saturday in front of 107,517 fans.
It is the Vols' worst home loss since 1994, when they lost 31-0 to Florida. It is the Bulldogs' biggest win over Tennessee since a 44-0 trouncing in 1981.
More important, the Bulldogs beat the Volunteers for the fourth straight year and sent an undeniable message that the road to the Southeastern Conference's Eastern Division title goes through Athens, Ga.
"It's a changing of the guard," said Bulldogs tailback Tyson Browning, whose Bulldogs (5-1, 3-1 SEC) are alone atop the SEC East. "Right now, we're just trying to let everyone know we're taking control of the East. For years it's been guys like Tennessee and Florida. It feels great to take over."
Georgia took advantage of each of Tennessee's four turnovers (two interceptions, two fumbles) by scoring three touchdowns and a field goal off the miscues.
Bulldogs quarterback David Greene was at his best, passing for 228 yards and a touchdown on a 22-for-27 clip. And Tennessee quarterback Casey Clausen, to the delight of Georgia's players, coaches and fans, suffered a massive meltdown.
Last year, a few days after Georgia's 18-13 win over Tennessee in Knoxville, an injured Clausen said he could have beaten the Bulldogs with one arm, had he played.
He couldn't beat them with two arms Saturday. He finished 11-for-23 passing for 165 yards with two interceptions and played a role in the game's pivotal moment.
Tennessee looked to take the lead with seven seconds left before halftime, but a running play from Georgia's 1-yard line ended up running the Vols into the ground. "It was the biggest momentum swing I've ever seen," said Georgia coach Mark Richt, who improved to 3-0 against Tennessee.
Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer called a run off right tackle with no timeouts left. Clausen took the snap and stepped to his right, planning to hand off to tailback Jabari Davis, but fullback Troy Fleming bumped Clausen and jarred the ball loose. Jones scooped the ball up at his 8-yard line and saw nothing separating him from the end zone. He got an escort from linebacker Derrick White and Thomas Davis as the clock expired and Tennessee fans looked on in utter disbelief.
Bennett tacked on the extra point, giving Georgia a 20-7 lead and an incredible burst of momentum heading into the locker room."It was a play we've scored a lot of touchdowns on in the past," Fulmer said. "We felt we could get the push and score again."The Bulldogs marched 83 yards on their first possession of the second half and scored when tailback Michael Cooper, the former Screven County star, ran 6 yards off the right side for a touchdown that made it 27-7.
On the next drive, Clausen was pressured by defensive end David Pollack and was intercepted by linebacker Odell Thurman. Browning scored from 8 yards out to make the score 34-7, and Clausen threw another interception on the next drive.This one was snared by defensive end Robert Geathers after it was tipped by defensive tackle Kedric Golston. A fracas ensued on the field between exuberant Bulldogs and exasperated Vols, drawing penalty flags from all angles.
Tailback Kregg Lumpkin scored from 22 yards out on the next play to take the rest of the fight out of Tennessee."They're the ones with the target on their backs now," Fulmer said. "They do a great job of defending it."
Reach Larry Williams at (706) 823-3645 or firstname.lastname@example.org