After a rocky start to the season, Georgia is back in the SEC East race.
The Bulldogs (3-2, 2-1 SEC) will try to extend their winning streak to four games Saturday at Tennessee. Georgia moved into a three-way tie for first in the SEC East after South Carolina and Florida lost last Saturday.
"It is definitely a motivating factor for everybody," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "That's why we have the plaques on the wall. We're shooting for the Eastern Division title. That's our goal."
It won't be an easy path. Georgia has lost its last two games at Tennessee's Neyland Stadium, which seats more than 100,000 and is routinely sold out.
"It's a very tough place to win, at least it has the last two times we were there," Richt said. "We pretty much got drubbed. We didn't put up much of a fight to last two times we were in their house, so we need to try to hopefully change that."
Since season-opening losses to Boise State and South Carolina, Georgia has regrouped. The Bulldogs have outscored their last three opponents 110-23.
"We had to come together and realize we still had our whole season in front of us," Georgia tight end Orson Charles said. "Yeah we lost two games that I felt like we could have won, but we still had the whole season ahead of us and we wouldn't let those two games dictate our season."
Dooley downplays significance of Georgia game
Tennessee coach Derek Dooley dismissed the question before it was even finished.
Heading into his second game against Georgia, the school he grew up watching from his back porch with his father, Vince, as the head coach, Dooley was asked about the significance of Saturday's game at Neyland Stadium.
That's the last thing on his or his players' minds heading into a pivotal, measuring-stick game for his young program.
"It was a good story last year," Dooley said. "Means a lot more people are coming to the game. That's probably the biggest thing, personally. I'll stay away from the house this week because there'll be 600 people."
There will be many more than that at Neyland Stadium to watch whether the Vols (3-1, 0-1 SEC) can avenge an ugly, 41-14 loss last year at Georgia and take the next step toward competing in the SEC East or whether they're still a year or two away.
The game kicks off a grueling stretch of games for Tennessee, as the Vols are set to face No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama in the following weeks. But as Dooley and his players said the Vols aren't playing October this week; they're playing Georgia.
"Last year they kind of got away with one," defensive tackle Malik Jackson said. "I just took it slow, took it every week with Buffalo and Florida, so I'm just ready to get this game on and show them what Tennessee really has to offer."
Tennessee has certainly played well against inferior competition, as it has outscored opponents 128-49 in its three wins. A reality check at Florida, though, has many, including the Vols themselves, wondering just how good they are.
"We'll see about our team," Dooley said. "I don't know. I made the comment, I don't know who we are, really, yet, and only time will tell. And so, this will be kind of the next step."
GEORGIA NOTES, QUOTES
--Georgia coach Mark Richt (99-36) is going for his 100th career win against Tennessee. "I never thought I'd get to 100," Richt said. "I didn't know if I'd get 100 games period. But to get 100 victories this week would be sweet, no doubt Ö because it is Tennessee and it is so important for where we are right now and the race we're in."
--Richt said he would like to see the Bulldogs do a better job of "putting teams away" in the second half. Georgia has scored a combined six points in its last two games after building big leads against Ole Miss and Mississippi State in the first half. "We want to put teams away," Richt said. "We just have not been able to do that. You also get in a situation where if you got a lead, you want to be careful not to do what we did where we threw that pick six. We're up 21 points and the defense is in complete control. So yeah, you want keep doing things offensively, but the more you throw it, the more risk you take of that – a pick six – happening and all of a sudden it's a two-score game, and it gets a little bit tighter than you want it to get."
TENNESSEE NOTES, QUOTES
--Tennessee is simply getting it done on third down this season. The Vols are best in the SEC and tied with Wisconsin for the best third-down conversion percentage (62). What makes the figure all the more impressive is when it's compared to what Tennessee did on third down through four games last season. Without top third-down target Gerald Jones, the Vols converted just 11 of 54 through the first four games last year.
--A win for the Vols on Saturday would move them to 4-1 for the first time since 2006 and mark the fifth consecutive win by the home team in the Tennessee-Georgia series.
