But most disturbing of all – and this is disturbing to be sure – Vanderbilt has beaten Tennessee two years in a row. From 2001-2003 Vanderbilt didn’t score on Tennessee. That’s how tough it has been for the Big Orange from 2008 until today. If you are keeping score at home Tennessee has gone through more head coaches (4) than bowl games (2).
That seemed unthinkable in the 1990s.
Still, the Butch Jones era in Knoxville (at a minimum) has not been the raging dumpster fire that proceeded him. The flames are still burning, but Jones has grabbed the fire extinguisher. The upset win over South Carolina in October showed a few things – Jones’ players had not given up on him or their team; playing on the road in the SEC is never an easy thing to do; the potential that is Tennessee is still strong.
But the realities of SEC play came crashing down on Tennessee just after that when the Vols lost four games in a row (with three of them in non-competitive fashion) before closing out the season with a win over Kentucky.
Georgia’s win last season over Tennessee – where everything possible went wrong seemingly all at the same time – showed just how mentally tough Mark Richt’s program can be at times. It also showed how quick you can lose players – particularly at running back – in this conference.
That brings me to the Vols’ depth chart. Jones isn’t working with much up front this fall, and that’s going to be a real problem. Although the Vols have recruited well to fight that issue, Tennessee doesn’t have a natural recruiting area. The state is thin in terms of SEC-level players, and they leak those players every year… losing them to the Dawgs, Tide and others. Tennessee has to recruit nationally and be relevant nationally in order to keep the winning train rolling.
We’ve seen just how difficult it can be to recruit without winning, but Jones and his group have done a good job of putting as much duct tape as possible on the problem. But now they are going to have to win with what they recruited and not with the players the inherited. The younger players they have recruited into the program are still too young to expect big things from them. The Tennessee offensive line will be green for at least two years.
Still, Jones has shown that he can win recruiting battles. The challenge now for him will be two fold: putting all of those pieces together as fast as possible; and managing a schedule that always includes powers like Georgia, Alabama and Florida – and we cannot forget Missouri and South Carolina.
Because of the schedule, the Vols could be better at the end of the season than the beginning. Winning at Ole Miss or at South Carolina is not out of the question – but seems like a tough task. Missouri (at home) late in the year seems like a game where Jones can load up to try to get a program-building win.
13-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.
2013 – Aaron Murray drove the #6 Bulldogs 75 yards in less than two minutes and found Rantavious Wooten for a two-yard touchdown to tie the game at 31 and send it into overtime. Then Tennessee’s Alton "Pig" Howard lost control of the football into the end zone just before scoring – turning the ball over and setting up Marshall Morgan’s game-winning 42-yard field goal that gave Georgia the 34-31 overtime win.