Dawgs ... a Vol's best friend

The Georgia Bulldogs have this neat trick they perform each year against Tennessee: They roll over and play dead.

Inexplicably, Georgia tends to keel over against Tennessee, even when Mark Richt's Dawgs are at their best and Phillip Fulmer's Vols are at their worst.

Consider the recent past ...

2004: Tennessee, coming off a 34-10 home-field thrashing at the hands of Auburn, shocks No. 3 Georgia 19-14 in Athens to ignite a 6-1 finish to the regular season.

2006: Tennessee, ranked No. 13 but without a signature win, goes to Athens and hammers the fifth-ranked Dawgs 51-33, boosting UT to No. 7 nationally and starting a three-game winning streak.

2007: Tennessee, 2-2 and unranked, manhandles No. 12 Georgia 35-14 in Knoxville to kick off an 8-1 finish to the regular season.

Three of the past four years the Vols used an upset of the Dawgs as a springboard to a good finish. The obvious question: Why does Tennessee seem to elevate its play against its neighbor from the Peach State?

"I just think there are some games that, no matter what's going on the rest of the season, everybody's playing harder," said Vol offensive lineman Anthony Parker, a native of Jonesboro, Ga. "I just think Georgia's that team for us.

"There's a lot of rivalry between us and Georgia. It just brings something to the game where everybody's focused a little more and plays that much harder."

Asked if he senses that extra focus this week, Parker nodded.

"I do," he said. "I definitely do. You've got guys who are more into film study, and at practice you can tell by the intensity that everybody has their focus into it. It's just a different atmosphere when you play against high-quality teams."

Facing a high-quality team is even more of a motivating factor when the Big Orange is being roasted by the press and by many of its own fans. That's the case this week, just as it was when the Vols were preparing to face Georgia in 2007.

"The big thing is that they were ready to play," Vol secondary coach Larry Slade recalled. "I think they'd had enough of the media and they'd had enough (of the negativity). As a program, we just decided 'We're going to tee it high and let it fly.'"

Since there is even more negativity swirling around the program in '08 than there was in '07, Tennessee (2-3 overall, 0-2 SEC) should be even more motivated for Georgia (4-1, 1-1) this fall than it was last fall.

"Why, certainly," Slade said. "Our guys are going to go out and play. It will be a great game."

Junior defensive end Wes Brown thinks so, too.

"Not many people do give us a chance against a good football team," he said. "We're using that as motivation. We're trying to rally around each other. I know, defensively, we're trying to rally around the offense – have a good team together to go down there and beat Georgia."

Although the Dawgs rarely lose "between the hedges" at Sanford Stadium, the fact Tennessee won there in 2006 could give the Vols a psychological lift heading into Saturday's game.

"I think that gets you a little respect," Slade said, "but it's a game-by-game thing. It helps you, knowing you've gotten after 'em and that type of thing, but you've got to go out and execute over and over and over again because of their big-play potential."

As part of Tennessee's 51-33 win at Athens in '06 and its 35-14 win at Knoxville in '07, Brown concedes that Georgia brought out the best in Tennessee each season. But this is a different season.

"We've had good success the last two years against 'em but that doesn't mean anything," he said. "We've got to play the way we did the last two years against them to beat a good team like Georgia."

The Vols must play significantly better than they played in Games 1-5 or they probably will be humiliated Saturday in Athens.

"It's a must-win game for us," Brown said. "We want to come out and establish ourselves as a good football team and get Tennessee back on track."

Historically speaking, going to the Dawgs may be the perfect cure for a season that's going to the dogs.

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