Last year’s Tennessee-Georgia game was over-hyped for a variety of reasons, mostly because UT coach Derek Dooley was returning to Athens and to the school where his father is a legend.
Yet the importance of this year’s match-up hasn’t been mentioned enough.
It is arguably the most important game of the season for both teams, but especially for Tennessee.
Is it a must-win game? Of course not. Win or lose, the Volunteers will still host LSU next Saturday. Is that a “can’t-win” game for UT? No, just like UT’s season won’t be a failure if it doesn’t beat the Bulldogs on Saturday.
Still, Dooley needs his first signature win with the Vols, and a victory this weekend would keep UT in contention for an SEC eastern division title.
With essentially two weeks to prepare, a sold-out Neyland Stadium and a night kickoff, UT has a lot in its favor. The home team has also won the last four meetings in the series.
Georgia, despite having plenty of talent, has had its fair share of troubles in recent years, leading to questions about Mark Richt’s future as coach.
Richt, the longest tenured coach in the SEC in this his 11th year, will most likely coach Georgia beyond this year. Given the Dawgs’ favorable schedule the rest of the season — avoiding LSU, Alabama and Arkansas from the SEC West — a win in Knoxville puts them in the driver’s seat to represent the east in Atlanta in the SEC Championship Game in December.
But that’s a long time away and neither team has the luxury of looking ahead like the media does.
After last year’s embarrassing 41-14 loss, UT certainly shouldn’t be. The Vols have to be focused on finding some semblance of a productive running game and containing Georgia’s backfield of Aaron Murray and Isaiah Crowell if they want to keep Richt from winning his 100th game as a head coach.
The last two times the Dawgs came to Knoxville, in 2007 and ’09, UT dominated, winning by a combined score of 80-33. The last six games in the rivalry have been decided by more than 12 points. If Saturday’s game plays out like recent history, the Vols have a good chance because UT’s offense, particularly its passing game, is more explosive than Georgia’s.
As evident by my Pick ’em prediction, I expect UT to come out on top and win its biggest game since South Carolina on Halloween in 2009. The infamous black jerseys were victorious that night and Dooley’s orange pants will produce the same result for the Vols on Saturday.
Only this time, it’ll be the biggest win for Dooley at Tennessee.