ATHENS — Kirby Smart grew somber when asked if he had any favorite memories from his playing career against Tennessee.
“Not really,” Smart said on his Thursday night coach’s show. “My memories of Tennessee are not pleasant. We didn’t play very well against them, and they had a really good team while we were playing them.”
Smart has been making up for lost time by leading Georgia to dominant wins in the past three meetings, and the Bulldogs will aim for another at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday at Sanford Stadium.
Smart’s four-year playing career with the Bulldogs saw Georgia matched up against three Tennessee teams quarterbacked by Peyton Manning, and another by current Vols’ receivers coach Tee Martin that went on to win the national championship.
Smart intercepted a Manning pass in Tennessee territory with less than four minutes remaining in a 1995 game that was tied at 27-27. But Dax Langley would miss a 53-yard field goal, and Manning marched the Vols downfield for the winning field goal.
The Vols proceeded to handle the Bulldogs in the next three meetings 29-17 (1996), 38-13 (1997) and then 22-3 in Smart’s senior season.
Alas, Smart does have a positive Tennessee memory that pre-dates his stint as the Bulldogs’ head coach, and it came when Mark Richt was at the helm.
“The best memory I got is when I came back and we beat them,” Smart said, referring to the one-year stint he spent as Georgia’s running backs coach in 2005 under Richt.
“I came back as a coach, and we beat them the year we won the SEC. No doubt, we had a great year that year, and it was the first time I was able to beat Tennessee.”
Smart lost to the Vols again his first year as UGA’s head coach, 34-31 on a last-second Hail Mary, but the Bulldogs have taken care of business each of the past three seasons:
2017: Georgia 41, Tennessee 0
2018: Georgia 38, Tennessee 12
2019: Georgia 43, Tennessee 14
The Bulldogs are a two-touchdown favorite to beat Tennessee at Sanford Stadium with some 20,000 fans expected in attendance.
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