Impending gauntlet starts with No. 5 Georgia

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What do the numbers 1, 5, 6 and 21 mean to Tennessee? If you ask the Volunteers, not much.

Those digits indicate the present Associated Press Top 25 rankings of the next four opponents the Vols have on the slate. Not one loss in 16 games between Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi State and South Carolina.

The good thing for Tennessee is that it only has to worry about one this Saturday — No. 5 Georgia.

"I think we do a good job of staying focused one week at a time," Vol defensive lineman Maurice Couch said. "We're a very mature team. If we're looking ahead, it's a big possibility that we can go out and get pounded. That's something we try not to focus on. Just take it one day at a time. The team we play on Saturday, that's the only team we focus on."

Tennessee's starting tailback said keeping in the eye on the prize is one of head coach Derek Dooley's best traits.

"Coach Dooley does a great job of keeping us zoned in week-to-week, not looking past, not looking forward, just focused on what's at hand," Rajion Neal said. "He does a great job of staying on top of us, making sure we're focused and we're ready."

Instead of viewing the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division showdown as a daunting task, the orange-clad players are using the word "opportunity" often. It's a chance to erase part of the psyche of the second-half debacle against Florida.

"It's a big opportunity," Neal said. "We've just got to continue from where we left off with Akron. We've just got to put a whole game together and just go out here and make a statement. Just play our game."

Outside linebacker Curt Maggitt is one of eight Volunteers who have a former teammate playing for Georgia.
(Danny Parker/InsideTennessee.com)
As Neal alluded, after being tied at 23 at halftime last weekend against Akron, the Vols cranked it up, outscoring the MAC visitors 27-3 over the final 31 minutes. Bringing that type of fight into Sanford Stadium is pivotal.

"I think our confidence is real good," fifth-year Vol Prentiss Waggner said. "We have a veteran group of guys. We have a lot of senior leadership on the team. We know we're going to be pumped about this game this weekend."

Tennessee hasn't beaten a Top 5 team since defeating No. 4 LSU 30-27 in Baton Rouge on Sept. 26, 2004. Georgia was the last Top 10 team it took down when it handed the Bulldogs a 51-33 loss in Athens on Oct. 7, 2006.

Suffice it to say, Vol beat reporters being able to use the phrase "for the first time since" on Saturday night in a positive manner could not only get Dooley his signature win but breathe life into Big Orange Country.

"It would be a great thing," Couch said. "Not just the players but Vol Nation in general. They've been through a lot. If we can win these next four games — we want to take it one week at a time — it would be a great thing to win the East. It would definitely help just the atmosphere around here and the younger guys also for next year. They can have higher goals to win the East or even the SEC championship every year."

Georgia's three home games this year have come against Buffalo, Florida Atlantic and Vanderbilt. Thus, 'Dawg fans are thirsty to file into Sanford Stadium to see a more formidable foe. Prior to the Florida loss, the Vols were back in the AP Top 25, so this should be Sanford Stadium's best atmosphere since last season.

Add in that 20 Vols are from the Peach State. Eight have former high school teammates suiting up for Georgia.

"This is Tennessee-Georgia," Waggner said. "Tennessee-Georgia is a rivalry in our eyes. We know it's going to be a big game. Guys on the team who've already played in Athens know it's a hostile environment. As soon as you go down there, all you see is red everywhere. So, we know it's going to be a challenge for us."

Watch as select Tennessee players and Dooley address the media in the Neyland-Thompson Sports Center on Monday:

Maurice Couch

Byron Moore

Rajion Neal

Mychal Rivera

Derek Dooley

Danny Parker is currently the Managing Editor, Recruiting Analyst and Staff Photographer for InsideTennessee.com. He was previously the sports editor at Shelbyville Times-Gazette. He joined the InsideTennessee team July 2011.

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