KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Da’Rick Rogers has gotten plenty of text messages and tweets from people taunting him about Tennessee’s meeting with Georgia. He swears he’s not letting them get to him, though.
The Calhoun, Ga., native first committed to play for the Bulldogs but ended up signing with the Volunteers in February 2010 after Derek Dooley was hired as their coach.
“It’s just another SEC matchup. It’s just another game for us, another big game. I just take the approach of any other game because plays have to be made and games have to be won — that’s how we’re going to treat it,” Rogers said. “I’ve just got to keep it together, stay humble and get ready to play Saturday.”
The sophomore wide receiver said he’s excited for Tennessee (3-1, 0-1 Southeastern Conference) to face Georgia on Saturday, but it’s not because he wants to show the Bulldogs (3-2, 2-1) what they’re missing by not having him as a teammate. Instead, he’s glad to get a chance to contribute after having just one catch for a loss of 3 yards in Tennessee’s 41-14 loss to Georgia last season.
Things have changed quite a bit since then. Three of the top four Vols receivers from last year’s Georgia game have graduated, and the incredibly accurate Tyler Bray has taken over at quarterback.
Rogers now is Bray’s top target. He ranks second in the SEC with 442 yards receiving. His 27 catches and six touchdowns rank third in the nation and lead the conference.
Bulldogs coach Mark Richt saw that potential when he recruited Rogers.
“I think wherever Da’Rick decided to go play football he’d be playing, no doubt about that,” he said. “We think he’s a good player. We wanted him, we recruited him, we thought we had him for a while, then it changed. It happens in recruiting. It doesn’t happen a lot with us historically, but there were some things that made him feel like Tennessee was the best place for him, so that’s where he is and now we have to defend him.”
Though Bray has done a good job of throwing accurately to the receivers, Rogers has made plenty of impressive plays. Perhaps his most athletic move this season was a touchdown he caught against Cincinnati with one defender blocking his view, another defender wrapped around his waist and his helmet popping off in the process.
The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Rogers has expected to get that kind of focus from defenses more often since the Vols’ other talented receiver, Justin Hunter, tore his left ACL early in Tennessee’s Sept. 17 loss at Florida. It didn’t stop him from achieving his career high against the Bulls, though.
“I’ll be expecting maybe a double team or a safety over the top a little bit here and there, mixing it up, but we’ll see how it goes,” Rogers said.
Bray isn’t too worried about how the Bulldogs might treat Rogers. Even if they do give him problems, Bray said the rest of the offense will be there for him.
“He is going to stay the same regardless,” Bray said. “He already knows they are going to come after him and try to jaw for him, so we are just going to try to keep him centered and playing the way he has been.”
Fellow wide receiver and Fayetteville, Ga., native Rajion Neal isn’t buying Rogers’ claims that the Georgia game is no more important to him than any other game this season, though.
“It’s going to be giant because Da’Rick is going to go off. He’s going to tear their defense up, and they’re going to be upset,” Neal said.
AP Sports Writer Paul Newberry in Athens, Ga., contributed to this story.