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UT football preview: Biting Georgia has teeth in recruiting

October 7th, 2011 10:37 am by Trey Williams

The Tennessee-Georgia football series is bordering on indecency.

Volunteers sophomore receiver Da’Rick Rogers caught a lot of flack for committing to Georgia before electing to head to Knoxville in February of 2010. Rogers is a go-to guy that Bulldogs fans would like to tell where to go.

Georgia junior receiver Marlon Brown can empathize. The Memphis product has heard the boo birds after having the flip-side of Rogers’ experience. Brown hadn’t committed, but changed his mind after UT fired Phillip Fulmer in the autumn of 2009.

Georgia’s visit to Tennessee on Saturday (7 p.m., ESPN2) is worth one victory in October, and perhaps a few more in February.

Classy Georgia coach Mark Richt’s natives are restless at a time when he’ll be taking on a native son, Derek Dooley.

Tennessee could continue the slippage of the embattled Richt at a moment when he might be finding another foothold. Georgia has won three straight, including a 24-10 defeat of Mississippi State last week.

Richt getting a second wind at Georgia wouldn’t be good news for the surrounding schools eager to mine the talent-rich state.

Tennessee has to rely on imports more than most Southern states, but Dooley points out how popular recruiting trails in Georgia are for Auburn, Alabama, Florida, Florida State, Clemson and South Carolina, too.

“It’s fierce competition,” Dooley said during Wednesday’s SEC teleconference. “There’s a lot of good players in the state, and you’re not going to get them all. But what you hope is you do a very good job of evaluating players, and you get most of the ones you want.”

Georgians starting for Tennessee include the leading receiver, Rogers, leading rusher Tauren Poole, thirdleading tackler A.J. Johnson, and key players such as Ja’Wuan James, Rajion Neal, Brent Brewer and Justin Coleman. Volunteers greats who came from Georgia include Jamal Lewis, Eric Berry, Willie Gault, Dale Carter and Deon Grant.

Rogers (27 catches, 442 yards, six touchdowns), the state of Georgia’s No. 1 overall prospect in 2009, is on pace to become an All-SEC player, which makes Dooley’s late get after replacing Lane Kiffin in January 2010 look more important than Georgia getting Brown (four catches, 34 yards) after Kiffin succeeded Fulmer.

“We came in and we had to scramble the last two weeks, and so we were very fortunate those last two weeks that we got not just Da’Rick, but Justin Hunter,” Dooley said. “And that kind of forged the future of our receiving corps. You know, everybody’s making a big story out of it, but for every one of those we get in Georgia we lose about five others that we want. …

“We were fortunate to get Da’Rick. We’re glad he’s with us. He’s showing a lot of improvement in a lot of things.”

Perhaps Tennessee caught Rogers’ eyes when Kiffin’s Vols pounded the Bulldogs 45-19 two years ago in Neyland Stadium. That was the day when much-maligned Jonathan Crompton broke out by passing for then-career highs in TDs (fours) and yards (310) while Willie Martinez’s final Georgia defense reacted to each of what seemed like 20 play-action bootleg passes as if it was the first one.

“We know the last couple of times we’ve been to Tennessee we got our rear ends whipped,” Richt said.

The loss to Tennessee two years ago might have been the final nail in Martinez’s coffin. He was replaced by Pulaski, Va., native Todd Grantham, whose 3-4 defense is finding a groove in his second season.

“They’re just starting to believe,” Richt said. “They’re really understanding what Coach Grantham and his staff want. And you know, year two is usually a whole lot better than year one when you’re installing something.”

During a telephone interview after concluding his first May recruiting session last year in Georgia, Grantham said one of the factors in leaving the NFL to take the job in Athens was the vast riches of in-state talent, and that his first recruiting period with the Bulldogs had only reemphasized the fact. He suggested you could win an SEC title with the talent in a five-hour radius from Sanford Stadium.

If Rogers and the Vols can figure out a way to shine on Saturday, a few more of those five-star recruits might make a run for the border.

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