Georgia Game Is Absolutely Critical for Tennessee Football Coach Derek Dooley

Barrett SalleeSEC Football Lead WriterSeptember 24, 2012

Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley
Tennessee head coach Derek DooleyJohn Sommers II/Getty Images

The Florida game two weeks ago may have been the biggest game in Knoxville in five or six years, but the one this weekend at Georgia is the biggest one of Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley's career—and there isn't a close second.

It's a very volatile situation on Rocky Top.

The highs are very high and the lows are really low, and there's not much in between.

Wins against N.C. State and Georgia State had Vol Nation thinking SEC East title, and midway through the third quarter vs. Florida, that looked more like a probability than a possibility.

And then, the wheels came flying off.

In the five quarters and five minutes since Tennessee couldn't capitalize on a Florida fake punt and a two-touchdown lead at home, the Vols have been outscored 50-47 by the Gators and Akron Zips.

The downward spiral has many on Rocky Top already calling for Dooley's job, even though his team still has plenty of time to turn it around.

It better turn it around this weekend against No. 5 Georgia, otherwise the murmuring will turn into a roar during Tennessee's bye week, which just so happens to be next week.

The third-year head coach is 4-13 vs. SEC opponents, and he desperately needs a signature win to appease the administration and fanbase.

Georgia would be that signature win.

Las Vegas doesn't have too much faith in Tennessee this weekend. According to, the Vols are two-touchdown underdogs between the hedges. That probably speaks more to the fragility of the football team's mindset rather than its overall talent level.

Sluggish effort versus Akron notwithstanding, Tennessee has looked like a much better team this season, and that's what's most important for Dooley.

Rajion Neal has rejuvenated the ground game, Cordarrelle Patterson has stepped in after Da'Rick Rogers left the program and the defense, while inconsistent, has shown flashes of brilliance.

It's going to have to show more than flashes of brilliance this week against a Georgia team that hit its stride last weekend versus Vanderbilt.

Fans and pundits seem to want to put a win total on what it would take for Dooley to stay employed, but I don't think that's the right way to approach this situation. There shouldn't be a specific win total that would magically secure Dooley's job. 

With that being said, Dooley needs a win this weekend because things aren't going to get any easier moving forward.

Can you imagine the uproar in Knoxville if the administration and fans have to sit on a 3-2 record for two weeks with games at Mississippi State, versus Alabama and at South Carolina looming on the horizon?

Talk about a good time to be a sports radio host in northeast Tennessee. You can just open the show, say, "Derek Dooley...go," and the phone lines will light up like a Christmas tree.

This game at Georgia is the biggest game of Derek Dooley's career.

He may not have to hit a specific win total to keep his job, but the natives are restless, and his doubters don't need any more ammunition—especially with what's coming down the road.

Dooley desperately needs a signature win against an SEC opponent, because right now, the Vols still don't look like they belong in the SEC East title discussion.