You had the sense that this Georgia team was not as good as the SEC title team of the year before, but could, if some things fell into place, be pretty good itself.
That feeling accelerated with an undermanned Georgia team shutting out Clemson in the opener, but up and downs that year including a penalty-laden win over MTSU and a road loss to LSU gave the feeling of a team that could be pretty good, but not quite there as of early in a season.
This team needed another moment to prove itself on a big stage, and Oct. 11, that time was Neyland Stadium.
When Mark Richt came to Georgia, the mandate of perception was that the Dawgs needed to get the Tennessee rivalry in their favor. After all, losing regularly to Tennessee, Tech, and Florida helped cost Jim Donnan his job.
But Georgia did not just need to beat UTK once, it had to do so regularly to show once was not a fluke. It had to show Georgia had the regular upper hand.
In 2000, Georgia snapped the streak against UTK when the Vols struggled to find a quarterback. Tennessee fans would probably claim 2001 was a fluke with the Hobnail Boot and if you ask Casey Clausen, his injury kept the Vols from winning in 2002.
Four wins in a row would hammer home that Georgia owned this rivalry. The Dawgs did that, but not before draining Neyland Stadium’s soul.
Just before half, the Vols were down 13-7, within a few yards of taking the lead at halftime. When you’re at home in the SEC, that’s a HUGE momentum swing. Enter Jabari “Peach Bowl” Davis.
Taking a pitch, most backs would have usually scored. But here comes one of the best defensive players in Georgia history, David Pollack to blow up the play and barely give Davis time to touch the ball.
With the ball loose, the Dawgs had the good circumstance of Sean Jones, a DB and former high school quarterback, being right in position to scoop and score, and some 90-plus yards later, it was a 20-7 lead.
According to someone I have spoken with since then who was seated near the left of the press box near the Vols coaches, you could hear audible yells of frustration and objects hitting the floor or wall as Jones scrooped and scored.
Georgia had the lead and momentum, but it also did something more significant - jerk the UT fans from having hope to none. If you were at Neyland in the 90s, you know how loud that place gets when Rocky Top is played. I will never forget how lacking enthusiasm the Tennessee crowd was during Rocky Top at halftime, and that’s when I knew Georgia had mentally taken over the Tennessee rivalry in the 41-14. By the time it ended, Casey Clausen would be on the sidelines, well within earshot of Georgia fans chanting, “where is Casey?”
From 2001 to 2014, the Dawgs topped the Vols all but four times.