You’ll have to go back a few years to find Tennessee’s last win against the No. 1 ranked team in the nation.
As Rocky Top Insider’s Matt Reed put it this week during his game preview, Tennessee has had plenty of games against the top-ranked team in the nation after all the success that Alabama and Georgia have combined for in the last decade or so. But you’ll have to go all the way back to a September night in 1985 to find Tennessee’s last upset win.
Throwing for 259 yards and an impressive four touchdowns, Tennessee quarterback Tony Robinson led the Vols to a 38-20 win over No. 1 Auburn in Knoxville. The Vols’ defense held Bo Jackson to just 80 yards, which was eye-opening considering the future football icon was averaging 247.5 yards per game in the Tigers’ first two contests that season. Jackson’s numbers were hurt from the fact that he went down with an injury in the third quarter, though.
“I think we played as well as we can play against a good football team,” Tennessee head coach Johnny Majors said after the game. “We had confidence going into the game – healthy confidence, not overconfidence. We felt if we played a good, solid game we had the ability to win the game. And our young men could not have played harder. They gave and gave and played hard throughout the whole game.”
Fast forward 38 years later, which brings us to Saturday afternoon in Knoxville. The 18th-ranked Volunteers will look to end No. 1 Georgia’s perfect season and give the Bulldogs a loss before their SEC title game appearance against Alabama.
Tennessee is going to have to play their best game of the season on Saturday after an underwhelming performance against Missouri last weekend. The Vols have boasted one of the conference’s best rushing attacks and rush defenses this season but were effectively stuffed on both sides of the football during the game against the Tigers. Tennessee will need a stronger performance on the ground from their trio of running backs – and the legs of Joe Milton – to slash back against Georgia’s stout, physical front seven.
You can look back at how Tennessee’s upset win over No. 1 Auburn sets up some key elements in the blueprint to success, too.
Tennessee will need explosive plays against Georgia, which is something that RTI’s Ryan Schumpert talked about in his keys to victory article from Friday. Explosive plays are something that helped elevate Robinson’s Vols over the Tigers including a 37-yard touchdown pass, a 30-yard touchdown pass, a 55-yard run, and three interceptions.
Former Tennessee wide receiver Tim McGee ended that game with 163 receiving yards and one touchdown. McGee spoke about the mindset that it took to win after the game.
“We didn’t want them to think they were playing an ordinary team today,” McGee said. “It was a very physical game. We executed well and did the things we needed to do to win.”
Tennessee wanted to strike first and take the fight to the top-ranked Tigers, not the other way around.
“We went into the game not being conservative but we were going to be more aggressive,” Robinson said after the victory. “Our game plan was simply to go after them. Our offense outplayed their defense and our defense outhustled their offense.”
One of the other similarities is that both games were/will be played in Knoxville. Tennessee beat Auburn in front of 94,358 Neyland Stadium spectators in 1985 and is expecting a sold-out crowd of 101,915 this Saturday. While the Bulldogs enter the game with a 26-game winning streak, Tennessee has a home-winning streak of their own at 14 straight wins. The Vols’ crowd has helped lift Tennessee to victories over Florida, Alabama, and Kentucky during the streak under head coach Josh Heupel.
It won’t be an easy task, but it never is. Tennessee will have to take advantage of key situations and even use a little luck to beat Georgia this coming Saturday in Neyland Stadium. The Bulldogs have already claimed their spot in the SEC Championship game while the Vols are looking to avenge last week’s loss to Missouri and continue to build to a 9-3 regular season finish.
Go back to Johnny Majors’ comment from the beginning of the post for a message in how to win this game: Have healthy confidence, not overconfidence. Play a good, solid game. Play hard throughout the game.
That’s what the Vols did in 1985.
Streaks will collide in Knoxville at 3:30 p.m. ET on Saturday as Tennessee looks to knock off the No. 1 ranked team in the nation for the first time in a long time.