September 29, 2012
Overall Record: 18-21-2
Last 10 Meetings: 6-4
Richt vs. Tennessee: 7-4
Since 2002 Georgia has never won the SEC East without first beating Tennessee. Think about that. In all of the ups and downs of the Vols' program, and there seem to be more downs than ups of late, Georgia has never represented the division without first defeating Tennessee.
So in a sense the Tennessee game is the biggest game of the year each year. With that said, you would be hard pressed to find a majority of fans who agree that the Georgia-Tennessee game is the biggest of the year for the Dawgs.
The game isn't a rivalry on the scale of Georgia's games with Florida, Georgia Tech or Auburn. It's not the first conference game of the year the way South Carolina traditionally has been for Georgia. But it's always a big game. The Vols, too, have bigger games than Georgia – Florida and Alabama come to mind – but the contest has been pivotal for them, too. Consider that Tennessee has only once won the SEC East (2001) without knocking off Georgia.
The dynamics of the game have evolved, too. Tennessee once dominated the series in the 1990s, but with the exception of a few games in the mid 2000s, Georgia has been on top.
Still, the game remains one of the biggest contests of the year for both teams.
This year's competition will be no different, even if it is at a strange time of year… the last week of September. The Vols and Dawgs hardly played one another for decades, but once they entered the same division they settled in on playing the second weekend of October. But the new SEC calendar has moved the contest up into September for the first time since 1995.
The game will come at a critical stretch for both Georgia and Tennessee. Georgia hosts the Vols the week before a critical test at South Carolina. The Vols get a week off after the trip to Athens, but could certainly use a win to set up an October that includes games with South Carolina and Alabama.
Volunteer to watch:
Due to a mixture of talent, potential and controversy, Tyler Bray has become a polarizing figure in Knoxville. Bray has prototypical size and arm strength, finishing with 1,983 yards passing and 17 touchdowns in only seven games (due to a midseason injury) in 2011. Contrasting the positives, Bray's attitude and work ethic were tossed around in offseason rumor circles. His career has produced an 8-7 record in games he started. Entering Bray's third season at the helm with pressure to win increasing for coach Derek Dooley, 2012 will be a make-or-break campaign for the Kingsburg, CA native.
What the Dawgs must do:
Concentrate. This game is in the classic look-ahead spot with South Carolina looming the next weekend. A good Georgia team should take care of business by dictating the action with its defense – making the Vols struggle to score, and therefore controlling the game. A tough game or, worse, a loss, would make the South Carolina game a must-win affair for Georgia.
Inside the numbers:
Offense has been a major problem in the Dooley era at Tennessee. Last season the Vols scored over 13 points only twice – during a 33-23 loss to Florida and in its 27-21 overtime win over Vanderbilt. In all the other games the Vols averaged only a touchdown a game. It is impossible to be relevant in the SEC while struggling scoring.
Minimal at this time. Dooley has not yet shown that he will be a force in competition for top-level players in Georgia. That, as most Tennessee fans know, is one of the keys to the Vols' return back to the top of the SEC. Tennessee is particularly strong when they recruit well in the Atlanta area, but that's not happened of late. Georgia can't cede any more power in the recruiting game in state… they are going to have to keep the Vols at bay.
Tennessee has signed two five-star players from Georgia since 2002 and has sent only two players to the NFL from the state of Georgia in the .com era – Creekside's Eric Berry and Lovejoy's Chris Scott.
Last year's prediction: Georgia hasn't won in Knoxville since D.J. Shockley and company won the SEC in 2005. Winning on the road used to be a trademark of Mark Richt-coached teams, but since 2009 the Bulldogs have struggled on the road – going 4-6 over the last two seasons. The Dawgs won in Knoxville for the first time since 2005 and didn't drop a game on the road all year long. The test on Rocky Top was the most difficult, and the Dawgs passed.
