Here in Georgia, all the talk after this past Saturday’s 45-19 whipping at the hands of Tennessee centered around what’s wrong with the Bulldogs’ defense and whether a change of coordinators was the only way to fix it. But back up on Rocky Top the story of the game was what the Vols’ victory might do for their recruiting.
Tennessee, as most folks are aware, doesn’t produce much in the way of four- and five-star recruiting prospects. Georgia, as we all know, produces a lot. So shortly after Saturday’s game, the Vols’ brash young coach Lane Kiffin effectively declared our fair state a war zone.
“I know there are a lot of great teams in this conference,” Kiffin told reporters. “But I told [the team], to me, this is the biggest matchup, Georgia. Because of what we do recruiting, for this staff, this is the biggest matchup.”
That, my friends, is drawing a line in the Georgia red clay.
Kiffin was reportedly even more pointed with his players in the celebratory postgame locker room.
“He basically made a promise to us that we wouldn’t lose to them anymore, forever or until he leaves,” All-America safety and Atlanta native Eric Berry said. “He’s not going to let Georgia beat us.”
That certainly put a bug in the ear of the Tennessee media. John Adams, the respected veteran columnist of the Knoxville News-Sentinel, wrote about the potential recruiting impact of the win not just in Georgia but across to country. And ESPN’s SEC blogger Chris Low, who lives in Knoxville, weighed in on the recruiting theme in his Sunday column. And on and on it has been repeated.
Give Kiffin this: It is a proven formula for the Vols. Lest we forget, it was with considerable contributions from Atlantans Jamal Lewis, Cosey Coleman and Deon Grant that UT won the 1998 national championship.
Probably the most important thing Georgia has done in the past decade, between Jim Donnan, Rodney Garner and Mark Richt, is reestablish a recruiting stronghold in metro Atlanta and at least dam to a trickle the flow of talent 3 1/2 hours north to Knoxville. Kiffin was subtle at first, having billboards erected around Atlanta. Now he has publically declared he intends to blow up said dam.
To date, that hasn’t happened. Kiffin currently has commitments from two of our citizens: Super 11 wide receiver Markieth Ambles of McDonough-Henry County and middle linebacker Michael Taylor of Atlanta-Westlake. But the present prize the Vols are battling Georgia for is 6-foot-6, 300-pound offensive tackle JaWuan James of North Gwinnett High in Suwanee. The former Alabama commitment just happened to be in attendance as UT’s official guest at Saturday’s game in Knoxville. He spent the previous two weekends in Athens. James is about feel what it’s like to be the rope in a game of tug of war.
My old buddy Jimmy Hyams called me Monday and asked me come on his Knoxville radio show (WNML-AM) Monday afternoon to “talk about the fallout of Georgia’s loss to Tennessee.” I did and he asked if I thought one game like that one could turn the tide against the Bulldogs.
No, I told him, I thought Kiffin was a little premature planting his Big Orange flag atop Stone Mountain based on one victory. But string several together like Phil Fulmer and the Vols did in the 1990s and the Dogs could be in trouble.