Along with the implications and importance of squaring off in an important Southeastern Conference football game that will have a hand in determining the league’s East Division champion, there are historical ramifications for the Bulldogs and Volunteers Saturday afternoon.
This will be the 48th all-time meeting between the two, with Tennessee leading the all-time series 23-22-2. It has been a roller coaster rivalry, one that went from the occasional combatant who could actually do the other a favor by beating a common foe, to highly intense when the SEC split into divisions in 1992 and the Dogs and Vols began playing every year.
These two first met in 1899, with Tennessee winning 5-0. They would play again in 1903, Georgia a 5-0 winner. From 1906-1910, there would be games in five straight seasons. The Bulldogs and Volunteers wouldn’t meet again until after The Great War, playing home and home from 1922-25. Georgia won five straight from 1909-24. Three years after the SEC formed in 1933, the Bulldogs lost to General Robert Neyland’s powerhouse teams of 1936 and 1937. At that point, the series was even at 6-6-1. The Bulldogs and Tennessee wouldn’t meet again until 1968.
Young Georgia head coach Vince Dooley would lead the Bulldogs to the SEC title for the second time in three years, but the season opened with a gut-wrenching 17-17 tie. Tennessee was awarded a touchdown on the game’s final play from scrimmage despite the pass being dropped on a lengthy drive that was severely extended through a “misinterpretation” of the new stop the clock after first down rule. The Vols then got the two-point conversion and were on the happy end of a 17-17 tie. Georgia would lose to Tennessee in Athens in 1969 and again in 1972. But the Bulldogs would pull off the 35-31 upset at Neyland Stadium in 1973, as Andy Johnson scored a memorable touchdown on the first of Larry Munson’s iconic calls as “The Legendary Voice of the Georgia Bulldogs.”
Herschel Walker’s debut and some Munson magic will forever resonate from the 16-15 season-opening victory in Knoxville that started Georgia’s 1980 journey to the national title. Herschel. Lindsay Scott, Buck Belue, Kevin Butler, and a stingy defense would shine the following year, as Georgia opened the 1981 campaign with a 44-0 thumping of the Vols. The series would then go into hibernation again until 1988, in what would be Dooley’s final season. Behind tremendous running by Rodney Hampton and Tim Worley, Georgia opened the season with a 28-17 win over the Vols between the hedges. At that point, Georgia led the all-time series 10-8-2.
Cut the Obi-Wan Kenobi, that was before the dark times.
Tennessee would win the rematch in 1989. The league split, the meetings would become annual beginning in 1992. Georgia lost a 34-31 heartbreaker in Athens. That would be the second of nine straight losses to Tennessee, the longest streak of futility for the Bulldogs against any foe ever. At that point, it was 10-17-2.
Georgia would break through in Jim Donnan’s final season at the Georgia helm and win 21-10 in 2000. It was a new decade, a new century, and things would turn for the red and black. Mark Richt got his first signature win in Knoxville in 2001, with David Greene leading the winning drive in a 26-24 last-second thriller. Georgia would win 18-13 en route to the SEC title in 2002, and Sean Jones 92-yard fumble return for a TD to end the first half was the signature moment in a 41-14 Bulldogs win in Knoxville. That made it four in a row for Georgia.
Coming off a 45-16 win over defending national champion LSU on the same day Tennessee got beaten by Auburn, the Bulldogs were heavily favored in Athens in 2004. It would go down as one of the worst losses of the Richt era, one that would keep the Bulldogs out of the SEC Championship Game. Though Georgia won in Knoxville the next season on the road to another SEC crown, Tennessee would win four of six meetings from 2004-2009.
A pair of mediocre teams that would wind up at 6-7 met in Athens in 2010, the Vols coached by Derek Dooley.
Georgia would win 41-14 and start a five-game winning streak against the Volunteers that featured some incredible running by Todd Gurley, a fumble from Pig Howard and a big kick from Marshall Morgan. The series was tied 21-21-2.
Then in Richt’s final season, Georgia had a 24-3 lead in Knoxville and lost 38-31. In Kirby Smart’s first season, well, you know what happened in Sanford Stadium. Georgia led that one 17-0, but the Vols cashed in on the final play Hail Mary. The crushing loss helped lead to the “Keep Chopping” slogan so prevalent in the Bulldogs SEC title and College Football Playoff run of 2017. As Yogi said, “it ain’t over ‘til it’s over.’
Georgia left no doubt last season, pummeling Tennessee 41-0 at Neyland Stadium, Georgia’s first shutout of Tennessee since 1981 and first in Knoxville since 3-0 Bulldog win in 1909. It was a signal of a new superpower rising. Saturday, Georgia can draw even with a program that once beat the Bulldogs nine straight times – including all four of Smart’s teams as a player. Five with the redshirt of 1994. It would also make it 7-2 for Georgia in the 2010s, a trend Kirby’s Canines expect to continue.