KNOXVILLE — Maybe it’s the fact that Tauren Poole is a Georgia native.
Perhaps it’s simply because Georgia is the next game on the schedule for Tennessee’s senior tailback.
Whatever the reason, Poole has a suggestion in changing the pecking order on the list of the Volunteers’ biggest rivalries.
“The Alabama game has a catchy brand name, ‘The Third Saturday in October,’” said Poole, who went to Stephens County High School in Toccoa, Ga., roughly 50 miles from Georgia’s Athens campus.
“Florida’s always our first [Southeastern Conference] game. It always seems like there’s not a lot of emphasis on this game with some of our fans, and that needs to change.”
Given what’s on the line for both sides when the Vols and Bulldogs meet tonight in Knoxville, the emphasis ought to be pretty high. Riding a three-game winning streak, Georgia can take a big step forward in the SEC East Division race. For UT, it’s a chance at getting second-year coach Derek Dooley his first marquee win.
“There’s a part of us that feels like it would be pretty nice to get one,” UT junior defensive back Prentiss Waggner said. “Everyone wants a signature win, and I don’t think I’ve had one since I’ve been here. It would be really nice to get that.”
The Vols had the same thoughts before their trip to Florida three weeks ago. That ended with a 10-point loss that could have been worse, plus the season-ending knee injury to star wideout Justin Hunter.
The lost afternoon in Gainesville certainly was a learning experience for the young Vols, but it also showed why Dooley emphasizes not putting more importance on one game than another. An open date and an easy win against undermanned Buffalo later, the Vols find themselves in a similar spot.
“I think the opportunity is real big [tonight],” Waggner said. “We know we’re about to have a long SEC schedule. We’ve got to take it one game at a time. You can’t look forward to the next week, because if you look forward to the next week, you’re going to get got that week.”
The Vols host top-ranked LSU next Saturday and then play Alabama and South Carolina. The Bulldogs still have rivalry games against Florida and Georgia Tech, but the schedule doesn’t include the Tigers, Crimson Tide or Arkansas.
“It’s just like high school,” said Jacques Smith, UT’s defensive end from Ooltewah. “You’ve got a big game this week and you’re so excited, and then you know you’ve got another week, and that’s another huge game. That’s how we’re taking it.
“Right now our focus is on Georgia. We hate Georgia more than anyone else right now, and that’s our focus.”
And that’s where the focus has remained all week heading into UT’s second true test of the season. Though the Vols hung around in Gainesville and made the score appear closer than the game itself indicated, it was a missed opportunity. It’s simply on to the next one.
“We took care of three nonconference foes pretty handily,” Dooley said. “I don’t think Tennessee’s done that in a long time, and I think that’s good. There’s something to be said for that, but ultimately we’re going to get measured on how we play against these teams.
“I understand that. This is one game, and if we don’t play well and we get beat, then we’ve got to wake up and go try to correct it and play the next team. If you do play well, we can’t start getting excited because they keep coming. I don’t know of any other way to think other than that.”
If any had an extra motive playing Georgia, it’s one of the 17 players from the Peach State on UT’s roster. Poole, who set career rushing yardage and touchdown records, wasn’t recruited by the Bulldogs, who took current second-team tailback Carlton Thomas in that class.
“I don’t take it as an insult or anything,” Poole said. “I look at it as they had guys they wanted and they fit their scheme. I don’t really feel like it’s that big of a deal.
“I feel like I’m in a great place at UT and I’m trying to take advantage of a great opportunity.”
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...