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No. 1 Georgia looking to keep its foot on the gas vs. Vols

By Al Lesar AP Sports Writer
Posted 7:28AM on Thursday 16th November 2023 ( 3 months ago )

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Georgia is back atop the rankings that matter most, and the No. 1 Bulldogs can’t afford to take their foot off the gas in their final out-of-state road game of the regular season.

Especially not with Dolly Parton ready to cheer on the No. 21 Tennessee Volunteers inside Neyland Stadium.

“Anytime Dolly’s hanging around it certainly adds pressure, absolutely, to our performance,” Tennessee coach Josh Heupel said.

Georgia and Tennessee come into the game from different directions.

The Bulldogs routed then-No. 10 Mississippi 52-17 so handily they moved atop the College Football Playoff rankings Tuesday night. It's quite the change from when these teams met last season with Tennessee holding that spot until a loss between the hedges.

Now the Vols (7-3, 3-3 SEC) are coming off a third ugly road loss, this one at the hands of then-No. 16 Missouri 36-7.

Georgia (10-0, 7-0) already has clinched the SEC East title and a spot against eighth-ranked Alabama in the SEC championship game on Dec. 2. Now, it’s a matter of staying focused as the Bulldogs make a run at a third straight national championship.

“The messaging is that we’re trying to find the best version of ourselves, and every week we’re trying to find the best version of ourselves,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said of not looking ahead. "And that doesn’t change based on who we play.”

The Vols found themselves stifled by Missouri's defense with a season-low 83 yards rushing. A win Saturday afternoon would improve their bowl prospects.

“Certainly, we understand the quality of the opponent that is coming to town," Heupel said. "Our guys understand who they are, what they are about and the way they are going to play. It will be a great test for us.”

CHASING SEC PERFECTION TIMES THREE

Georgia can become the first team to post three straight 8-0 conference records in SEC history. The league moved to an eight-game conference schedule in 1992 with expansion coming in 2024. The Bulldogs posted their first 8-0 conference mark in 2021 before falling Alabama in the SEC championship game. The Bulldogs went 8-0 again in 2022 before beating LSU 50-30 for the SEC championship.

STREAKING

Georgia’s school-record 27-game winning streak, which began with a 34-11 win over Michigan in the 2021 Orange Bowl playoff semifinal game, isn’t the only streak on the line Saturday.

The Bulldogs have been No. 1 in 22 consecutive AP Top 25 polls, the longest streak in SEC history and the second-longest streak in history. Southern Cal was No. 1 for 33 straight weeks from 2003-05.

Georgia has won 37 consecutive regular-season games. That streak began with a 31-24 home win over Mississippi State on Nov. 21, 2020. Finally, the Bulldogs have won 26 straight SEC regular-season games and 25 straight home games, the longest home winning streak in the nation.

Georgia also is 43-1 over the last 44 games. Before that span, Smart’s record was a near pedestrian 48-14. Now his record is much more impressive at 91-15.

HURTIN’ RECEIVERS

First, Bru McCoy went down midseason with an ankle injury. Then, Dont’e Thornton was hurt in the loss to Missouri and will miss the rest of this season with a lower body injury.

That's leaving Tennessee’s receiving corps a bit thin, and Joe Milton III can't throw only to Squirrel White, Ramel Keyton and tight ends McCallan Castles and Jacob Warren.

WINNING ON THE ROAD

Georgia is 28-4 on the road and 19-7 on neutral sites under Smart. Tennessee has won 14 straight at home with the Vols' last home loss in 2021 — to the Bulldogs. Smart makes sure his Bulldogs practice with crowd noise, even if he can't say how much it helps.

"A lot of it has to do with the situation of your team and the focus of your team,” Smart said.

(AP Sports Writer Charles Odum contributed to this report.)

Georgia wide receiver Ladd McConkey (84) celebrates with offensive lineman Sedrick Van Pran (63) after catching a touchdown pass during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Mississippi, Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023, in Athens, Ga.

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