Dooley on Tennessee's pass-rush and Wildcat formation
The snap from James Stone sailed over Tyler Bray's head, bounced on the turf and started to roll.
Tennessee recovered the football, but the 15-yard loss helped extinguish the Vols' momentum in their game against Georgia one year ago. Tennessee was forced to punt from deep in its own territory, the Bulldogs quickly answered with a touchdown and a game that had been close started to get away.
The Vols lost that game, 20-12. Soon after, Stone lost his job.
A year later, Stone is back at center, and his season of snapping miscues — too high, too low, with left hand and right — seems a distant memory.
The Vols (3-1, 0-1 SEC) play No. 5 Georgia (4-0, 2-0) on Saturday (TV: 3:30 p.m., WVLT) at Sanford Stadium.
Stone's path back to the starting job — and flawless snapping — seemed unlikely only a few months ago.
Stone and Alex Bullard shared the center job for the rest of 2011, but coaches decided to hand the job to Bullard permanently in the spring.
But Bullard missed time this summer due to personal issues and coaches began to reconsider Stone's role on the line.
So he grabbed a ball and started snapping, spending extra time with Bray and regaining lost confidence in the most essential job of a center — transferring the ball to the quarterback.
By the time camp began in August, the job was Stone's to lose. He seized it.
Peppered with questions about his snapping technique all summer, Stone hasn't had to endure any questions once the games started because there have been no problems to analyze. The center-to-quarterback transfer, whether shotgun or under center, has been perfect.
"I'm a lot more comfortable now," Stone said. "I've been doing it all through the offseason and through four games this season."
The junior from Nashville's Maplewood High School might have searched for wood to knock on, had it been available. Instead he just added, "It's something you can't take for granted. But it's really good that we haven't had any mishaps with it."
Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said he's been pleased with Stone's progress.
"He's been good. He's been a real steady hand for us in there," Dooley said. "But he has a heck of a challenge this week."
The challenge comes from 358-pound senior nose guard John Jenkins, who came to Georgia last year after a stint at junior college.
After a slow start, Jenkins has emerged as one of the Bulldogs' most valuable defensive players and a potential early NFL draft pick in April.
"That sucker is a pretty good nose guard, and he is big," Dooley said.
Last year, Tennessee caught the Bulldogs as they were recovering from an 0-2 start. This year, the Bulldogs have hit their stride early and are overwhelming favorites to win on Saturday.
"I feel like we're a different team and they're a different team," Stone said. "We feel like we can go head-to-head with anybody in the league. I'm not really thinking about last year. We just want to remember the mistakes we made and not repeat them."
Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.