Bulldogs insist last season's 'Hail Mary' not a driving force this week

Bulldogs insist last season's 'Hail Mary' not a driving force this week

September 26th, 2017 by David Paschall in Sports - College

Tennessee receiver Jauan Jennings (15) is carried off by teammates Kyle Phillips (5) and Charles Mosley (78) after last season's 34-31 win at Georgia that was won with Jennings catching a 43-yard "Hail Mary" as time expired.

Photo by John Bazemore

ATHENS, Ga. — The quarterback has moved on to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The receiver is injured and out for this season.

Yet the memory of Tennessee's 34-31 victory over Georgia a year ago on a 43-yard "Hail Mary" touchdown pass from Josh Dobbs to Jauan Jennings as time expired in Sanford Stadium remains vivid for the Bulldogs. The Volunteers (3-1, 0-1 SEC) and Bulldogs (4-0, 1-0) will vie again Saturday afternoon in Neyland Stadium.

"It was kind of like a blank feeling I had," Georgia senior defensive back Aaron Davis said Monday. "It's something that when it happened, it kind of didn't feel real, but then it was real because I had to walk off the field."

Until last season, most of the dramatic moments in the Tennessee-Georgia rivalry had gone Georgia's way.

There was Herschel Walker running over Bill Bates as the Bulldogs erased a 15-0 deficit and won 16-15 inside Neyland in 1980. There was the "Hobnail Boot" finish of 2001, when a 6-yard touchdown pass from David Greene to fullback Verron Haynes with 10 seconds remaining resulted in a 26-21 Georgia win and legendary Bulldogs announcer Larry Munson adding another phrase to remember. And then there was Georgia's 34-31 overtime triumph in Knoxville in 2013, when Alton "Pig" Howard fumbled as he tried to stretch the ball over the goal line during Tennessee's overtime possession.

Georgia appeared to add more magic last year when Jacob Eason threw to Riley Ridley for a 47-yard touchdown strike with 10 seconds remaining, but former Bulldogs defensive back Rico McGraw was flagged 15 yards for running on the field without his helmet to celebrate. That resulted in Rodrigo Blankenship kicking off from Georgia's 20-yard line, and a 20-yard return by Evan Berry set Tennessee up at Georgia's 48, with an offside penalty on the Bulldogs moving it to the 43.

The Dobbs-to-Jennings connection was followed by Tennessee coach Butch Jones falling to his knees, but Georgia counterpart Kirby Smart said Monday that you can't make too much out of last year's finish from a motivational standpoint.

"I think you have to be careful psychologically with that," Smart said. "We go over that play every Thursday with our guys. That's what you do on Thursdays. Every college in America works on the 'Hail Mary,' and you try to execute it the best you can. More important than that was not having the discipline of staying on the sideline and keeping your helmet on and executing prior to that so it doesn't come down to that.

"That play was certainly a factor, but there were a lot of plays in that game that were factors. We don't really use that as motivation. Our motivation is about us and trying to get better."

Smart certainly could use last year's finish as at least a reminder to players this week. Before Georgia's opening game earlier this month against Appalachian State, the Bulldogs saw video reminders in their weight room of the Mountaineers knocking off Michigan 10 years ago.

Georgia players Monday insisted last year's "Hail Mary" will not serve as a driving force this week.

"I don't think it motivates us much," senior tailback Sony Michel said. "You never want to take a loss, but that was last year, and you don't want to look in the past. They've got a different team from last year. They don't have the same players, so we've kind of got to go off of that."

Said junior center Lamont Gaillard: "We don't try to think too much of it. It's a new year."

Georgia was able to rebound from last year's loss to Tennessee by winning 28-14 eight days later at South Carolina. The Bulldogs are hoping they don't have to rebound from anything after Saturday's showdown.

"It definitely hurt in the moment last year, but we couldn't dwell on it," Davis said. "We had another opponent the next week. It definitely hurt in the moment."

Eason update

When asked Monday about sophomore quarterback Jacob Eason, who suffered a knee sprain in the ASU opener, Smart said it's possible he could return this week.

"We're going to bring him out there and see where he is like we did last week," Smart said. "We think he's closer. He improved last week as the week went on, and we expect the same thing."

Smart again had to address what will happen once Eason is cleared, and he said the focus for Eason is to get healthy and the focus for freshman Jake Fromm is continuing to improve.

'Loud, loud, loud'

Smart went 0-2 at Neyland Stadium as a Bulldogs safety during the 1990s, but he was 5-0 there as an assistant coach. Smart will make his Neyland debut as a head coach Saturday and was asked what makes it so tough.

"Loud, loud, loud. They're right on top of you," Smart said, "and they've got two people in every one seat."

Odds and ends

Starting right guard Solomon Kindley (ankle) was limited during Monday's portion of practice that was open to the media and was replaced on the first team by Dyshon Sims. ... Georgia's game Oct. 7 at Vanderbilt will have a noon EDT kickoff on ESPN, ESPN2 or the SEC Network. ... When asked Monday about the anthem demonstrations that occurred throughout the NFL on Sunday, Smart said his team's leadership committee brought the topic up last year. ... Gaillard when asked about all the injuries to key Bulldogs during their last two trips to Knoxville: "We don't think about that. We just want to play and get it over with." ... Tennessee leads the series with Georgia by a 23-21-2 margin.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.