Bennett, No. 1 Georgia remain perfect, rout Tennessee 41-17

Brianna Paciorka/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The Georgia Bulldogs are ranked No. 1 and just finished off a perfect run through the Southeastern Conference schedule.

They’re not satisfied yet.

Stetson Bennett ran for a touchdown and threw for another as Georgia routed Tennessee 41-17 Saturday.

The Bulldogs (10-0, 8-0, No. 1 CFP) went unbeaten in the SEC regular season for the first time since the league split into divisions in 1992 and went to an eight-game schedule.

“Nobody thinks they’ve arrived,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “There’s things we can continue to work to get better at, and they’ll continue to do that. But tonight? They went through a tough gauntlet in our league and played well.”

Georgia already had its fourth berth in the SEC championship game in five years locked up coming into this game. The Bulldogs last went undefeated in league play in 1982 with a 6-0 mark, also the last time the Bulldogs started 10-0.

“I mean 39 years, I mean it’s special …” Bennett said.

The Bulldogs actually trailed by their largest margin this season after Tennessee scored a touchdown on the opening drive. Georgia also was down 10-7 at the end of the first quarter, new territory for the Bulldogs, who had only trailed by a field goal each to Auburn and Missouri.

Georgia responded by reeling off 27 straight points, including 17 in a dominating second quarter. Derion Kendrick intercepted a pass by Hendon Hooker, and Channing Tindall stripped Hooker of the ball – Tindall had three of Georgia’s six sacks.

“We didn’t come up here to take shots,” Smart said. “We came up here to throw them.”

Bennett converted the interception into a 9-yard TD run midway through the second, and he capped a 90-yard drive with a 23-yard TD pass to James Cook just before halftime. Cook also ran 10 times and matched his career high with 104 yards and two more TDs. Stetson finished with 213 yards passing and ran for 40 more.

Tennessee (5-5, 3-4) had five-time NFL MVP Peyton Manning, former All-Star first baseman Todd Helton and WNBA champ Candace Parker on hand along with an announced crowd of 100,074 for a team coming off a win at Kentucky, its first upset of a Top 20 team on the road since 2006.

The Vols’ biggest win in this game came in with 3:38 left before lots of empty seats. Joe Milton hit Cedric Tillman on a 12-yard TD, giving Tennessee the most points scored against Georgia in a game this season.

“Me personally, just knowing how hard I am on myself and how much of a standard I hold for this defense, I’m not happy about that touchdown, Georgia linebacker Nakobe Dean said.

Tennessee came in second in the Bowl Subdivision scoring an average of 1.59 points per minute. Georgia and the stingiest scoring defense, which had allowed 6.6 points a game, simply smothered the Vols. The Bulldogs held Tennessee to 9 yards total offense in the second quarter.

“You’ve got to make some plays to give yourself a chance to play it to the end,” first-year Tennessee coach Josh Heupel said. “Red zone wasn’t good enough. Losing the turnover (battle) 2-0 hurt.”

THE TAKEAWAY

Georgia: The Bulldogs may not have turned in the dominating defensive performance they’ve become known for this season. But they proved they could power through with several sick players. Smart said they pulled defensive lineman Jalen Carter, who had received fluids intravenously, at halftime because his fever was over 100.

Tennessee: Hooker had his worst game this season coming off his best game in last week’s win over Kentucky with two turnovers, including only his third interception of the season. The Volunteers had chances to stay in this game. But they settled for a field goal after getting to the Georgia 7, turned it over on downs twice in Georgia territory, once at the Bulldogs 17 and Hooker’s fumble came on third-and-6 at the Georgia 7. Heupel pulled Hooker for Milton on the next drive.

“We were just a little bit off. A couple throws sailed on him,” Heupel said of Hooker.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Georgia certainly didn’t hurt itself. Beating an SEC rival should be impressive enough to receive all first-place votes again.

UP NEXT

Georgia hosts Charleston Southern with the Bulldogs’ SEC slate finished. Georgia then finishes the regular season against Georgia Tech.

Tennessee hosts South Alabama in the Vols’ first night kickoff since losing to Ole Miss.

Florida shakes up secondary after dismal game at Tennessee

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida coach Billy Napier is shaking up his secondary after the Gators allowed 349 yards passing – including 247 of those on eight plays – in a loss at Tennessee.

Safety Trey Dean, a fifth-year senior who has started 32 games and played in 54, is out with what Florida is calling a “lower leg injury.” But no one would be surprised if Napier was quietly benching Dean after he made two mental errors against the Volunteers that resulted in 70- and 45-yard gains and set up touchdowns.

Freshman Kamari Wilson will replace Dean and make his first college start Sunday against Eastern Washington.

