Heartbreaker In Athens

Dale Zanine/USA Today

Dale Zanine/USA Today

There have been many exciting games so far in the 2016 college football season. The matchup between #25 Georgia and #11 Tennessee this past Saturday was perhaps the most exciting game yet. With two 40+ yard touchdowns in the final 10 seconds, the game became an instant classic.

Georgia maintained a lead the entire game, until a strip sack by the Volunteers’ Derek Barnett that was recovered in the end zone by defensive end Corey Vereen for a Tennessee touchdown. The touchdown resulted in the Volunteers having their first lead of game, up 28-24 with 2:56 left in the 4th quarter. Little hope remained for the Bulldogs as three plays later freshman Bulldog quarterback Jacob Eason threw an interception with just 2:10 left in the game. However, the Volunteers went three and out and were forced to punt, allowing Georgia to have one final chance at winning the game.

Georgia’s drive began at their own 19 yard line with 1:00 left in the game. The Bulldogs moved the ball quickly down the field, as Eason completed 3 consecutive passes to get the ball to the Tennessee 42 yard line with 19 seconds left. Following a Georgia false start and timeout, Eason and the Bulldogs faced a 1st and 15 with just 19 seconds left from the Volunteers’ 47 yard line. Eason then delivered a 47 yard touchdown pass to freshman Riley Ridley, as the Bulldogs took the lead 31-28 with just 10 seconds remaining.

Brant Sanderlin/AJC

Brant Sanderlin/AJC

Georgia was called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty following the play, which meant that the Bulldogs would have to kickoff from the 20 yard line. Tennessee’s Evan Berry returned the kick 20 yards to Georgia’s 48 yard line. Following Georgia’s offsides penalty on the kickoff, the Volunteers had 4 seconds left to run a final play from the 43 yard line. Tennessee senior quarterback and Georgia native Joshua Dobbs dropped back to pass and threw a prayer in the end zone. The Volunteers’ prayer was answered as wide receiver Jajuan Jennings, in a sea of Bulldog defenders, came down with the ball for the Tennessee victory, 34-31.

“I just grabbed the ball and brought it in,” stated Jennings.

Dobbs, a Second Team Pre-Season All-SEC selection, built off of his strong 5 touchdown performance last week against Florida as he completed 16/26 with 230 yards and 3 touchdowns. Dobbs also finished as the Volunteers’ second leading rusher with 42 yards on 10 attempts.

Discussing the game’s final play, Dobbs stated, “It was a crazy play, stuff you dream about.”

Georgia Head Coach Kirby Smart blamed the loss on the Bulldogs’ lack of discipline. It was evident that the Bulldogs were lacking in it, as they had 2 costly penalties for 20 yards in the game’s final 10 seconds.

Smart was not pleased with his team’s performance following the game as he said, “I am not into moral victories. I am sick to my stomach for these kids because we deserved to win that game.”

Though the Bulldogs fell to 3-2 on the year and fell out of the AP and Coaches’ Poll Top 25, there were some bright spots for the young team. Freshman Issac Nauta had a breakout performance, as he finished with 5 catches for 83 yards and a 50 yard touchdown. Eason proved to be clutch once again  had a gutsy performance on his final drive, regaining his composure and leading Georgia to a touchdown after two consecutive turnovers. The freshman finished 17/28 passing with 211 yards and 2 touchdowns. Georgia’s head coach Kirby Smart was pleased with Eason’s performance.

“I’m proud of the kid,” said Coach Smart, “That’s the kind of kid he is. He’s levelheaded and composed, and that’s good for a quarterback. He stepped up and made some good plays.”

Following Saturday’s win, the Volunteers claimed sole possession of the SEC East at 5-0 and moved up to #9 in the AP Poll. However, Tennessee will be heavily tested in the next two weeks as they face #8 Texas A&M and then #1 Alabama. The Volunteers certainly will have their hands full these next two weeks, but after their  strong performances the last two weeks against Georgia and Florida, Tennessee has proven that they are one of the nation’s best.

Georgia moves onto South Carolina, which will be an interesting matchup as they are coached by former Bulldog safety Will Muschamp. Georgia will be hoping that star running back Nick Chubb will be able to return from injury and be a factor, as he was limited to 1 carry for 3 yards against the Volunteers due to an ankle injury.

The Bulldogs will kick off at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia at 7:30 ET this Saturday. The game will be shown on SEC Network.

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