"38-7 Vols (win), you heard it here first."
The shouts of optimism filled the air as Vol fans marched to the game on Saturday in Athens, Ga. A sea of red and black greatly outnumbered a Volunteer crowd making its way towards the stadium, weaving around old brick halls and column-christened academic buildings.
The mood was set by noon: it was one of apparent confidence and positivism amid a foreign college town for present Vol fans.
No one said it more accurately than head coach Derek Dooley. After the 51-44 loss to No. 5 Georgia, he gathered his words.
"It was a wild football game," Dooley said.
The Volunteers were down by as many as 17 points (27-10) before scoring 20 unanswered points and taking the lead 30-27, just before Georgia came back and tied it at 30-30 in the first half.
UGA freshman running back Keith Marshall took the ball 75 yards to the house and catapulted Bulldog fans to new levels of loud. It was the fourth play over 70 yards yielded by the Vols this season, three of those rushes coming in the last three games.
Dooley also mentioned how frustrated Tyler Bray was in the locker room after the loss, saying he was very disappointed but will learn valuable lessons from the game.
Two things Dooley made sure to reiterate were that he has always known that these Vols have had fourth quarter fight in them, and also that Bray has never really encountered a late game situation of that magnitude.
That being said, Dooley spoke with the quarterback after the game and both agreed that situations like the one in Samford Stadium—with the game on the line—are only going to benefit the gunslinger.
Rajion Neal is beginning to look like an SEC running back. His consistency may still be in question, but as Dooley harped on with the press, Neal has two straight 100 yard rushing efforts and is contributing to a budding rushing attack for the Vols.
The Vols need to continue to establish their running game early on in games and fuel Neal's confidence, rather than primarily air it out early, as has been seen in recent SEC seasons.