Georgia entered last week’s game against Alabama with a perfect record, legitimate College Football Playoff ambitions and more momentum than any other team in the SEC. The Bulldogs left Knoxville, Tenn., on Saturday on the wrong end of another dispiriting upset. Georgia fell 38–31 to Tennessee at Neyland Stadium in its first defeat at the hands of the Volunteers since 2009.
Here are three thoughts on Tennessee’s win:
1. Nick Chubb’s injury is a bummer
Chubb was carted off after landing awkwardly at the end of a run toward the sideline on Georgia’s first offensive play. The Bulldogs later announced that Chubb would miss the remainder of the game with a “left knee injury,” and prominent athletes sent out tweets supporting the star running back. The nature of the injury is not clear—coach Mark Richt said afterward that he was optimistic Chubb wouldn’t need surgery—but it goes without saying that anything severe would be devastating for Chubb, a remarkable talent with a bright professional future who had established himself as a Heisman Trophy contender.
For Georgia, losing Chubb would drag down an offense with a shaky quarterback situation. To wit: Greyson Lambert and Brice Ramsey combined to go 11 for 31 for 106 yards with zero touchdowns and three interceptions against the Crimson Tide last week. The good news for the Bulldogs is they have a capable runner behind Chubb. With him sidelined on Saturday, Sophomore Sony Michel carried 22 times for 145 yards. Still, let’s hope Georgia doesn’t have rely on Michel to carry its running game the rest of the season.
2. This is a nice win for Tennessee
Volunteers coach Butch Jones had come under criticism this season as his team suffered a series of devastating losses. Specifically, Tennessee just kept blowing big leads.
On Saturday, the Volunteers used a furious comeback to erase a 21-point deficit and pull out the biggest win of Jones’s tenure. Trailing 24–3 after Georgia’s Reggie Davis returned a punt for a touchdown in the second quarter, Tennessee scored two touchdowns in a one-minute span to pull within one score just before the half. The Volunteers took a lead late in the third quarter on a Josh Dobbs touchdown pass and then, in a reversal from Jones’s repeated late-game mismanagement this season, scored again with just under six minutes remaining for a seven-point lead. That capped a remarkable performance for Dobbs, who accounted for 430 total yards and five touchdowns.
This win won’t change the perception that Tennessee has largely failed to meet expectations; an SEC media panel in the preseason voted the Volunteers to finish second in the conference’s East division. Yet this is an important victory for a coach fighting a reputation that he can’t translate wins on National Signing Day into wins on the field. Tennessee may not compete for the division crown, but this victory should provide a confidence boost heading into an Oct. 24 game at Alabama.
3. The SEC East is up for grabs
We’ll know more after No. 11 Florida takes on Missouri on Saturday night, but the outcome of that game won’t meaningfully change the basic point: There is no clear favorite in the SEC East. Georgia seemed the best candidate for that title even after the aforementioned loss to Alabama. That result was dismaying for fans hopeful the Bulldogs could compete for a spot in the playoff, yet they were viewed as one of the top contenders to win the weaker SEC’s weaker division. Double-digit wins and a top-tier bowl game remained in play.
Where does Georgia stand after Saturday? It’s still in the mix to win East, but its margin for error is slimmer. The Bulldogs face three crucial games against division foes Missouri, Florida and Kentucky over the next three weeks. The matchup with the Gators on Oct. 31 very well could decide who earns a spot in the conference championship game. Georgia can beat Florida, but not if it performs the way it did against an inferior opponent on Saturday.