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Tennessee ‘ready for a dogfight,’ ready to recapture Top 10 glory at Georgia

ATHENS  — Jeremy Pruitt is three years into trying to get Tennessee football back where it was four years ago, when the college football world stopped spinning for Josh Dobbs’ Hail Mary Between the Hedges.

That breakthrough win for the Vols four years ago vaulted the program back into the Top 10 for the first time in nearly 10 seasons.

This current No. 14-ranked Tennessee program will need a win over No. 3 Georgia at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday (TV: CBS) for its first return trip to the Top 10.

 

 

The Vols have won eight straight games, tied with Notre Dame for the longest active streak among Power 5 teams in college football, but Pruitt does not have a marquee victory.

Tennessee athletic director Phillip Fulmer, who once reeled off eight straight wins over Georgia in the 1990s at the program’s head coach, informed Pruitt when he was hired that the same standards he once coached under would be applied to him.

That is, a Tennessee coach is judged by how he does against Florida, Alabama and Georgia.

Pruitt, to this point, is 0-6 in rivalry games.

That’s why Saturday offers such a tremendous opportunity for the Vols’ football program to recapture the sort of glory the program reached with that historic victory four years ago.

Then, like now, Tennessee was red-hot, having won 10 straight games entering into the 2016 meeting Sanford Stadium.

Then, like now, an undefeated senior quarterback was at the helm as Kirby Smart stood opposite on the Georgia sidelines.

This current UT senior quarterback, four-year starter Jarrett Guarantano, is ready for the moment.

“This is going to be big-boy ball,” Guarantano said.

“The spotlight is going to be on us. It’s going to be on us to react. It’s going to be on us to go win that football game.”

The Butch Jones-coached Vols of four years ago had built-up a bevy of talent: A future NFL quarterback, four future NFL receivers and two future NFL running backs contributed to that 34-31 miraculous victory at Sanford Stadium.

Alvin Kamara led Tennessee with 16 carries for 62 yards, along with 3 catches for 26 yards and a TD, while Sony Michel paced Georgia with 16 carries for 91 yards and a TD.

But it was quarterbacks Josh Dobbs and Jacob Eason that stole the show.

Eason with a workmanlike 17-of-28 passing day that included 2 touchdowns, including a 47-yard bomb to Riley Ridley with 10 seconds left that had seemed to seal the game.

And then Dobbs, with 230 yards through the air and 3 TD passes, including that 43-yard dagger to Jauan Jennings on the final play of the game.

RELATED: Georgia fill never forget Hail Mary loss to UT

It’s hard to imagine such a scenario playing out this Saturday, with defensive gurus Smart and Pruitt dialing up the plays.

The Bulldogs have arguably the best defense in the nation.

The Vols are anchored by middle linebacker Henry To’o To’o, a play-making wizard who oozes confidence.

“We’re ready for a dogfight,” Vols linebacker Henry To’o To’o told the Knoxville News-Sentinel. “We’re ready for the challenge. We’re up for the challenge.”

We have the best offensive line in the country,” To’o To’o said.

Already, one writer for The Athletic claims a Tennessee offensive line package to be a “Pancake Pantry”

No doubt, Tennessee got a boost from the addition of former Georgia lineman Cade Mays, who was cleared by virtue of an emergency vote by SEC league presidents last week.

RELATED: Kirby Smart reveals how Cade Mays shocked him

Mays was the Bulldogs’ Swiss Army Knife the past two seasons, helping to hold together a star-studded offensive line during two SEC East Division title runs in Athens.

But now Mays is back home, ready to set his sights on a Georgia defensive line he and former teammates and first-round picks Andrew Thomas and Isaiah Wilson once dominated in practices.

Pruitt sees the talent at Georgia, but he’s not fazed.

“They’ve got good players, they’ve got good coaches, but we do, too. That’s why I came to Tennessee, ti’s why these players came to Tennessee, to play in games like this. We’re looking forward to it.”

Indeed, to the extent that Guarantano has dreamed about it

“It’s not about them, it’s about us,” Guarantano said. “I dreamed of these moments, going against these Georgia, Florida, Alabama, teams growing up. The fact I get to be in them, it’s mind-blowing, and I thank God every day for it.”

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