Editor’s note: Each day this week, we will look back at a memorable moment or series of events from Georgia’s 2012 season. Today we remember the Georgia defense’s fourth-quarter stands that preserved a seven-point win against Tennessee.
ATHENS, Ga. -- Perhaps it seems strange to highlight a defense’s performance in a game where the opponent scored 44 points, but the Georgia-Tennessee game from late September serves as an exception to that logic.
Sure, the Volunteers scored more points that afternoon than any of Georgia’s other 2012 opponents, but it should be noted that Tennessee scored its first touchdown off an interception return and had additional touchdown drives of 8 and 18 yards following Bulldogs turnovers.
Nonetheless, it was far from a perfect day until the end.
Tennessee accumulated 478 yards of total offense and was within striking distance in the fourth quarter when Vols tailback Rajion Neal barreled into the end zone to cut Georgia’s lead to 51-44 with 8:56 to play. That’s when Georgia’s defense awakened to stop Tyler Bray and the Tennessee offense in their tracks, forcing turnovers by Bray on each of the Vols’ last three possessions to keep the lead at seven points.
Georgia’s offense had been devastatingly effective to open the second half, scoring touchdowns on its first three possessions to take a two-touchdown lead. But it went into a deep freeze afterward, recording just one first down in its final four possessions. The defense picked up the slack by putting the clamps on Bray, Tennessee’s quarterback, in the closing minutes.
Sanders Commings started the turnover parade by picking off a Bray pass at the Georgia 36-yard line with 5:55 remaining, with the Bulldogs quickly punting the ball back to the Vols after a three-and-out.
Tennessee followed by driving 48 yards to Georgia’s 27 before freshman Jordan Jenkins tracked down Bray in the backfield for a sack and knocked the ball loose for a fumble that nose guard John Jenkins recovered at the 31. Georgia’s ensuing drive started with 1:22 to play, but Tennessee used two timeouts after stopping Todd Gurley runs and the Bulldogs milked the clock before a punt gave Tennessee possession at its 35 with 15 seconds remaining.
Commings had one more big play left in him, though, picking off Bray’s first-down pass at the Georgia 48 to lock up the victory.
Because of the way the season ended for both programs, it’s easy to forget that Tennessee entered that game with a 3-1 record while Georgia was 4-0. Both teams easily could have left Sanford Stadium with identical 4-1 marks that day, and who knows how it would have altered the course of their respective seasons.
But thanks to opportunistic plays by Commings and the Jenkins boys at the end of the game, the Bulldogs held on for a win that helped them eventually prevail as SEC East champions for a second straight season.