Redemption Road

Tennessee's football players insist they view Saturday's Georgia game more as an opportunity for redemption than revenge but this much is clear: Last year's 41-14 beat-down in Athens still stings.

"I remember after the game last year we said, 'We'll never forget that,' so we kind of want to go prove ourselves this time," sophomore guard Zach Fulton said. "Basically, they came out to play and we, as a team, didn't. That's why they pretty much embarrassed us."

As a native of Suwanee, Ga., sophomore offensive tackle Ja'Wuan James found that lopsided loss particularly distasteful.

"I remember a lot ... like it was just yesterday," James said.

Asked if he'll be seeking revenge in Saturday night's rematch at Neyland Stadium, he said vengeance is "not really my style, but I didn't forget. It wasn't a good feeling going out there and really getting beat the whole game."

Like Fulton, James says the Vols have no one to blame for the Athens Massacre but themselves.

"Last year they came out playing harder than we did," he recalled. There was no excuse for that.... Everybody, as a team, just didn't have that energy. We just came out flat."

Tennessee trailed 17-0 after one quarter, 27-7 after two and 41-14 after three. Georgia coach Mark Richt mercifully called off the Dawgs at this point to prevent the margin from growing any worse.

Whether you call it revenge or redemption, Tennessee's players are determined to give a better accounting of themselves in Saturday's Knoxville rematch.

"It's a big deal," junior tight end Mychal Rivera conceded. "We really got embarrassed last year at their house. They came out and whupped us. Now they're coming here, and I really want to show them that last year that wasn't us."

Making the 2010 loss especially distasteful was the knowledge that the Vols contributed more to the ugly final margin than the Bulldogs did.

"We just left it in the locker room," Rivera said. "It just wasn't good. It was really disappointing. All week on film and even after the game we saw that we could've beaten those guys. It was just so many mental mistakes and little things that added up."

Senior defensive tackle Malik Jackson noted that Tennessee entered the 2010 Georgia game off a heartbreaking 16-14 loss at LSU. The Vols thought they'd won 14-10 only to see the Tigers score the winning touchdown on a do-over because Tennessee had too many defenders on the field for what should have been the game's final play.

"I just felt like we were dwelling on the LSU game still a little bit and not just totally focused on Georgia," Jackson said. "That kind of hurt us."

The Georgia loss was more disappointing than the LSU loss, however, because the Vols weren't even remotely competitive in the former. They managed just nine net rushing yards and lost the turnover battle 3-0.

"To go out there and get gashed like that is never good," Jackson conceded, "especially because we were young last year and didn't know how to take it."

That's probably true. The shell-shocked Vols followed with lopsided losses to Alabama (41-10) and South Carolina (38-24).

Like his teammates, Jackson is reluctant to use the word revenge in connection with Saturday night's UT-Georgia rematch.

"I'm not a revenge guy," he said, subsequently adding: "It was a rough day but you've got to move on. You forget about it. This is a new year, so you go out there and do good things this year."

Bottom line: The Vols are seeking redemption, not revenge. And this Saturday night the road to redemption runs right past Neyland Stadium.


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