--Tennessee has scored 40 or more points in three of its first four games this season. The Vols haven't had a stretch like that since 1995. The three 40-point games equal the season totals in 2010 and 2009.
SERIES HISTORY: Tennessee leads 21-17, two ties (last meeting, 2010, Georgia 41-14).
SCOUTING THE GEORGIA OFFENSE: Georgia's offense has committed nine turnovers, tied with Florida and Vanderbilt for the fourth-most in the SEC. The Bulldogs have been balanced this season, passing for 1,188 yards and rushing for 881 yards. Georgia is fifth in the SEC in scoring offense with 34.6 points per game.
SCOUTING THE TENNESSEE DEFENSE: The Vols have received unexpected production and consistency from their front seven, which was expected to be a clear weakness heading into the season. No one player is putting up big numbers, but a number have embraced their role, however limited it may be, and have made the most of it. DE Jacques Smith and DT Malik Jackson are the obvious leaders of the group and are the biggest threats to break through into the opposing backfield. Freshmen LBs Curt Maggitt and A.J. Johnson continue to play with more and more understanding of the game as the season progresses. The secondary hasn't been much of a liability, but it's not exactly making plays, either. Tennessee has just one interception this season, and that came in the first game against Montana. CB Marsalis Teague has been steady and so has S Prentiss Waggner, but a rotating cast of characters at the other cornerback position and an underwhelming season thus far from SS Brent Brewer have made this unit below average.
SCOUTING THE TENNESSEE OFFENSE: For one game against inferior competition, quarterback Tyler Bray proved he could not survive, but thrive without top receiver Justin Hunter, who is out for the season with a torn ACL. How he'll be able to incorporate Da' Rick Rogers and the rest of UT's receivers against the SEC's toughest defenses remains to be seen. Players such as Zach Rogers, DeAnthony Arnett and TE Mychal Rivera will need to elevate their respective performances when defenses inevitably start double-teaming Da'Rick Rogers, who hauled in seven passes for 180 yards and two touchdowns against Georgia. The running game still remains a major question mark for the Vols. Tauren Poole ran as good as he has all season last week on his way to a 101-yard day, but neither he nor coach Derek Dooley were fully satisfied by his performance. The offensive line seems to have pass blocking down to a science, but it doesn't appear yet to have the necessary tenacity to run block against SEC defenses.
SCOUTING THE GEORGIA DEFENSE: Georgia will look to continue to get pressure on the quarterback. The Bulldogs are tied for third in the SEC with 10 sacks. Georgia also ranks fifth in the SEC in run defense, giving up just 107 yards per game. The Bulldogs limited Mississippi State to just 56 yards rushing. Georgia is holding its opponents to just 25.4 percent on third-down conversions.
GEORGIA QUOTE TO NOTE: "This is a rivalry, so we want to go out and play well. We have some momentum going into the game, and no one wants to see that momentum stopped." -- Georgia DL Abry Jones, on facing Tennessee on Saturday night.
TENNESSEE QUOTE TO NOTE: "We've just got to play one game a week. We can't worry about the South Carolinas and the Alabamas and LSUs this week. We've got Georgia, and we're going to take it as a one-game season. We're going to worry about Georgia this week, and next week we'll worry about whoever we have to worry about. We're not really dwelling on October. We're dwelling on Georgia." -- DT Malik Jackson.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Georgia at Tennessee, Oct. 8 -- Georgia (3-2, 2-1 SEC) will try to keep its positive momentum going in a night game at Tennessee (3-1, 0-1 SEC). The Bulldogs have won three straight after an 0-2 start.
GEORGIA'S KEYS TO THE GAME: It begins with stopping Tennessee's passing attack, led by sophomore QB Tyler Bray. Bray leads the SEC in passing yards per game (332) and touchdown passes (14). Georgia's secondary will need to account for sophomore Da'Rick Rogers, who had seven catches for 180 yards last week. Look for Georgia to try to pressure Bray with blitzes and force him into mistakes. On offense, Georgia must limit its own turnovers while continuing its balance on offense. Georgia QB Aaron Murray, who threw three interceptions last week, needs to be on target with his receivers for the Bulldogs to have a chance on the road.
