Wiedmer: Can these Vols pull off another Sanford shocker?

Wiedmer: Can these Vols pull off another Sanford shocker?

September 26th, 2012 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Tennessee Volunteers quarterback Tyler Bray (8) during the first half of an NCAA college football game between Akron and Tennessee on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2012, in Knoxville, Tenn.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

The emails arrive from the University of Tennessee sports information department many more days than not during football season.

Thoughtfully filled with stories and quotes concerning Volunteers coaches and players, they're a newspaper accountant's best friend to help curb travel costs yet still help the sports section feed the Big Orange Nation's insatiable appetite for football.

But a pair of quotes from Tuesday's offering drew a double take.

Asked to discuss the Georgia defense the Vols will face Saturday afternoon between the hedges at Sanford Stadium, junior quarterback Tyler Bray said: "They're going to bring out a lot of exotic stuff."

Asked the same general question, junior offensive lineman Ja'Wuan James said: "They don't do too many exotic things."

Maybe it's nothing. Maybe one quarterback's exotica is one offensive lineman's status quo. Maybe it's just Bray being Bray, which may or not be exotic but is certainly unique.

But it does make you wander what goes on behind the scenes with this team. Are they really all on the same page, as they've professed since last spring?

Or are they all even reading from the same book? The same library? The same language?

Three days from today we'll know the answer. At least we'll know some answer. We'll know whether the 14-point spread some experts believe will be the Bulldogs' margin of victory will prove accurate.

If Georgia wins by much more than that, we'll know that rebuilding the Vols to a program that won eight straight games in this series from 1992 to '99 will take a little more work. We'll also expect current coach Derek Dooley to become as popular as NFL replacement refs in Green Bay, which may or may not mean UT will have a new coach a year from now.

However, if the Dawgs triumph by much less than those 14 points, we may learn that Dooley's revamped staff and his slowly maturing team are headed for brighter days and better results.

And should UT somehow win on enemy soil against a quality foe, we'll begin to wonder if former Big Orange athletic director Mike Hamilton was a sharper judge of coaching talent than he's often been given credit for among Volniacs.

But this much we already know: This game rarely follows the script. Just drift back to 2009, to Lane Kiffin's only season as Boss Vol. The Vols were 2-3 when the day began, their only wins against Western Kentucky and Ohio.

Conversely, Georgia arrived with a 3-2 mark, but with SEC wins over South Carolina and Arkansas.

Remember what happened next? UT senior quarterback Jonathan Crompton passed for 310 yards and four touchdowns, the Vols won 45-19 and Kiffin told his team that UT would never lose to Georgia again as long as he was the coach.

It was all enough to make a certain sports columnist write upon seeing a "Crompton for Heisman" sign: "Then again, when President Obama can win the Nobel Peace Prize, who's to say Crompton can't win the Heisman?"

Beyond that, Kiffin was right. The Vols were 1-0 against Georgia with the Lane Train in charge.

Of course, they've also been 0-2 since, but the Vols have turned in more than their share of upsets at Georgia over the past decade.

There was 2004, when the 17th-ranked Vols shocked the No. 3 Dawgs 19-14 with another West Coast quarterback leading the way: Erik Ainge.

There was 2006, when No. 13 UT spotted 10th ranked Georgia a 24-7 lead, then rolled 51-33 to earn a Sports Illustrated cover story.

Not to be outdone, an unranked Georgia shocked the No. 6 Vols inside Neyland Stadium in 2001, UGA freshman quarterback David Greene hitting Verron Haynes in the end zone with five seconds on the clock in the "Hobnail Boot" game.

So it could be argued that upsets are the norm in this series. Though you're certainly free to view them as exotic.