ATHENS, GA. – Tennessee entered the game this weekend as college football darling, ranking # 1 for the first time since 1998 and fielding the nation’s most explosive offense. Georgia, which hosted their first top 3 match since 1983, continued to do something that hadn’t been done in the previous 21 games which Josh Heupel was at the helm for the Volunteers: keep Tennessee out of the end zone for the entire first half. Tennessee only had six points to show for six drives in the first and second quarters, and only got seven more of five drives in the second half, falling 27-13 when Georgia imposed their will, holding the Volunteers at 289. yards, 264 yards and 34 points below the seasonal average arriving on Saturday. The defense of Georgia has been told all year that it is not the historic unit from last season, but on Saturday he reminded everyone that he can still play at the elite level.
A number of players lived up to the occasion in Georgia’s latest win over Tennessee. Here are the players who deserve Game Balls for their performance in this top 3 win.
Quarterback Stetson Bennett: The sixth-year flagger outperformed his counterpart in Hooker, who arrived over the weekend seen by many as the prime candidate for the Heisman Trophy. Bennett stepped forward in his pocket, climbed the ladder and fired several darts downstream, completing 17 of 25 passes for 257 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. He also had a 13-yard touchdown which may have been the best decision of the day.
Coming back Kenny McIntosh: McIntosh played a rebound match against Tennessee, showcasing the all-round skills he displayed in the season’s opening win against Oregon. McIntosh scored 52 yards on a 10-carry run, adding two catches for 57 yards, including a 49-yard catch on a wheel course that will make NFL scouts drool just like they did for James Cook during the 2021 season.
Large receiver Ladd McConkey: Few have entered the game with more to prove than the second year in the red jersey. McConkey was coming out of a multi-game period of falls and mental errors and was ready to adjust to the schedule he grew up rooting for in Tennessee, one that shunned him in high school by choosing not to offer him a scholarship. McConkey put both in the rearview mirror on Saturday, with five catches for the team for 94 yards and a touchdown, overtaking the Tennessee secondary on multiple occasions and knocking defenders out on the open field when they chose to play him. Doubt it at your own risk.
Offensive tackle Broderick Jones: Nobody made more money Saturday than Jones. Coupled with the best passing run Georgia have faced all season, Jones pinned Byron Young, Domenico Baileyand whoever else Tennessee put in front of him, providing Bennett with a clean pocket and time to take readings that extended units and helped put points on the scoreboard.
Malaki Stark: No longer a freshman, Starks was all over the field on Saturday, limiting prolific Tennessee filmmakers from explosives with a 10 tack tackle record and a pass break. Starks continues to live up to his five stars and his range has been put to good use, with very few yards after being captured by the Volunteers.
Javon Bullard: It was clear upon entering the game that Bullard would play a pivotal role, having been asked not only to spy on Hooker but to make sure Jaylen Wright it didn’t break out to contain. Bullard had seven tackles and a pass break, with Will Muschamp unleashing him in the second half, sending him on more blitzes that ended in a couple of sacks. Like Starks, he made several tackles on the open field that prevented Tennessee from interrupting the big plays.
Corner defender Kelee Ringo: Ringo reminded everyone on Saturday why very few players have his combination of size and speed on the straight. With Tennessee threatening in the second quarter, Ringo ran step by step Jalin Hyatt, showing perfect coverage as he teetered in an intercept in the end zone. She’s had seven tackles in the game, but she’s been the one picked against arguably the best offshore receiver in college football this season which will add to her already impressive reel of highlights.
Georgia fans: Clever Kirby launched a call to action this week, asking fans to show up early and be loud. Tennessee had reached record noise levels in its victory over Alabama earlier this year, up to 124 decibels. Not only did Sanford Stadium heed the call on Saturday, but it took it to levels never heard before in the hedgerows. According to the scoreboard, the crowd hit 132.6 decibels and surpassed 130 decibels multiple times, spending much of the night in the 125-127 decibel range. The result: seven false starts for Tennessee. Mission accomplished.