Fulmer conceded that his team ''ran into a significant hornet's nest'' in last Saturday night's 28-21 loss to Auburn but added that his team contributed to its own demise because it ''didn't play as well as we're capable of.''
Both Tennessee and Georgia enter Saturday night's game with one SEC loss. Since the winner earns the SEC East tie-breaker (head-to-head competition) in its favor, it would have to lose TWICE to keep from claiming the division crown. Thus, Saturday's victor is in the driver's seat for the East championship.
As Fulmer noted: ''The last three or four years this game has taken on a significant role in determining representation in the SEC Championship Game.''
For the Vols to win, their defensive line must play better than it did vs. Auburn. The Tigers' blocking wall opened gaping holes in the UT defensive front last Saturday
''Our defensive line needs to step up and play better,'' Fulmer said. ''They've played hard and played well at times, but they need to play well ALL the time.''
Georgia has the best passer Tennessee has faced (David Greene) and an excellent corps of receivers, led by Fred Gibson, Reggie Brown and tight end Ben Watson. If the Vols give up anything cheap, they're probably doomed to lose.
''We can't give up big plays,'' Fulmer said. ''And Georgia is very capable of making big plays.''
Tennessee fell behind 14-0 in the first quarter at Auburn, then abandoned its running game and went into full-scale passing mode. As a result, the Vols threw the ball 47 times, completing 30 for 355 yards. The running game, meanwhile, produced just 4 yards.
''We need to be more consistent offensively,'' Fulmer said. ''We need to get back to our running game. There are some spots where we're still growing. When we gain consistency, we'll be able to play with anybody in the country.''
Although Georgia won in Knoxville two years ago, UT's head man thinks the home crowd could help Tennessee in Saturday's rematch.
''The crowd should be into it,'' Fulmer said. ''Hopefully, we'll be able to give them something to cheer about.''
Ultimately, the UT-Georgia winner appears headed for the SEC Championship Game, a top-10 ranking and a probable BCS bowl appearance. The loser appears headed for also-ran status and a second-tier bowl.
As Fulmer noted: ''They don't get any bigger than this one.''