Editor's note: This is the fifth story in a series reflecting on the 1998 Tennessee football team that finished 13-0 and won the BCS national championship.
Georgia senior safety Kirby Smart and versatile cornerback Champ Bailey, a Heisman Trophy candidate, helped the seventh-ranked Bulldogs make things tough on Tennessee early when the fourth-ranked Volunteers visited Athens in their fifth game of the 1998 season.
Coming off a 17-9 defensive slugfest victory over Auburn, the Vols looked lost on offense early without star running back Jamal Lewis, who had been injured against the Tigers.
Junior quarterback Tee Martin had completed only five passes against at Auburn, and Bailey intercepted Martin's first attempt of the Georgia game in front of a raucous sellout crowd at Sanford Stadium. Then, with Tennessee leading 3-0 late in the first quarter, Smart — now Georgia's head coach — came up to tackle Martin short of the sticks on a third-and-long run.
It seemed this might be the day Tennessee's surprising post-Peyton Manning magic would run out.
"Tee Martin has shown that he can make plays as a quarterback with his legs," CBS television analyst Terry Donahue said. "But today he has to do it with his arm. I think Tennessee will take the wraps off Tee Martin, and I think he'll have a good day throwing. If he does, it'll make up for the loss of Jamal Lewis."
Martin had shown precision through the air in a rout of Houston two weeks before, but now the questions regarding his passing ability were surfacing again in a Southeastern Conference showdown.
"Current Vols coach Phillip Fulmer has built a record unmatched by any active coach," CBS play-by-play announcer Sean McDonough said. "But this season's team has questions to answer. Can the Vols overcome the loss of Jamal Lewis? And can quarterback Tee Martin lead Tennessee to another SEC title?"
Martin answered the questions with a resounding "yes" in the second half as he tossed a pair of touchdowns that helped the Vols pull away from Georgia for a 22-3 victory and clear their last major SEC East hurdle.
The defense wasn't bad, either. For the second week in a row, the unit led by senior linebacker Al Wilson did not allow a touchdown in an SEC road game.
"It was a total team victory, and we kept our winning streak over Georgia going," Fulmer would later write in his book, "A Perfect Season."
The win was Tennessee's eighth in a row against the Bulldogs, a streak that grew to nine the following season. No team has ever won more consecutive games in the series. That the 1998 win came on the road against an undefeated Georgia team featuring a handful of future NFL players made it even sweeter for the Vols.
"After the game, I looked for a gentleman who had stopped me before the game to tell me how they were going to escort me off the field for my safety when the fans rushed the field to tear the goalpost down," Fulmer wrote. "I couldn't find him anywhere."
Travis Stephens ran for 107 yards on 20 carries in place of Lewis, and defensive back Deon Grant was honored as the SEC defensive player of the week after making six tackles, intercepting a pass, breaking up another and forcing a fumble. Wilson had a sack in his return from an injury that forced him to miss the Auburn game.
Alabama was next up for the Vols, and Fulmer wrote that the locker room was "electric" after the game.
"As I drove home from the airport Saturday night, I thought how this win would turn some heads nationally," Fulmer wrote. "We had just soundly beaten a very hot ball club at their home. Three times in five games we had beaten teams that the experts said we weren't suppose to beat."