On the Beat: Georgia-Tennessee rivalry, ‘They hate us, and we hate them’
ATHENS — Cue announcer voice: “Throw the records out for this one!”
That’s what Coach Kirby Smart and the Georgia football players are telling themselves this week in their preparations for Tennessee.
“Tennessee and Georgia is always going to be a rivalry no matter what the team’s record is or what’s going on during the season,” Bulldogs offensive guard Solomon Kindley said. “It’s just how it’s always been.”
Georgia’s No. 2-ranked football program is a 32-point favorite over the Vols in the 3:30 p.m. game on Saturday at Sanford Stadium (TV: CBS, Radio: WSB 750 AM, 95.5 FM).
While the schools aren’t primary rivals — both would rate Florida above the other — there’s plenty of bitterness.
“It’s just an old Deep South rival,” said Georgia senior linebacker Juwan Taylor. “They hate us, and we hate them.”
The border state element and recruiting battles have something to do with it, along with the competition for SEC East Division supremacy.
Florida has won the East 12 times in the 26 years since the league split into divisional play, but Georgia (6) and Tennessee (5) have made their share of appearances.
The Bulldogs are clearly the East team on the rise with three SEC Championship Game appearances in the past seven years, including last year’s title game win over Auburn.
Tennessee has fallen off since making its most recent SEC title game appearance in 2007, firing its first-ballot hall of came coach less than a year later for much the same reason Georgia moved on from Mark Richt.
The difference for the programs has been Kirby Smart’s ability to elevate the Bulldogs his first three seasons after taking over.
The Vols had flopped in replacing Fulmer, the toxic hire of Lane Kiffin spurring an NCAA investigation that led to probation in addition to off-field issues that neither Derek Dooley nor Butch Jones was able to overcome.
The Tennessee and Georgia players competing Saturday would have little recollection of what happened 10 years ago, and some might not even know the Vols lead the all-time series 23-22-2.
But both teams are well aware of the past two meetings, each triggering heartache and anger in different ways.
The Bulldogs players said they still have a sour taste after the Vols pulled out a 34-31 win on a Hail Mary in the most recent meeting in Sanford Stadium in 2016, vaulting them into a top 10 ranking.
Tennessee players, meanwhile, haven’t forgotten the 41-0 drubbing Georgia put on them last season. It was a historic beatdown that ranked as the most lopsided Vols defeat in Neyland Stadium history.
Regardless of what the scoreboard shows on Saturday, the Bulldogs’ players are expecting a test of sorts.
“We know it’s gonna be kind of a chippy game, real physical game, because that’s the type of team that they are,” Georgia tailback D’Andre Swift said. “Plus, with a new coach they are going to come out and make a statement.
“We know we’re going to get their best.”
DawgNation: Georgia football vs. Tennessee