October 5, 2013
Overall Record: 19-21-2
Last 10 Meetings: 6-4
Richt vs. Tennessee: 8-4
Let's just say, three coaches later, that firing Phil Fulmer was a mistake.
Now that we've got that out of the way, new Tennessee coach Butch Jones will try his best to do what the last two new coaches in Knoxville couldn't – win. Winning, in the new SEC, will be a challenge for the Vols. Gone are the days where South Carolina was a pushover. Georgia has had its way with the Vols over the last 12 years. Florida still beats Tennessee regularly, and now Vanderbilt has momentum in the league. Not to mention that hated Alabama currently rules the world of college football.
It's tough out there for the Big Orange.
But new coaches can always sell hope – at least they can at first. The hiring of Jones was met with some skepticism at the start. After all, Tennessee has been in a state of coaching flux in one form or another since 2007. It's natural for fan bases to have some division on their head coach. After all, some fans think their program can always do better – even though the case study at Tennessee proves otherwise.
Jones has a uniquely difficult job at Tennessee. No other school has the sort of problems or set of expectations the Vols have. Witness that Tennessee is not a very good state in terms of football prospects. Tennessee, therefore, has to make a living recruiting outside of the state. Even Memphis, which is as far away from Knoxville as it gets in the state, is a challenge as Ole Miss and Arkansas loom. Alabama and Georgia threaten the Vols to the south while Ohio State often creeps in from the north.
Tennessee, unlike the majority a majority of SEC programs, has to recruit nationally – and that's very difficult to do coming offs a decade the likes of which has been nothing but disappointing.
And the Vols can thank three men for their demise. In alphabetical order, Mike Hamilton, Mark Richt and Nick Saban all had a hand in the downfall of the Vols over the last decade. Hamilton ran Fulmer out of Knoxville, which turned out to be a massive mistake. Richt elevated Georgia past the Vols on the conference and national scene. Georgia had lost eight of nine games before Richt arrived in Athens – the Dawgs have won eight of 12 since. Saban's LSU team knocked Tennessee out of the BCS Championship game with an upset win over the Vols in 2001 and has kept his thumb on them while at Alabama – winning six games in a row over Tennessee.
Everyone in the SEC can't be good at the same time – and it is nearly impossible for Alabama, Georgia, Florida and Tennessee to all be good at the same time.
But the expectations in Knoxville don't change. Tennessee is the biggest thing in the state, and its fans expect their football team to win.
That will be Jones' challenge. He won't be keeping up with the Joneses – he will be trying to keep pace in the SEC, and that's no easy challenge.
Volunteer to watch:
Johnson stood out on a Tennessee defense that was lackluster at best last year, one that allowed 470 yards per game and ranked dead last in the SEC and 107th in the nation out of 120 teams. But that didn't keep Johnson from leading the conference in tackles with 138 and earning a spot on the All-SEC second-team.
Johnson enters his junior year with much hype and aspiration. He said new defensive coordinator John Jancek (formerly a linebackers coach at Georgia) developed a goal this spring to allow three yards or less on 80 percent of first downs, and that's a tall task, as Tennessee gave up an average almost twice that in 2012. But Johnson remains confident about the new objective, and said he's willing to sacrifice his impressive statistics to do so. That might happen, as the Vols' defense undergoes a major makeover in what will likely be Johnson's final season with the Vols ¬¬–– he's already touted as a high-round NFL draft pick amongst the 2014 contingent.
When the Bulldogs trek to Knoxville, Richt and company will be quite wary of Johnson's presence. Last year in Athens, Johnson led the Vols with 11 tackles and recovered a fumble. But Georgia was still able to pound the ball on the ground, rushing for 274 yards, including three runs of 50-plus. Tennessee will have a difficult time containing Gurley and Keith Marshall again, but Johnson will be a major factor in the tandem's performance this go-around.
What the Dawgs must do:
Routine the Vols. Georgia is the better team, but the game is in Knoxville, which means it will be a challenge. But the better team wins in football more often than not – no matter where the game is played. The Vols will probably have two losses entering the game with Georgia, and contests with South Carolina and Alabama right after it. This is going to be a make-or-break game for the Vols this season. But Georgia needs to play its game (play-action pass), and the Dawgs should be fine.
Inside the numbers:
Derek Dooley is working in the NFL (and Willie Martinez and John Jancek are back in the SEC) because the Volunteers' defense was miserable last season. Tennessee finished No. 107 in total defense, allowing more than 471 yards per game. The worst was its pass defense, which finished No. 111 in the country, allowing 282.5 yards per game.
Unknown at this time. Jones and company made a push for Davin Bellamy, but didn't sign him over the Bulldogs in February. But Tennessee fans know recruiting the Atlanta area 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: 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.
The Dawgs won, but they needed to stop the Vols late in the game after the Big Orange rallied.
12-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 came up 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 a major upset in Sanford Stadium. 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 1-4 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.
2012 – #5 Georgia held off a furious Tennessee to hold on to a 51-44 win. The Dawgs were powered by their running backs: Todd Gurley scored three touchdowns while Keith Marshall scored two. Georgia had a 17-point lead in the second quarter. It was the highest-scoring game every between the two schools.
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