Tennessee remains multiple steps off Georgia's pace
During what might have been the height of the Nick Saban era at Alabama, there was a feeling that Tennessee had little to no chance to beat the Tide.
From 2010-2012, Alabama beat Tennessee by exactly 31 points in each of those 3 games. The thought then was that it could have been worse, that Saban was taking it easy on his old assistant coach, Derek Dooley, who was coaching UT those 3 years.
Whether there is any merit to that belief or not, Alabama was the dominant team. Only twice between 2007 and 2021 did the Vols even keep the final score in single digits. Tennessee finally appears to be on a somewhat equal playing field with Alabama after beating the Tide last year.
The bad news for Tennessee is that now there is a different conference rivalry in which the Vols don’t look anywhere close to being competitive, and that’s against Georgia. The Bulldogs have won 12 of the past 14 meetings, including all of the past 7.
Since 2017, Georgia has outscored Tennessee 272 to 87. The closest game of those 7 came last year, when the Vols lost 27-13.
On Saturday, the No. 18 Vols fell 38-10 in a game that wasn’t even that close. The Vols’ offense accounted for 277 yards, with 75 of those coming on the 1st play from scrimmage when Jaylen Wright broke a 75-yard TD run. Georgia QB Carson Beck was never under any serious pressure from the UT defense, converting 24 of 30 passes for 298 yards and 3 TDs.
For the second straight week, Tennessee coach Josh Heupel attempted a 4th-quarter FG with his teams already down multiple scores, seemingly in an effort to make losses look more respectable. It didn’t work against Missouri, and it didn’t work against Georgia.
For years, Tennessee tried to make the Alabama rivalry more competitive. Well, they accomplished that goal. The bad news is that there’s a bigger, badder rival that has taken its place at the top of the sport, and the Vols have the misfortune of playing that team every year.
Tennessee of course isn’t alone in its sorrow. Georgia has won 28 straight games and 44 of their last 45, plus the last 2 national championships. Kirby Smart has that program firing on all cylinders, and the rest of college football is now forced to figure out how to solve the riddle.
Making matters worse, during most of the last 17 years, whenever Alabama played at Tennessee, Neyland Stadium would be filled in Crimson red. Tide fans found ways to buy tickets and made their presence felt, taking over the Vols stadium. Saturday had that same vibe as Georgia red was easy to see — not only in the visitors’ sections, but throughout the old barn. Athens is about a 4-hour drive from Knoxville, and UGA fans made the trip in bunches.
So what can Tennessee do to reverse this trend, to make the Georgia rivalry competitive again? The answer is easier said than done. After the win over UT, Smart told CBS sideline reporter Jenny Dell that the reason for the Bulldogs’ success during this 28-game win streak was his players. Smart didn’t say that they were winning because their players were better than everyone else’s … but he didn’t need to. Everyone knows.
Maybe NIL changes the landscape. Maybe Heupel and his staff will recruit better beginning with his 3rd class, ready to sign next month. Maybe Smart gets bored with nothing left to prove and takes a shot in the NFL.
That’s a lot of maybes. The reality is that Tennessee (7-4, 3-4 SEC), like the rest of college football, is playing catch up. And Georgia doesn’t show any sign of slowing down.