Georgia turns to Tennessee

ATHENS - Two weeks ago, Georgia's upcoming game against Tennessee was bumped into television's stepchild time slot - the 7:45 p.m. ESPN2 game. However, after Saturday's events, there's no question it deserves a place along with Auburn-Arkansas on this week's Southeastern Conference marquee.

Georgia jumped from No. 11 to No. 8 in the Associated Press poll Sunday thanks to its impressive 37-23 whipping of Alabama on Saturday afternoon. More importantly, it moved into a first-place tie for the Eastern Division lead with the No. 13 Volunteers, who lost 28-21 to Auburn late Saturday night. Both teams are 4-1 overall and 2-1 in the league.

"With Georgia having come on recently under Mark Richt, certainly the magnitude of this game has gotten bigger," Tennessee coach Phil Fulmer said. "It's a very important game."

The winner won't be guaranteed a trip to the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta - particularly if it's the Bulldogs, who still must play Florida and Auburn - but it will have a significant advantage.

"The head-to-head is just so important," Georgia's Richt said. "This is a big one for both of us."

It could be the Bulldogs' last chance to defend their division title since Tennessee is past the toughest part of its conference schedule. After Georgia, the Vols finish up with Alabama, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt and Kentucky.

Georgia has beaten Tennessee in three straight seasons, including a come-from-behind victory in Knoxville, Tenn., two years ago. Richt called the win the defining moment of his coaching career in Athens.

"It was huge for me as a head coach," he said. "It was huge for our staff. That was a game that really sold some of the things we were trying to teach our players. I think our players really bought in 100 percent after that game."

Fulmer said he won't focus on his team's drought this week.

"We really haven't talked about it in the sense that it's three in a row," he said. "They'll get plenty of people telling them about it for sure."

The Volunteers had 359 yards of total offense against Auburn but only four of that came on the ground. Leading rusher Cedric Houston had five carries for 10 yards.

Considering that Fulmer promised entering the season that Tennessee was going to get back to basics, it surprised some to see Casey Clausen attempt 47 passes against the Tigers. Clausen finished 30-of-47 for 355 yards and two touchdowns.

"If you have a bunch of people in the box (close to the line of scrimmage) and it's going to be difficult to block them all and you're having some success throwing the football, we're going to throw the football," Fulmer said. "I don't think we're that far away from having a good running game."

While Tennessee searches for an offensive identity, Georgia needs to focus chiefly on consistency, Richt said. He said Sunday his team is not playing as well as it was at this time a year ago.

"We show signs of being outstanding at some moments, and, at other times, we can't get our subs in and out of the game," he said. "We still have some growing pains to go through. Hopefully, we'll hit that midseason form here because that's right where we are."

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