The thought of Tennessee scoring 44 points in the final 31 minutes of last year’s 51-33 thrashing of the Bulldogs still makes his stomach churn. The No. 12 Bulldogs (4-1, 2-1 SEC) get a chance to revenge Saturday when they play the Volunteers (2-2, 0-1) in Neyland Stadium at 3:30 p.m.
They also have a chance to get embarrassed again, which they might if they play the way they did against Ole Miss, Ellerbe said.
“We have to play a whole lot better on defense,” he said. “The offense can play better, too, but the offense played good enough today to beat Tennessee. The way the defense played, they’re going to score 67 this time.”
The Rebels averaged 5.7 yards per play in gaining 228 yards through the air and 158 on the ground.
“Hopefully, we’ll come out and do a better job,” defensive coordinator Willie Martinez said. “We definitely have to continue to get better.”
Tennessee leads the SEC in passing offense with 285.8 yards per game and is fifth in total offense (418 per game).
“Last year we got taken to task pretty good, and that was with a couple (defensive starters) who got drafted and are gone now,” Coach Mark Richt said. “I would think it’s going to be even a greater challenge this year now that we’re playing at their place.”
The Volunteers have lost plenty, too. Wide receivers Robert Meachem and Bret Smith, who accounted for 14 catches, 192 yards and two touchdowns in last year’s game, are gone.
“It’s hard to say how this thing is going to go, but I believe our guys will get prepared and get excited about playing them, and that’s all we can ask for,” Richt said.
Tennessee still has quarterback Erik Ainge, who is completing more than 66 percent of his passes and has thrown 10 touchdown passes and two interceptions. Junior wide receiver Lucas Taylor has emerged as his No. 1 target and is second in the SEC with 95.5 yards per game.
Ainge and Lucas will be going against starting cornerbacks who have never been to Neyland Stadium in sophomores Asher Allen and Prince Miller
“I’m not going to sit here and say we’re playing lights out (in the secondary) right now,” Richt said.
That issue was exacerbated last week by the defensive line’s sub-par performance. Georgia didn’t record a sack against Ole Miss for the first time this season.
“A guy like Ainge, if he has all day it’s over,” Richt said, “you can count on that.”
Last year’s Tennessee game was “devastating,” Ellerbe said.
“Anytime a team scores 51 points on your defense, that’s something you don’t want to repeat and you have a little edge going into the (next) game,” Allen said. “You don’t want to let anybody do what they did last year.”