Hours after a story in the local paper questioned the attitude and direction of struggling Tennessee, the Vols answered back with a decisive 35-14 victory over No. 12 Georgia. Arian Foster rushed for 98 yards and three scores, and the Tennessee defense never let Georgia get moving.
The 35 points were the most allowed by the Bulldogs this year, and the loss snapped their three-game winning streak at Neyland Stadium. It also was Georgia's worst loss since the 2003 Southeastern Conference championship, a 34-13 loss to LSU.
"Ordinarily, I'm a pretty big boy and I can take and ignore anything. But I thought it was an incredible cheap shot," Fulmer said, bringing up the story that quoted anonymous former Tennessee players.
"It hit a dang nerve and I don't appreciate it," Fulmer added. "I don't usually respond that way, but I think in this case, I think our football team and our program deserves a response.
"It was an incredible cheap shot is what it was. An incredible cheap shot."
Fulmer's rant wasn't anywhere near the blistering Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy gave a columnist a few weeks ago. But after a tough loss to California and a rout by Florida seemed to ruin Tennessee's hopes in the SEC for yet another year, it was clear the Vols (3-2, 1-1 SEC) were reeling.
My, how one game against Georgia (4-2, 2-2 SEC) can change things.
"It was huge from a confidence standpoint and, as everybody knows, the SEC East is wide open," Foster said. "We'd had enough."
Tennessee went after the Bulldogs from the opening kick, and never let up. It scored on four of its first five possessions, showed it really did have a running game and made the Bulldogs look more like a work in progress than a top-15 team.
"They beat us soundly today," Richt said. "Both sides of their line handled us, and they didn't have to do much in the second half."
Montario Hardesty rushed for 68 yards and a score, and Erik Ainge was 17-of-22 for 165 yards. Tennessee even broke out a trick play, with wide receiver Lucas Taylor throwing for a 56-yard touchdown on his second career pass.
Georgia managed only two first downs in the first half, and didn't cross midfield until after halftime. The Vols shut down elusive running back Knowshon Moreno, holding him to only 30 yards -- more than 50 below his average. Thomas Brown ran for 20 yards before an injured shoulder sidelined him for the second half.
Matthew Stafford threw for two touchdowns and 174 yards, but was under pressure much of the day. He finished 16-of-33, and threw one interception.
"We didn't help the defense at all," Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. "It was like we were shell-shocked."
Despite several different backs to choose from, the Vols had struggled to get their running game going early in the season. Not this day.
Alternating between Foster and LaMarcus Coker, Tennessee ground its way down the field on its first possession before Foster scored on a nine-yard run to give Tennessee the early lead.
"I think we're very versatile," Foster said. "We can do a lot of different things. Our different stable of backs allows us to that."
The Bulldogs nearly picked Ainge off on Tennessee's second series, forcing the Vols to punt. But they came right back and showed they've got a few things in their offense that could make the SEC East race interesting.
On the first play of the second quarter, Ainge took the snap and faked a handoff before giving the ball to Taylor. With the Georgia defense collapsing to stop the run, Taylor -- who also threw a pass last season -- launched a long throw that Coker hauled in down the left sideline. Nobody was close, and he scampered into the end zone to put Tennessee up 14-0.
The Vols ran that exact play against Florida last year, and Taylor connected with Coker for a touchdown then, too.
"Lucas Taylor played quarterback in high school," Ainge said. "He can throw it falling backwards falling off his left foot."
The Bulldogs start three freshmen on the offensive line, and they'd held up OK early in the season. But they had all kinds of problems Saturday. Moreno and Brown had nowhere to run, and tackle Trinton Sturdivant was called for three penalties.
Stafford finally got Georgia across midfield with a 24-yard toss to Kris Durham early in the second half. Two plays later, he connected with Demiko Goodman for a 26-yard score that cut Tennessee's lead to 28-7.
But if the Bulldogs had any thoughts of rallying in the second half -- as Tennessee did last year in Athens, when it scored 27 points in the fourth quarter -- the Vols ended those quickly.
Facing a fourth-and-1 on the Georgia 40, Tennessee went for it. The Vols hadn't been very successful on short-yardage plays all year, and were 2-of-5 on fourth-down conversions. But Foster rumbled for a five-yard gain, Tennessee went on to score and the game may as well have been over.
"We said we had a chance to be a better football team and we put it together much better tonight," Fulmer said. "It's only a start for us, but it's a step in the right direction."
The Associated Press News Service
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