KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Kirby Smart is a long way from being ready to make any kind of hyperbolic statement regarding the current play of his 7th-ranked Georgia football team.
But he will make one acknowledgement; his Bulldogs are progressing in a positive way.
Take Saturday’s 41-0 rout of Tennessee, for example.
“If you form good habits, good habits will start to form you,” Smart said. “If you form those in practice, they carry on in the game and they’re starting to do that with a little more confidence.”
The Bulldogs (5-0, 2-0) certainly have a lot going their way.
Georgia dominated the game in every way possible, churning up 380 yards of offense while holding Tennessee to just 142 and forcing four turnovers (two interceptions and two fumble recoveries).
The loss marked the first time the Volunteers (3-2, 0-2) have been shut out since 1994. Opponents have only scored four touchdowns against Georgia this year.
“We had a couple of close calls with shutouts this year, but they got in,” Bulldog linebacker Lorenzo Carter said. “It’s great, but it’s just more satisfying that we finished this game hard with the way we played and didn’t let them in.”
Quarterback Jake Fromm accounted for three of Georgia's touchdowns, rushing for two and throwing for another score.
The game was also special for Bulldog running back Nick Chubb.
During his last trip to Knoxville in 2015, Chubb tore up his knee on the game’s first carry, forcing him to miss the rest of the season. On Saturday, Chubb enjoyed some sweet revenge, carrying 16 times for 109 yards.
“Emotions were running high, certainly for me coming back to this place after what happened but this really wasn’t a big deal,” Chubb said. “We came here and executed as we always have. I think overall we had a great game.”
Tennessee, meanwhile, continues to spiral.
Volunteers fans were already growing more skeptical of coach Butch Jones, and boos rained down late in the third quarter after Sony Michel's 21-yard touchdown made the score 31-0.
Brian Herrien added 1-yard touchdown run for the Bulldogs early in the fourth, and by the time kicker David Marvin kicked a 19-yard field goal with 5:34 to play, what was a sold-out stadium of 102,455 was whittled down to a few thousand Bulldogs fans.
“When you’re playing a good team like Georgia, every opportunity you have to make a play,” Jones said. “But there’s no excuses. There’s no hiding behind it.”
Georgia couldn't have wished for a better first half.
The Bulldogs dominated the first 30 minutes, getting touchdown runs of 9 and 4 yards from Fromm, who also accounted for Georgia's first touchdown on a 12-yard pass to Javon Wims.
A 38-yard field goal by Rodrigo Blankenship accounted for the rest of the points.
Tennessee, meanwhile, didn't sniff much yardage at all.
Georgia held the Vols to 64 total yards, including just 11 through the air for quarterback Quinten Dormady, who completed just three of the first 12 passes he attempted with two interceptions, one each from Tyrique McGhee and J.R. Reed.
“You don’t want to lose like that,” Dormady said. “All we can do is get back, look at it and continue to build. But this was a tough loss for sure.”Later in the game, the Bulldogs were credited with a blocked punt when Trevor Daniel's kick went right into the line and off the facemask of Georgia's D'Andre Walker.
“This team has no letup,” McGhee said. “You don’t stop until that clock says 0-0. That’s our mindset and it’s helped us get over the hump.”
Tennessee, meanwhile, has plenty of questions – mostly on offense – to answer.
“I’m very concerned,” Jones said. “We never established any rhythm; we did not establish any tempo. I don’t think we had any explosive plays. It was as bad an offensive performance as I’ve ever been associated with and it was inexcusable.”
NOTES: Saturday’s win was the 800th in Bulldogs history. ... Georgia lost LB Reggie Carter to a concussion and Trenton Thompson to a right knee injury. Neither player returned. ... Tennessee honored former quarterback Peyton Manning at halftime for his introduction into the College Football Hall of Fame.