BOULDER, Colo. — There have been years where Georgia-Tennessee was one of the most anticipated matchups in the SEC. When these two storied programs have met, the victor has emerged as one of the favorites for the Eastern Division title.
This year’s matchup will have a much lesser reward: The right not to remain winless in the SEC.
“There’s a lot of history of us being ranked when we play, and now we’re sitting there without a win in the SEC,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “A little bit different circumstance for each team, but a very important game for both of us.”
This is the state of each program: Tennessee is on its third head coach in three years. Richt is the focus of speculation about his job security, especially after a fourth straight loss, this time at Colorado on Saturday. And, for the first time since 1906, Georgia (1-4) and Tennessee (2-3) will both have losing records when they meet.
“I realize that we’re in a position that we haven’t been in since I’ve been here. That hurts,” said Richt, whose team will also be seeking to avoid its first five-game losing streak since 1953. “But we can’t sit around and cry about it, because if we do, then we’re really going to be in trouble.”
Originally, this was supposed to be about the mini-homecoming for Tennessee coach Derek Dooley.
The son of the legendary Georgia coach, Vince Dooley, was born in Athens and graduated from Clarke Central High School.
But now the main plot may be whether each team holds it together: Georgia after its porous start, and Tennessee after its heartbreaking loss at LSU.
The Volunteers thought they had pulled off the upset at LSU, but a penalty — 13 players on the field — allowed the Tigers another shot at the game-winning touchdown.
The Bulldogs also thought they were on the verge of a win. They were at the Colorado 27-yard line with 1:59 left, but a fumble by Caleb King led to a 29-27 loss.
“There’s going to be frustration. We’re Georgia, we never expected to (have) four losses in a row to the teams that we lost to,” Georgia defensive end Demarcus Dobbs said Saturday. “But you just have to push ahead. You can’t turn on each other. All we’ve got is each other, so we just have to stick together, keep grinding, watch film, and finish the season out on a high note, hopefully.”
But that high note will be tough to reach.
Georgia would have to finish 5-2 to be bowl-eligible. And four of their remaining opponents (Kentucky, Florida, Auburn and Georgia Tech) currently have winning records.
Richt was asked Sunday if he was worried about the players holding it together or fan reaction affecting the team. He said he wasn’t worried on either front.
“I think it’s a minority of fans who really come out horribly negative with our guys and this coaching staff,” Richt said. “But I think the majority of our fans are true blue and they’re going to support us no matter what. I can say, walking off that field in Colorado, I thought the fans that showed up were phenomenal before, during and after the game. …
“Everybody’s disappointed, but I don’t see many fans getting real nasty.”
Notes: Freshman outside linebacker T.J. Stripling is scheduled to have season-ending surgery on his patella tendon, Richt said. Stripling, who has played mostly on special teams, was hurt on kickoff coverage at Colorado. … Cornerback and punt returner Branden Smith is doubtful for the Tennessee game after a reoccurrence of a concussion. Smith missed the entire second half of the Colorado game, and Richt said he didn’t think Smith would play Saturday.