ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — In the biggest games, Stetson Bennett seems to rise to the occasion and above his often more heralded counterparts.
Bennett threw two touchdown passes and ran for a score as No. 1 Georgia shut down Hendon Hooker and the Vols' high-powered offense to win a Southeastern Conference showdown of the nation's top-ranked teams 27-13 Saturday.
After leading the Bulldogs to a national title last season, Bennett improved to 23-3 as a starter at Georgia.
“Competitive excellence, competitive toughness,” said Georgia coach Kirby Smart when asked about Bennett's ability to shine on the grandest stages.
“He's a winner. Let's be honest. The guy knows how to win.”
Bennett passed for 257 yards, completing 17 of 25 passes. He had a 13-yard scoring run in the matchup against Hooker, regarded as a Heisman Trophy favorite. Maybe Bennett should be now?
Bennett insisted his only motivation was for the team's hopes of returning to the SEC championship game, not for his personal validation “because at the end of the day we're playing for the East and if we lost it's a lower percentage we're playing in Atlanta.”
Added Bennett: “I don't really care about quarterback vs. quarterback.”
Georgia (9-0, 6-0 Southeastern Conference) turned the 25th regular-season matchup of the top two teams in the AP poll into a rout that made clear the defending national champions are still the team to beat.
“I kind of feel like it was a statement win,” said Georgia wide receiver Ladd McConkey, who had five catches for 94 yards and a touchdown.
In a deafening and soggy Sanford Stadium, Georgia led 27-6 before Tennessee scored its first touchdown with 4:15 remaining.
Hooker, whose Heisman hopes were bolstered by a win over Alabama last month, passed for only 195 yards for Tennessee (8-1, 4-1). Hooker was sacked six times by star defensive tackle Jalen Carter and the Bulldogs.
Tennessee wide receiver Jalin Hyatt said Georgia's defense was "way more physical than Alabama.”
Georgia's special teams put more pressure on Tennessee. Punter Brett Thorson nailed a 75-yarder that went out of bounds at the Tennessee 1 in the first quarter. Jack Podlesny kicked two field goals.
Hooker threw an interception, lost a fumble that nearly resulted in a safety for Georgia and didn't throw a touchdown pass.
““They are a great ball team,” Hooker said. "They played extremely hard, and they got the win today. We have got to clean some things up. It is a learning process.”
The Volunteers came in averaging almost 50 points per game.
The Volunteers rode that Alabama victory to the top spot in the first College Football Playoff ranking. Georgia was No. 3 in last week's CFP ranking.
That will change Tuesday.
The Vols were held to two first-half field goals as Georgia took a 24-6 halftime lead. Rain in the second half made it only more difficult to move against the Bulldogs' defense.
Bennett threw scoring passes of 37 yards to McConkey and 5 yards to Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint in the first half.
There were more big plays in Georgia's passing game. Bennett had completions of 52 yards to Arian Smith and 49 yards to running back Kenny McIntosh.
Tennessee: The Vols struggled in the big-game atmosphere, especially on offense where crowd noise contributed to a series of false starts and illegal procedure calls.
Tennessee's playoff hopes are far from gone, but the Vols are now going to need some help.
Georgia: Coming into the game, no team in FBS had more plays of at least 30 yards than Tennessee with 36.
Against the Bulldogs, the Vols' longest play was a 28-yard pass to Hyatt.
After losing outside linebacker Nolan Smith, Georgia's leader with three sacks, to a season-ending injury last week, his replacement, Robert Beal, left game in third quarter with a neck injury. Chaz Chambliss took over for Beal. ... Tennessee RB Jabari Small was taken to the medical tent in the first quarter with a shoulder injury. Wright took over as the lead running back.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp ordered all flags in the state, including at Sanford Stadium, to be lowered to half-staff on Saturday in honor of former longtime Georgia coach and athletic director Vince Dooley, who died at 90 on Oct. 28.
Georgia players wore a patch on their uniforms honoring Dooley, who won 201 games, the 1980 national championship and six SEC titles.
For the second week, Georgia players also wore a helmet decal honoring Bulldogs legend Charley Trippi, a Pro and College Football Hall of Famer who died on Oct. 19. There was a moment of silence for Dooley and Trippi before the game.
Tennessee returns home to play Missouri on Saturday. The Vols have won the last three games in the series, including a 62-24 win at Missouri in 2021.
Georgia begins a stretch of back-to-back SEC road games when it plays at Mississippi State on Saturday night. Georgia has won the last three games in the series.
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