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Tennessee at Georgia Preview: On the Door, Baby.

NCAA Football: Georgia at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

In 25 years of divisional play in the SEC, Florida, Georgia, or Tennessee have gone 2-0 against the other two 18 times. A dozen of those belong to the Gators, with three (1992, 1998, 2004) for the Vols. And Georgia, after not beating Tennessee and Florida in the same year since 1988, did it three years in a row from 2011-2013.

Fourteen of those 18 years the team going 2-0 won the East. A usurper claimed the throne three of the four years it didn’t happen: Florida went 2-0 against the Vols and Dawgs in 2010 but 2-4 against the rest of the league and South Carolina took the throne at 5-3. And Missouri got the best of Georgia in 2013 and Florida in 2014 after each had completed the 2-0 sweep. So unless you believe in one of the other four teams in this division this year - and we’ve still got our eye on you, Mizzou - you’ll have to go all the way back to divisional play’s inaugural season to find a time when beating the other two traditional powers in this division didn’t lock it up. (It was us in that first year, beating Georgia and Florida in the first two conference games before losing to Arkansas, Alabama, and South Carolina by nine combined points to finish 5-3 while the Dawgs and eventual champion Gators went 6-2.)

All that to say: it seems foolish to talk about Tennessee locking up anything at just 2-0 in conference play if they beat Georgia, especially with Texas A&M and Alabama next. But history begs to differ. The Vols can’t raise any trophies on Saturday, but they could end the day on Atlanta’s doorstep.

Of course, most of us are still living and reliving last Saturday. I’ve seen so much of the Florida game this week there’s a checkerboard filter burned into my eyeballs. And most of us have wiped Georgia’s performance against North Carolina from our memories, replaced instead with a close call against an FCS team, a fourth down save at Missouri, and last week’s 45-0 hole at Ole Miss.

The Vols are riding high and the Dawgs are suddenly easy to overlook. This should make it a good week to have Butch Jones and Josh Dobbs, a coach who preaches snap and clear and one of the most steady quarterbacks we’ve seen in the orange and white who has lived it.

Dobbs personified Maxim #3 against Georgia last year and Florida last week, and has had success against both the Dawgs and Kirby Smart:

  • In his sophomore debut in 2014 he ignited the Vols and lit the fuse that’s still burning in Knoxville with 75 yards rushing and a 19-for-32 for 192 yards and two touchdowns passing performance in three quarters against Alabama.
  • Last year’s Georgia game still might be Dobbs’ best overall performance: 25-of-42 for 312 yards and three scores, plus 118 yards and two more scores on the ground in Tennessee’s comeback win.
  • Alabama’s pass rush cost Dobbs on the ground in Tuscaloosa (16 carries for 19 yards), but he averaged 7.8 yards per pass and landed enough big plays to give the Vols a chance to win.

On the other side is Jacob Eason, packing the low completion percentage and high big play potential of a five star freshman quarterback. He is the first true drop-back passer the Vol defense has faced, which could be good news for Tennessee’s pass rush. But Jim Chaney also might be in the mood to just say screw it, let’s throw deep and not forsake that option in the second half like Florida did. Whichever team can get the best of that exchange will go a long way in deciding if one or two of these teams gets to think about Atlanta after this is over.

For five years Tennessee teams at a general talent and/or experience disadvantage have played one possession games with Georgia, finally breaking through to victory last fall. Now it’s suddenly Tennessee with all the advantages coming in. But the Vols still haven’t won in Athens in ten years and haven’t beaten a ranked team on the road since then either. Tennessee did an incredible thing last week. Following it up with a no nonsense, taking care of business win between the hedges would put the Vols on the doorstep of an even bigger goal.