2001 season opens for Coach Richt and his Dawgs

Mark Richt will have his inaugural game as a gridiron boss on Saturday, September 1 when his Georgia Bulldogs face Arkansas State in Sanford Stadium. Game time is 1:00 p.m.

It will be the season opener for both schools. Georgia finished the 2000 season with an 8-4 record, including a 5-3 Southeastern Conference mark. The Bulldogs tied Tennessee and South Carolina for second in the SEC Eastern Division.

The teams have played only once before--a 38-7 Georgia win in 1997.

Georgia returns 15 starters (six offense, seven defense and two specialists).

Richt succeeds Jim Donnan as the Bulldogs' head coach. Donnan compiled a 40-18 record at Georgia from 1996-2000. His teams won four consecutive bowl games at UGA (1997-2000), but he was fired in part for his teams lack of success against four of Georgia's biggest rivals--Florida, Georgia Tech, Auburn and Tennessee. Donnan's teams were only 6-14 against them.

Richt has been extremely popular with Bulldog enthusiasts since his appointment on December 26. He's been going full-steam since then, recruiting, speaking to Bulldog Clubs across the South and of course, coaching. But regardless of how well liked he is, Richt, like all coaches, will ultimately be judged by how many games he wins.

Georgia is a prohibitive favorite to beat Arkansas State, which is coached by Joe Hollis, a former Georgia assistant (1985-90).

Arkansas State completed the 2000 season with a dismal 1-10 record, but should be vastly improved this year. The Indians return nine starters (five offense and four defense).

Players to watch for the Indians include offensive tackle Garry Johnson, running back Jonathan Adams, wide receiver Jeff Hickenbotham, defensive ends Corey Williams and John Bradley and linebacker Reggie Everett.

Arkansas State's team strengths are a powerful running game led by Adams, quality tackles and depth at wide receiver. Its potential problems are not having a quarterback who has taken a snap as a collegian and a lack of depth and experience on defense, especially at linebacker.

Richt's "name" players are kicker Billy Bennett (5-8, 159, So.), wide receiver Terrence Edwards (6-1, 165, Jr.), punter Jonathan Kilgo (6-2, 198, Jr.), center Curt McGill (6-4, 290, Sr.), running back Musa Smith (6-1, 212, So.), offensive lineman Jon Stinchcomb (6-6, 290, Jr.) and defensive back Tim Wansley (5-9, 172, Jr.).

It appears redshirt freshman David Greene, will start at the most talked about position on the team- quarterback for Georgia. However, don't be surprised to see true freshman D.J. Shockley or veteran Cory Phillips play if Greene should struggle.

Richt offered the following evaluation of Arkansas State: "The Indians lost a lot of players on both sides of the ball. They have had some injury troubles and so they have not been able to practice or prepare like they would like to. They are used to playing a schedule with large Division 1-A schools and so they will not be intimidated (against us). They are physical on defense and they have had their troubles, but it is not for a lack of wanting to hit somebody. We put together a highlight tape of their defense and if you just looked at the highlights you would be very impressed with them, Offensively, they lost their quarterback and that is a big loss for them. I think they will try to spread it out and throw it around a little bit."

The stage has been set, now all that remains is the game itself. A lot of questions about the 2001 Georgia Football team should be answered by Saturday evening. Of course, Richt would like nothing better than for his Bulldogs to claim a win over the Indians in the process.

You can reach Tim Gardner via e-mail at tim@dawgpost.com.

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