11-Year History vs. Tennessee
2001 – Georgia knocked off #6 Tennessee in Knoxville when David Greene connected with Verron Haynes in the closing seconds as Larry Munson screamed about a Hobnail Boot. The Bulldogs pulled off a marvelous fourth quarter comeback, earning their first win in Knoxville in over 20 years. The loss proved to be Tennessee's only slip-up of the regular seasons, as they fell one game short of the BCS championship after falling to LSU in the SEC title game. This win was Mark Richt's first signature moment and is arguably still the biggest win of his career.
2002 – A late rally (13 points in the fourth quarter) by #10 Tennessee came up short, as #6 Georgia beat the Vols for the second straight year. The Bulldogs struggled to score early, gaining points by a safety and two Billy Bennett field goals. A touchdown catch by Reggie Brown turned out to be the difference, as Georgia held on 18-13.
2003 – Sean Jones picked up Casey Clausen's fumble and ran 92 yards for a touchdown on the final play of the first half to help the #8 Bulldogs cruise to a 41-14 win over the #13 Vols. Jones' play gave Georgia a 20-7 lead heading into the half. David Greene completed 22-of-27 passes thrown as eight different Georgia players carried the football at least two times or more. The Bulldogs built a 41-7 lead on the way to handing the Vols their worst home loss since falling to Florida 31-0 in 1994.
2004 – Georgia was undefeated and ranked No. 3 coming in, but #17 Tennessee managed to pull off the upset in Sanford. Tennessee scored the first ten points of the game and led 13-7 at halftime. A late score by Danny Ware made the game close, but the Vols held on to win 19-14 when David Greene's desperation fourth-down pass to Leonard Pope in the end zone fell to the ground. The Vols won the SEC East for the first time since 1998, but fell to undefeated Auburn in the SEC Championship Game.
2005 – A punt return for a touchdown by Thomas Flowers and another score by Thomas Brown powered #4 Georgia past #7 Tennessee 27-14 in Knoxville. The win was the Bulldogs' third in a row at Tennessee. The win propelled Georgia to the 2005 SEC Championship.
2006 – Georgia's 24-7 lead over #13 Tennessee wasn't nearly enough to stave off a furious Volunteer rally as the Vols routed #10 Georgia 51-33 for their second win in a row in Sanford Stadium. The game seemed Georgia's to lose after Mikey Henderson's electrifying 86-yard punt return for a touchdown was followed later in the quarter by a Brannan Southerland touchdown. But the Vols outscored Georgia 44-11 from that point on, including 27 points in the final period.
2007 – Georgia traveled to Knoxville ranked 10th, but the Bulldogs came out flat. Tennessee jumped to a 28-0 halftime score, and held on for a 35-14 win, as running back Arian Foster scored three rushing touchdowns. This loss proved fatal for Georgia's chances to play for the SEC title and potentially the BCS championship. The Bulldogs finished the season #2 in the country, but the loss to Tennessee loomed large in what could have been for Georgia in 2007.
2008 – Georgia ground out a 26-14 victory, doing enough to retain its No. 10 ranking. Fullback Brannan Southerland and receiver Mohamed Massaquoi each scored, as the Bulldogs' defense held Tennessee to 10 first downs.
2009 – Georgia arrived in Knoxville ranked 18th, but fresh off a heartbreaking loss at home to LSU. Tennessee was struggling coming into the matchup, but demolished the Bulldogs with a surprising passing attack powered by Jonathan Crompton. The senior threw for 310 yards and four touchdowns, while Georgia's offense turned the ball over three times.
2010 – Both teams entered in desperate need of win – Georgia at 1-3 and Tennessee at 2-3. The Bulldogs put a beating on Tennessee, winning 41-14 behind Aaron's Murray 266 yards passing and four total touchdowns (two passing and two rushing).
2011 – Aaron Murray connected with Malcolm Mitchell late in the third quarter on a 75-yard pass to springboard Georgia to its first win over Tennessee in Knoxville since 2005. The 20-12 win over the Vols was capped when Isaiah Crowell added a touchdown in the fourth quarter. The win was Mark Richt's 100th as a head coach.