Originally created 10/13/03

Fumble recovery and return sends Georgia on its way



KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- One play was all Georgia needed to take care of Tennessee and keep alive its chance to defend the Southeastern Conference championship.

Sean Jones' 92-yard fumble return on the last play of the first half catapulted Georgia (5-1, 3-1) to a 41-14 victory Saturday night, the worst loss Tennessee has suffered at home in nine years.

The play deflated the Volunteers (4-2, 2-2), who had been less than a yard away from taking the lead but instead went into halftime down 20-7 and ended up with their worst home loss since a 31-0 defeat to Florida in 1994.

"The momentum swing was huge," Georgia quarterback David Greene said. "It was definitely the biggest play of the game. It changed the whole game around."

The Bulldogs moved into first place in the SEC East with their fourth straight win over the Vols, and improved four spots in The AP poll to No. 4 in the nation. The Vols fell eight spots to 21st.

Georgia never trailed and scored 24 points off four Tennessee turnovers.

A close game began its rapid transition into a rout with Georgia leading 13-7 late in the second quarter.

Three personal foul penalties against Georgia helped Tennessee drive to the Bulldogs 14.

Two plays later the Vols had a first-and-goal at the 3. Two runs left them inside the 1. On third down, with seven seconds remaining in the half, Tennessee called for tailback Jabari Davis to run off tackle, a standard goal-line play for the Vols.

Davis never got the ball. Quarterback Casey Clausen fumbled it away when brushed by lead-blocking fullback Troy Fleming. Clausen and a Bulldogs defender dived at it and swatted it into the clear.

"I saw it come out immediately, just sitting there on the green grass. So I went after it," Jones said.

Once he picked the ball up there was nothing left between him and the distant end zone but the green grass, and he covered it untouched among a convoy of potential blockers as the time ticked to zero, stunning a Neyland Stadium crowd of 107,517 into silent disbelief.

"The last play was the largest momentum swing I've ever seen," Georgia coach Mark Richt said.

Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said he was disappointed the Vols couldn't score there, but still hoped to rally in the second half.

"They were tanked at halftime," Fulmer said of the players. "I thought when we came back out we'd re-establish momentum."

Instead, the Georgia defense hunkered down, and Greene made Tennessee pay for its mistakes.

Michael Cooper extended Georgia's lead to 27-7 with a 6-yard touchdown run to cap an 83-yard drive on the Bulldogs' opening possession of the second half.

Then Odell Thurman intercepted Clausen's pass on the first play of Tennessee's ensuing possession, and Tyson Browning scored from 8 yards out three plays later.

The Bulldogs got another interception on Tennessee's next series when Kedric Golston batted Clausen's pass and Robert Geathers caught it.

The Bulldogs went ahead 41-7 on the next play on Kregg Lumpkin's 22-yard TD run, completing a three-touchdown blitz in a little over 2 1/2 minutes and clearly stating Georgia's case as the cream of the SEC East.

"They are the defending champions with a target on their chest," Fulmer said. "They have done a good job defending that title."