A quick refresher in case you forgot, which we’re guessing you haven’t:
The Vols rallied back from a 17-3 halftime deficit – scoring 14 unanswered points in the third quarter and matching UGA’s two touchdowns in the fourth quarter as well, forcing the game to overtime.
Tennessee receiver Pig Howard extended the ball for what was initially ruled a touchdown in the first overtime, but replay showed he lost control of it before it hit the pylon. That was ruled a touchback and the end of UT’s overtime possession. Georgia sealed the 34-31 overtime victory with a 42-yard field goal by kicker Marshall Morgan.
It was an emotional game and one that Tennessee certainly remembers – a heartbreaking mix of the pain of loss combined with the optimism surrounding the direction the program was heading in. But how much does last year’s contest tell us about what to expect when the Vols travel to Athens on Saturday? Very little, according to Butch Jones.
“Everyone wants to talk about last year’s game,” Jones said. “It was a great college football game, and obviously came up a little bit short, and how much we can rely on that. Not much. That’s what makes college football special – teams are different. Only 23 players played in last year’s game, so that’s 33 percent of our travel roster. Again, a lot of ones, a lot of firsts for individuals against a really, really good football team.”
That doesn’t mean it’s completely gone from the players’ heads – especially for somebody like Howard – who played such a massive role in that contest. It was a bittersweet game for the then-sophomore. He accounted for 116 yards of total offense (46 rushing, 70 receiving) before the fumble that ultimately cost UT its possession in overtime.
Howard wasn’t made available to the media this week, but receivers coach Zach Azzanni talked about what he told him this week as he prepares for the rematch.
“I told him at the very beginning of this week, if I have to say anything to you this week then you have no soul,” Azzanni said. “I was just joking with him about it. He knows and I don’t have to say much about it. That is the past.
“This is a new Georgia team and this is a new Tennessee team. We are trying to control what we can control on Saturday. If I am him, then I am sure it is in the back of his head and he wants to rebound against that. It’s human nature.”
That human nature can’t be erased, but team leaders are doing all they can to keep Tennessee focused on this year’s matchup. If the Vols do draw a touch of confidence from that performance, all the better, but the challenges of the 2014 matchup are different than those of a year ago. Todd Gurley will play for the Bulldogs after missing last season. Quarterback Aaron Murray has moved on. The Bulldogs have a new defensive coordinator in Jeremy Pruitt. The differences go on and on.
“This is a new year, new team, new season, so you can’t really dwell on the past,” said quarterback Justin Worley. “We had success against them, both offensively and defensively, and we’d like to say that we should have won that game and stuff, but we’ve moved on. This is a new year and we’ve still got to go out there and play the game.”
“I thought it did help in our overall development because I thought our team showed some perseverance,” Jones added. “Again, this football team is brand new, over half of it. Same thing with Georgia, but you do rely on it. I think it does help our confidence, but there’s a difference when you go on the road. They’re a different football team as well.”