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From the Press Box

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View from the press box at Neyland Stadium, Knoxville, TN (Photo by Murray Poole)
View from the press box at Neyland Stadium, Knoxville, TN
(Photo by Murray Poole)
[su_spacer size=”40″] Well, here we are On the Hill in Knoxville, on Rocky Top or whatever you want to call Neyland Stadium on the University of Tennessee campus.
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[su_spacer size=”20″] And as I gaze down on Shields-Watkins Field in this 102,000-plus seat facility where the Georgia Bulldogs and Tennessee Volunteers will go at it in roughly an hour, I think of all the great battles these two teams have staged down through the years.


Unlike most adjacent state rivalries, the Dogs and Vols have met each other only 44 times and going into today’s 3:39 p.m. kickoff, the series stands dead even at 21-21-2. Georgia, which carries a five-game win streak over the Volunteers into today’s matchup, has logged some huge victories on this playing field − the biggest in my mind coming in the 1980 season opener when I saw Herschel Walker for the first time in a Bulldog uniform and that 16-15 Georgia comeback victory propelling Vince Dooley and the Bulldogs to an unbeaten season and the national championship.


But there have also been some crushing defeats for UGA in Neyland Stadium. You only have to go back to the years 2007 and 2009 when Tennessee routed Mark Richt’s team by respective scores of 35-14 and 45-19 … that latter game the last time the Bulldogs have lost to the Vols.


That said, the past Georgia-Tennessee confrontations don’t mean a thing when it comes to this afternoon’s key Southeastern Conference tilt between the Red and Black and Orange and White. Both the Bulldogs and Volunteers are coming off stinging home losses last Saturday, when Alabama bounced Georgia from the ranks of the unbeaten with a 38-10 spanking of the Bulldogs and Tennessee blew its third double-digit lead of the season in falling to Arkansas by 24-20. Butch Jones’s team, ballyhooed prior to the season as one of the teams that would push Georgia for the SEC East championship, earlier let a 17-0 lead against Oklahoma get away and also blew a 13-point fourth-quarter lead at Florida, thus having to swallow bitter defeats in both contests.


So, big question today is, which football team will shake off the recent disappointment, perform well and subsequently walk out of this spacious arena with a key conference win under its belt?


If that team isn’t Georgia, there will be considerable head scratching back in Athens and around the state in general. And all the furor that evolved after the debacle against Alabama − which  again included all the speculation about Mark Richt not being able to win the big games − will only escalate as the mood of the Bulldawg Nation grows ever nastier.


Conversely, if the Bulldogs can snap back mightily and add to the Vols and Coach Jones’ misery, things should be on the upswing again, what with Georgia still controlling its own destiny in the Bulldogs’ hoped-for trek to the Georgia Dome and SEC championship game.


For the Dawgs to do as much, starting quarterback Greyson Lambert − or even backup Brice Ramsey − will have to produce in the passing game after their dismal showings against the Crimson Tide, the Georgia O-line will have to win the battle up front after not being able to do that against Bama’s terrific defense, thereby giving Nick Chubb and Sony Michel good space to go through and Jeremy Pruitt’s defense will need to put the clamps on Vols’ playmakers Joshua Dobbs, Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara.

And perhaps, most important of all, Georgia will have to clean up all the special team blunders that smacked the team in the face in the rain against Alabama.


In practice this week, the Bulldogs said they’re not looking back, that they’re focused only on beating the Tennessee Volunteers today. I’ll go ahead and take their word for it. Not going to be easy but Georgia escapes with a 35-28 win here in Neyland.
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Murray Poole is a 1965 graduate of the University of Georgia Journalism School. He served as sports editor of The Brunswick News for 40 years and has written for Bulldawg Illustrated the past 16 years. He has covered the Georgia Bulldogs for 53 years.