Cornerback Jaydon Hill will join Wilson in the starting lineup. Hill, a third-year sophomore, will make his first start since 2020. He missed the 2021 season with a torn knee ligament. He impressed Napier and his new staff in the spring but sat out preseason camp with another knee injury.

Hill will replace sophomore Avery Helm, who also struggled against the Vols.

“You talk about what he’s been through from an injury perspective,” Napier said following practice Wednesday. “Jaydon was one of the better players that we had on our team in spring practice. I was very impressed . It’s no surprise to me. He showed pretty quickly here that he’s very capable. I’m excited to watch him play.”

Georgia transfer Jalen Kimber, a former five-star recruit, is now listed as a third-team cornerback. Kimber played just 11 snaps in Knoxville a week after he returned an interception for a touchdown in a 31-28 win against South Florida.

“I like to say we try to eliminate the bad football,” Napier said. “Talking about mental errors, misalignments, poor communication, bad fundamentals and techniques, bad decision-making within the play. … We have a laundry list of things that we need to eliminate each week.

“Last week’s game, I thought we were really close, but there’s 12 or 15 plays in the game where Florida is beating Florida. We’ve got a smart group here. I think they’re very aware of what the issues are, and I think they’re working hard to address those issues.”

Pac-12 looking stronger at top after early-season losses

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When Oregon got throttled by top-ranked Georgia and Utah lost at Florida, it appeared as though the Pac-12 was headed toward another College Football Playoff miss.

One week into the season and two of the conference’s top teams had already failed big early tests.

Flash forward three weeks and it seems the Pac-12 might be in good shape after all.

The Ducks and Utes bounced back with big wins and the top of the conference looks strong, with four teams in the top 15 for the first time since 2016.

It’s still early, but the Pac-12 is putting itself in position to get a team through to the CFP for the first time since Washington in 2016-17.

A look at how the top of the Pac-12 is stacking up headed into the first weekend of October:

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

The No. 6 Trojans (4-0, 2-0 Pac-12) seem to have quickly returned to glory in their first season under Lincoln Riley. The former Oklahoma coach brought quarterback Caleb Williams with him to Southern California and they have thrived through the first four games.

Williams has thrown for 1,054 yards and nine touchdowns, adding 100 yards and two more scores rushing. USC’s defense has been opportunistic, leading the nation with 11 interceptions while tied for the lead with 14 takeaways.

The Trojans survived a scare against scrappy Oregon State over the weekend to start 4-0 for the first time since 2012. USC has to play at Utah on Oct. 15, but avoids Washington and Oregon this season.

UTAH

The 12th-ranked Utes opened the season with a tough road loss at The Swamp in Florida, but have won three straight lopsided games.

Outside of a costly interception late against the Gators, quarterback Cam Rising has been sharp, throwing for 954 yards and 10 TDs. Utah (3-1, 1-0) has a physical defense and is third in the FBS, allowing 132.8 yards passing per game.

The Utes also have a veteran team that won the Pac-12 championship last season. The bad news: tight end Brant Kuithe, their leading receiver, is out for the season with a knee injury.

Utah plays Oregon State this weekend and has tough games against USC and Oregon still on the schedule.

OREGON

The Ducks’ playoff chances took an immediate hit with a 49-3 loss to reigning national champion Georgia in their opener.

No. 13 Oregon (3-1, 1-0) bounced back with a decisive win over a good BYU team and outlasted previously undefeated Washington State 44-41 last week.

The Ducks were no match for the Bulldogs in any aspect – few teams are – but have averaged 51.6 points the past three games. Oregon’s biggest weakness is its pass defense. The Ducks are allowing 72.5% of passes to be completed, third worst in the country.

Oregon’s biggest tests left in the season will come in back to back games against Washington and Utah.

WASHINGTON

The Huskies have made a quick turnaround in their first season under coach Kalen DeBoer.

Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. has been superb now that he’s healthy, throwing for an FBS-best 1,388 yards and 12 TDs with one interception. No. 15 Washington (4-0, 1-0) picked up a solid home win against Michigan State and has 15 sacks this season, including eight against Stanford last week.

The Huskies play their first road game at undefeated UCLA on Saturday and have to face Oregon on Nov. 12.

UCLA

After winning at Colorado for the first time since 2014 last Saturday, the Bruins (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) have their longest winning streak since winning the first eight games in 2005.

UCLA had a hard time getting past South Alabama and opened its Pac-12 schedule with a win against the struggling Buffaloes.

The Bruins will find out how good they are over the next three weeks, a brutal stretch that includes home games against Washington and Utah before heading to Eugene to play the Ducks on Oct. 22.