ATHENS, Georgia — When Justin Worley slammed his elbow off a Georgia player's helmet while throwing a pass, it looked as if his day was done.
Turns out, the Tennessee quarterback was just getting warmed up.
Worley returned to the game with a sore elbow, leading a pair of touchdown drives in the fourth quarter before the comeback fell short. The Volunteers lost to No. 12 Georgia 35-32 on Saturday.
"He's a tough leader," teammate Jason Croom said. "He's never going to back down. He can play through anything."
Tennessee (2-2, 0-1 Southeastern Conference) might have pulled off the upset if Worley had not been knocked out for three possessions in the second half. Backup Nathan Peterman botched a handoff with Marlin Lane, ruining a potential drive for the go-ahead touchdown, and was called for intentional grounding while facing one blitz after another from the Bulldogs.
Worley went for X-rays, which were negative, and returned the game with a sleeve on his arm, setting up a wild finish in which the teams kept trading touchdowns before the clock finally ran out.
"This was very disappointing," said Butch Jones, Tennessee's second-year coach. "Every individual in the organization believed that we were going to win."
Worley completed 23 of 35 for 264 yards and three touchdowns. In the fourth, he hooked up with Pig Howard on a 31-yard touchdown, followed by a two-point conversion pass, and went to Marquez North for a 6-yard score that pulled the Vols within a field goal with 2:14 remaining.
Georgia recovered the onside kick, however, and ran out the clock.
Todd Gurley rushed for a career-high 208 yards and two touchdowns, including a 51-yarder in the fourth quarter to lead the Bulldogs (3-1, 1-1). This performance will ramp up his Heisman hopes even more, eclipsing his previous career high of 198 yards in a season-opening victory over Clemson.
Gurley's burst down the middle of the field for a touchdown with 9:31 left was huge, giving Georgia a 28-17 lead. But it was a 26-yard run — where he broke two tackles in the backfield, then hurdled over another defender to pick up another 10 yards — that left everyone amazed.
"I don't know how high Todd got on that thing," Georgia coach Mark Richt marveled. "That was pretty impressive to see right there in front of you. You just shake your head and go, 'Wow.'"
The Bulldogs rallied from an early 10-0 deficit and struggled mightily against Tennessee for the second year in a row, even after Josh Dawson fell on Jalen Hurd's fumbled handoff in the end zone for a Georgia touchdown with 4:27 remaining.
Tennessee has dropped 21 straight road games against ranked teams and this was their fifth straight loss to the Bulldogs, matching its longest skid in the series. A year ago, the Vols took Georgia to overtime in Knoxville before losing 34-31.
"We need to continue to move forward and continue to build this football program," Jones said. "But the culture has changed. I can tell you that."
Tennessee jumped ahead on Aaron Medley's 46-yard field goal and a 1-yard touchdown by Hurd, who finished with 119 yards on the ground.
The Bulldogs appeared to be in control after three straight touchdowns put them ahead 21-10. Quarterback Hutson Mason scored on a 3-yard bootleg, Gurley scored his first TD with a Herschel Walker-like leap over a pile at the goal line for a 1-yard score, and freshman Nick Chubb hauled in a 20-yard touchdown pass with just 1:17 left in the half.
The Vols, in a sign of things to come, raced down the field on an 83-yard drive that took less than a minute, capped off by Worley's 23-yard touchdown pass to Croom that made it 21-17 at the break.
Both teams were sluggish in the third quarter, the Bulldogs curiously attempting to open up their passing game without much success, while Tennessee staggered after Worley left the game. The Bulldogs teed off on Peterman, whose only extensive experience before Saturday was a miserable start last year against Florida. He was 4 of 9 for 20 yards in this one.
Mason had a tough day for Georgia. He threw for just 147 yards and had his first two interceptions of the season.
"There were situations that happened where you say, 'That was awesome,'" Richt said. "There were things that happened where you say, 'That was awful.'"
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