KNOXVILLE — This is not your typical Tennessee-Georgia football game.
Both teams left their defense on the field too long last week, and both lost. Both teams are fighting injury issues on the offensive line.
And while this game usually helps determine who represents the Southeastern Conference’s East Division in the league championship come December, this time, both the Volunteers (2-3, 0-2) and Bulldogs (3-2, 1-1) are just trying to keep their heads above water.
A win keeps Georgia at least on the periphery of the divisional chase. Tennessee, meanwhile, is still seeking its first win over a Bowl Championship Series conference opponent under first-year coach Lane Kiffin.
The departures of Phillip Fulmer, Kiffin’s predecessor, and Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville made Georgia’s Mark Richt the longest-tenured coach in the league. He’s 3-1 all-time at Neyland Stadium, but his Bulldogs got thrashed 35-14 in 2007.
“Our fans were electric. The stadium, the atmosphere, it was great,” said Vols left tackle Chris Scott, one of a dozen Georgia natives on the UT roster.
The Vols’ offense could use a jolt.
As has been the case for the past month, talk in Tennessee this week centered upon the struggles of the passing game. The Vols made things happen in their hurry-up offense against Auburn, but going to a faster tempo in general runs the risk of further fatiguing an already taxed and hurting defense.
The Bulldogs must address their own shortcomings, including an underachieving running game and a porous defense. Georgia also ranks dead last in the SEC in turnover margin (minus-9) and has drawn 74.6 penalty yards per game.
In spite of all that, the Bulldogs might have beaten fourth-ranked LSU last week if not for a celebration penalty against star receiver A.J. Green that the league later said should not have been called.
“To come out on the losing end after winning three thrillers was a little tough to swallow,” Richt said. “The bottom line is Tennessee is not going to feel sorry for us. We can’t feel sorry for ourselves. We have to buckle it up and get ready to go.”
Kiffin and his coaches were not around for last year’s meeting. Jonathan Crompton also was a spectator; Nick Stephens played quarterback from wire to wire in a 26-14 loss to Georgia.
Now, Crompton is the guy and it appears he’ll remain the Vols’ QB barring injury.
Georgia counters with its own fifth-year senior, Joe Cox. Though he lacks the physical gifts of predecessor-turned-NFL multimillionaire Matthew Stafford, Cox has thrown for 11 touchdowns. Still, his QB rating (146.4) is in the middle of the pack among SEC signal-callers.
EXTRA POINTS: Kickoff is at 12:21 p.m. The SEC Network will televise the contest, which can be seen locally on WCYB-DT2, the CW. … Tennessee is favored by 1 to 1½ points, depending on the oddsmaker. … There is a 60 percent chance of rain today, but the precipitation could be on its way out of Knoxville by game time. … Offensive guard Vladimir Richard (Achilles, knee) and linebacker Greg King (knee) are questionable for Tennessee.