3 years ago was The Dobbsnail Boot, but it might as well have been a lifetime ago
Butch Jones dropping to a knee and bawling his eyes out — it’s an image that will always come to mind when someone says “The Dobbsnail Boot.” It was a classic SEC moment in the 21st century for a variety of reasons.
For starters, any time a rivalry game ends on a go-ahead, walk-off Hail Mary touchdown, it’s going to live on forever. It’s only a matter of time before it gets a proper nickname. And in an effort to bark back at the legendary call from Georgia announcer Larry Munson, whose “hobnail boot” line at the end of the Bulldogs’ come-from-behind win against the Vols in 2001 became an instant classic, “The Dobbsnail Boot” was born via a Tennessee fan with a perfect T-shirt idea.
The fact that it was in Sanford Stadium in front of a stunned Georgia crowd made the moment, in my opinion, carry some special weight. At the time, it was seen as this “team of destiny” moment for Jones and the Vols, who moved into the top 10 following the 5-0 start to the season.
Keep in mind “The Dobbsnail Boot” was a week removed from Tennessee ending Florida’s 11-year streak in the rivalry. The “never-say-die” Vols suddenly looked like contenders while Georgia, with its first-year coach in Kirby Smart, was unranked and looking rather mediocre.
And my, how the tables have turned.
Ever since Jauan Jennings’ touchdown grab from Josh Dobbs silenced the Georgia faithful, the SEC East rivals have gone in completely opposite directions. That won’t be lost on anyone watching Saturday’s contest in Knoxville.
It’s hard to believe just how dramatically things have changed in 3 short years. It feels more like 3 decades since “The Dobbsnail Boot.”
In case you’ve been living under a rock since that 2016 matchup, here’s how each team compares since that play:
I mean, my goodness. By the way, that “games as a top 10 team” stat includes this Saturday, when Georgia will be a top 10 team and Tennessee will be searching for its first win vs. an FBS team this season. On another note, it’s October.
If you need any proof of how much this rivalry changed since The Dobbsnail Boot, consider this: I referenced that classic image of Jones dropping to his knees and crying. Last year, Pruitt broke down and got choked up after his team returned to Georgia … and lost by 26.
But because it was only a 2-score game with 5 minutes left in the 4th quarter, the normally-stoic Pruitt was overcome with emotion about how much progress his team showed:
— Jordan Crammer (@JordanCrammer) September 29, 2018
And for what it’s worth, there weren’t people necessarily blasting Pruitt for reacting this way. That was considered an acceptable reaction just for not letting the Dawgs blow the doors off the Vols, who had just lost their 10th consecutive SEC game dating to November 2016.
Smart, on the other hand, had this reaction a week earlier when his team led 20-7 in the first half at Mizzou:
Kirby seems happy 😬 pic.twitter.com/jaEUfFpT3u
— CFB Gif’er (@CFBgifer) September 22, 2018
That’s just one of the ways in which Smart changed in the past 3 years. Another is some of his in-game decisions.
Remember when Lorenzo Carter, AKA Georgia’s best pass-rusher, was dropped into coverage on that Hail Mary instead of, you know, rushing Dobbs? Watch the replay and it’s Carter who is furthest from the ball, out of position with almost no chance of coming up with a deflection to save the game.
Say what you want about the 4th-and-11 fake punt in the SEC Championship, but if you don’t think Smart learned from the Carter decision, perhaps you didn’t watch the last play of the Notre Dame game a couple of weeks ago. Instead of rushing 3 and letting Ian Book deliver a Dobbs-like heave, Smart sent 4, including edge-rushers Nolan Smith and Jermaine Johnson.
This was what Book faced on 4th-and-9 after he backpedaled and launched a prayer from 19 yards behind the line of scrimmage:
Believe it or not, Notre Dame actually started 4 yards in front of where Tennessee did on its 2016 Hail Mary.
Those are the little things that can be the difference in a team losing on a back-breaking play and winning a huge game against a Top 25 team.
Since the start of 2017, Georgia hasn’t even put itself in position to allow a game-winning Hail Mary score against an East opponent. The Dawgs are 13-0 against the division having won every such contest by at least 14 points. Tennessee, during that same stretch since the start of 2017, is 1-12 against the East with 9 losses by at least 14 points, including a 31-point loss most recently against Florida.
You get it. You didn’t have to read this column to get how much has changed in 3 years.
The sad thing for Tennessee fans was that there was supposed to be change for the better this year. Preseason hopes of 8 wins and actually staying on the field with the likes of Florida, Georgia and Alabama seemed … believable? Now, the Vols are 25-point home dogs just trying to avoid their 3rd consecutive loss to Georgia by at least 4 scores.
That’s where we’re at. Georgia has everything that Tennessee fans want and have lacked in the 21st century — overwhelming divisional favorite, yearly national title contender, annual top-3 recruiting classes, an elite coach, etc.
Raise your hand if you saw that coming 3 years ago when Jones bawled like a baby.
Put your hand down, liar.