Georgia football: the best gifts of the last 25 years

Wide receiver Hines Ward
Wide receiver Hines Ward /
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Sean Jones, Georgia Bulldogs
(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) /

2003: Tennessee fumbles, Sean Jones runs to start a blowout

For the first 10 years of the SEC Championship Game the Eastern Division was a two-team battle between Tennessee and Florida. The Gators won seven division titles, five SEC titles and one National Championship. Tennessee won the East three times, won the conference twice and won a National Title of their own.

Their shared dominance of the division ended in 2002 when Georgia put down Tennessee and overcame a loss to Florida to win the SEC East. The Dawgs went on to win the SEC crown and ended the year 13-1 ranked no. 3 in America.

The press considered the Georgia vs. Tennessee game in 2003 one of the pillar games of the East Division going into the season. The hype built on September 20 when the Dawgs lost to LSU and Tennessee defeated Florida, giving the Volunteers the lead in the division race. But two weeks later, the Vols lost to Auburn, setting up a matchup of 4-1 rivals on October 11 in front of a crowd of over 107,000 people and on primetime television. This was the game of the night as the winner would take over the lead in the SEC East.

Early on, the game lived up to the hype. Both teams featured great defenses, but also had solid quarterbacks known to beat even the best defenses. Through 16 minutes, Georgia’s David Greene was a bit better as he had the Dawgs leading 10-0. But Tennessee’s Casey Clausen countered with a 90-yard-touchdown pass, cutting the lead to 10-7. Billy Bennett added another field goal late in the second quarter to extend the lead to 13-7, before Clausen led the Volunteers all the way to the Georgia three-yard-line with seven seconds to go in the half.

But Tennessee inexplicably took the ball out of his hands for the next play, instead electing to handoff to Jabari Davis. He mishandled the handoff from Clausen and the ball bounced away from the Tennessee offense. A few Georgia players tried to dive on the ball before Sean Jones picked it up and ran it all the way back for a 92-yard-touchdown as time expired in the first half.

Instead of going into halftime losing 14-13, or at best leading 13-10, Georgia took a 20-7 lead into the locker room. They came out after halftime and outscored Tennessee 21-7 in the second half. The 41-14 win for the Dawgs shocked the college football world and placed Georgia in firm control of the SEC for the time being.