Georgia has Tennessee on its Mind

Mark Jones vs, Georgia 2003

Tennessee could be at the wrong place at the wrong time Saturday in Athens, where they'll meet a No. 3 Georgia Bulldog squad that is coming off a 41-16 drubbing of LSU and is playing much better than last year when they hammered the Vols 41-14 in Knoxville.

Georgia head coach Mark Richt credits an improved offensive line and major contributions by a pair of true freshmen running backs with the upgrade. He also sees a quicker quarterback in veteran David Greene, who comes into this contest with a perfect 3-0 record against Tennessee.

"I think one of the biggest differences is our running backs and how they ran the ball," Richt said in a Sunday teleconference. "Looking back on that tape they made a huge difference for us in the (LSU) ball game. When we're able to sustain some things running the ball and mixing the run and pass it's just very, very good for us."

The Bulldogs are also providing better protection up front with an offensive line that has more depth and experience.

"Our line has certainly done well," Richt said. "We've gone four games and had four sacks. Last year after four games we had 16 sacks so the line has done a much better job and it was nice to be able to get our senior leadership at the receiver position a chance to make the plays. Last year there wasn't enough experience or depth. Then we had injuries. It was a nightmare."

Greene has certainly been a nightmare for Tennessee to handle, beginning with the 2001 campaign when the then freshman led Georgia on a last minute touchdown drive to inflict the only regular season loss on UT's record. He has continued his mastery of the Vols in 2002 and again last year at Neyland Stadium where he connected on 22-of-28 for 228 yards. Greene may be coming off his best game to date against LSU and presents a daunting challenge to a young UT secondary.

"David Greene doing a better job getting rid of the ball and buying time to throw," said Richt. "He improved his quickness in the offseason."

The primary obstacle Georgia has to guard against is a letdown after an emotionally charged revenge victory against LSU, which beat UGA twice in 2003, and with UT coming in off a major setback.

"Well the psychology of the game is not really in our favor," Richt explained. "It's dangerous when you have a big victory and the other team has had a tough game because it just usually lends itself to a letdown. I hope our guys won't allow that to happen. It will be a big job for us as a coaching staff to make sure we get them ready to play. But I think our players understand that as big as last week's game was this one is bigger. Without a doubt this is so crucial to the eastern division standings. As bad as it probably felt for Tennessee to lose the game, it was against a western division foe and they've already beaten Florida in our division, and if they beat us they are clearly in the driver's seat."

Richt is banking on another revved up crowd in Athens to offset any complacency, plus the players know the stakes are high against Tennessee.

"It's always possible that (a letdown) can happen," he said. "The atmosphere we had at our place last week at our stadium I would assume is going to be just as exciting. I think our fans will be just as excited about this one, if not more. I think that's really going to help us generate the excitement we need, but our players know how much this game means so I don't think it will be a problem. We'll certainly work them hard enough that don't get too excited about what they've done."

The Bulldogs escaped the LSU contest without serious injury and starting offensive tackle Max Jean-Gilles is listed as probable for the Tennessee game after leaving Saturday's game with an injury.

He also praised the play of junior defensive tackles Kedric Golston and Gerald Anderson who are providing balance and complementing senior defensive ends David Pollack and Will Thompson. The strong play of the front four has allowed the Bulldogs to drop more players in coverage which has made it difficult to pass on Georgia.

That presents particular problems for Tennessee which is depending on two true freshmen signal callers to direct its attack. Richt said the Bulldogs are preparing packages for each rookie.

"I think right now they have to be continuing to decide how to play these guys," he said. "I guess they thought Ainge had separated some and he some trouble (against Auburn) so I don't know if that means they're going to open it up and try to decide at midweek who is going to start, but I think we'll see them both. You've got a more drastic difference between these two than the two we played at LSU and we'll certainly have to have a plan for whoever is in the game."

While it's certainly more difficult for a true freshman to play at quarterback than running back, Richt said if a freshman is able to become a starter in the SEC he has to play big or you're simply building toward the future.

"If a freshman has worked his way into the starting lineup for you then, yeah, you do want him to play like a senior," he said. "Not very many guys are able to do that. Danny (Ware) has been able to do that for us and Thomas Brown, who is also a true freshman running back, has given us some great play. So, yeah, if a true freshman becomes a starter in our league they've got to play big or you're going to have a rebuilding year."

Tennessee is also counting heavily on freshmen in the secondary this season which has become an achilles heel for the defense. Richt said he expects Tennessee to mix it's coverages a lot of Saturday combining some cover two to help prevent big plays as well as man free principles.

"I would think Tennessee would have that in their package," he said. "They have a lot of man free concepts, a lot like LSU. They pressure very much the same just not as often. I think Tennessee does a better job of mixing their coverages. So that will be the key to read what they're doing and have plays that will have the opportunity to win vs. both the man and the zone principle."

Despite a four-game Georgia winning streak in this series and the struggles the Vols have experienced since against the Bulldogs since 2000, Richt knows the importance of a victory over the Vols and he won't let his team forget it. So much for catching the Bulldogs napping on Saturday.

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