Tennessee 45, Georgia 19
"(Kiffin) basically made a promise to us that we wouldn't lose to them anymore, forever or until he leaves," Volunteers safety Eric Berry said. "He's not going to let Georgia beat us."
The first-year coach got some help from Jonathan Crompton, who passed for a career-high 310 yards and threw for four touchdowns.
Kiffin had emphasized the Georgia game to his players due to its importance in recruiting. Because the state of Tennessee doesn't produce many elite prospects, coaches traditionally have recruited in Georgia, and 12 current Vols hail from the bordering state - including Berry.
"I told the guys last night, I don't know all the Tennessee history or tradition of all the matchups," Kiffin said. "There are a lot of great teams in this conference. But I told them, to me, this is the biggest matchup."
It was his first Southeastern Conference victory and kept the Volunteers (3-3, 1-2) from going 0-3 in the league for a second season in a row. Georgia (3-3, 2-2) dropped to 3-3 for the first time under coach Mark Richt.
"They played better. They coached better. It's very obvious their team was a better team by a long shot," Richt said.
The Vols' passing game had faltered at times this season, with Crompton struggling with his accuracy and his receivers often dropping passes when he was on target.
But by halftime Saturday, Crompton had already thrown for 205 yards and three touchdowns. He finished 20-for-27.
Georgia's offense never reached the red zone, and the Tennessee defense held it to 241 yards compared with the Vols' 472.
The Bulldogs found other ways to put up points. Brandon Boykin scored on his second 100-yard kickoff return of the season, and Bacarri Rambo returned Crompton's interception 28 yards for a TD.
Blair Walsh kicked a 52-yard field goal, and Zach Renner blocked a punt by Chad Cunningham that sailed through the end zone for a safety.
"I don't know that I've ever been involved in a game where the defense didn't let a team into the red zone one time," Kiffin said.
Crompton was a perfect 4-for-4 for 67 yards on a drive late in the first half, finding Marsalis Teague on a 5-yard touchdown pass for a 21-10 lead with 2:40 left. He also connected with Gerald Jones on a 51-yard score, the Vols' longest pass of the season.
Despite being Tennessee's most productive receiver returning from last season, Jones had struggled with drops and mistakes while recovering from an ankle injury and wrist surgery. He had a season-best 105 yards receiving and two touchdowns.
It was Georgia's Joe Cox who played the role of struggling quarterback. Cox finished 19-for-34 with 146 yards and no touchdowns.
On the opening drive of the third quarter, Cox fumbled a snap, recovered and threw to Tennessee's Dennis Rogan while under pressure. The interception set up a 30-yard field goal by Daniel Lincoln to give the Vols a 24-12 lead.
"It's so frustrating to come out and have so many things go wrong," Cox said. "It's embarrassing. We are not doing the things we need to do as players."
The SEC's leading receiver, Georgia's A.J. Green, finished with only 60 yards on eight catches. Its leading rusher, Tennessee's Montario Hardesty, had 97 yards on the ground and a touchdown.
Richt opened his career by winning four out of his first five meetings with Tennessee, but the Vols have won three of the last four.
The game has often been one of the SEC East's premier matchups, but for the first time in 38 meetings neither team was ranked coming in.
"We've got a long way to go to become a good football team," Richt said.