GEORGIA PLAYERS TO WATCH:
QB Aaron Murray -- Murray has thrown for 1,110 yards with 13 TDs and six interceptions this season. Murray will need to cut down on his mistakes after throwing for three interceptions last week against Mississippi State. Murray threw just eight interceptions all of last season.
RB Isaiah Crowell -- Crowell has rushed for 100 yards or more in all three SEC games he's played in this season. He's capable of running between the tackles and making big plays on the edge with his speed.
WR Malcolm Mitchell -- Mitchell leads Georgia in receptions (22) and receiving yards (312). He's also caught three TD passes.
CB Brandon Boykin -- The 5-foot-10 Boykin is Georgia's top cover corner and will have a challenge in covering 6-3 Tennessee WR Da'Rick Rogers.
LB Jarvis Jones -- With Cornelius Washington out on disciplinary suspension, the Bulldogs will need Jones to step up and provide a pass rush from his outside linebacker spot. Jones had two sacks last week against Mississippi State and has three sacks this season. He's also tied for the team lead in tackles with 28 and has 5.5 tackles for loss.
TENNESSEE KEYS TO THE GAME: The Vols defense simply can't surrender yet another play of 65 yards or more against a team like Georgia. On offense, Tennessee doesn't expect to have any issues gaining yards through the passing game against the Bulldogs, but running the ball will be key in determining who controls the tempo.
TENNESSEE PLAYERS TO WATCH:
WR Da'Rick Rogers -- The sophomore is Tennessee's new No. 1 target now that Justin Hunter is out for the season, and he hasn't shown any hesitation in assuming the responsibility. His first official game as Tyler Bray's top option resulted in seven catches for 180 yards and two touchdowns. He'll be playing with plenty of inspiration this week against a Georgia team he was once committed to before switching to Tennessee at the last minute.
RB/WR Rajion Neal -- A knee injury rendered him useless through most of the preseason and it stalled his development at a new position. The sophomore finally had a chance to show what he can do last week against Georgia, and it's clear the Vols plan on using him in a number of different situations. Neal caught a pass and scored on an end-around in the victory over Buffalo, and was moved all over the field to keep the opposition honest.
DE Jacques Smith -- He leads the Vols in tackles for loss with 4.5 and is a consistent threat to reach the quarterback. Smith, only a sophomore, carries the most up-side of anyone on the Tennessee defensive line, and he's already emerged as a bona fide team leader. He made one big mistake last week against Buffalo, though, missing a chance to wrap up Bulls quarterback Chazz Anderson before he ran 68 yards for a touchdown. Smith didn't want to talk about it after the game. He's just focused on making sure it doesn't happen again.
GEORGIA ROSTER REPORT
--OLB Cornelius Washington has been suspended for two games following his DUI arrest on Sunday night. Washington was coming off one of the best performances of his career, a four-tackle, two-sack game against Mississippi State. Possibilities to replace Washington include LBs Chase Vasser, Reuben Faloughi, Ray Drew and Ramik Wilson.
--RB Ken Malcome, who announced last week that he was intending to transfer, changed his mind a day later and remains on the team. "I just went back to the room and thought about it for a long time, about two or three hours, sitting in front of the TV ... thinking about all the consequences," Malcome said. "I felt like when a man goes through his problems, he's got to face them."
--WR Marlon Brown is questionable with an ankle injury.
--WR Rantavious Wooten is questionable with post-concussion syndrome.
--CB Damian Swann is probable with a groin injury.
--OL Chris Burnette is probable with an ankle injury.
--CB Brandon Boykin won't take part in contact drills this week but will play against Tennessee.
TENNESSEE ROSTER REPORT
--S Brent Brewer, who left Saturday's game against Buffalo on multiple occasions because of an apparent injury, is doing fine and isn't expected to miss any practice time, Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said.
--LB Raiques Crump, a fixture on special teams, is back with the team after missing most of last week's practices with an unspecified infection.
--LB Herman Lathers, who has yet to play a game this season because of a broken ankle, is still "a couple of weeks out," Dooley said.