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After win over Tide, UT game 'is even bigger'

Standing outside the Georgia locker room, soaked with sweat as he neared the end of a steamy Saturday in Tuscaloosa, Ala., <b>Vince Dooley</b> was looking ahead even as players and fans around him celebrated the Bulldogs' first win at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Said Dooley, Georgia's athletics director and former coach: "As big as this was, now next week's game is even bigger.''

Always a big game on Georgia's schedule, next Saturday's visit from Tennessee looms as one of the most important home games for the Bulldogs in the last 25 years. This will be only the third time since 1976 that two top-10 teams have played at Sanford Stadium. In 1998, No. 5 Tennessee beat No. 7 Georgia 22-3 in Athens. In 1983, No. 3 Auburn beat No. 4 Georgia 13-7.

Georgia, which moved up one spot to No. 6 in The Associated Press Top 25 Sunday, is 5-0 overall and 2-0 in the SEC. Tennessee (4-1 overall, 1-1 SEC) is No. 10 in the AP poll. Georgia has not defeated a top 10 SEC team in Athens since 1976, when the No. 6 Bulldogs beat No. 10 Alabama 21-0 on the way to a SEC championship. Georgia beat top 10 Clemson teams at Sanford Stadium in 1991 and 1984.

Georgia's home record against ranked opponents is a big reason the Bulldogs have not won a Southeastern Conference championship since 1982. Georgia has lost 13 of its last 14 home games against ranked opponents; the one win came against No. 21 Tennessee in 2000. Last year, Georgia won at Tennessee for the first time since 1980. In Saturday's 3:30 p.m. game, the Bulldogs can solidify their hold on first place in the SEC East if they can take a third straight win over the Vols.

Georgia won respect with its physical play in its 27-25 win at No. 22 Alabama Saturday. Thanks to Florida's upset loss at Mississippi, Georgia is the only team in the East without a conference loss. Still, the message from Coach Mark Richt is that one big win does not make a champion. On Sunday, Richt added the opinion that the Bulldogs also should not be considered the team to beat in the conference.

"Right now to me it's just so early,'' Richt said Sunday. "We've played two conference games. I just don't see that as being that big of a deal. We haven't played enough games to know who's the hunter and who's the hunted.'' Richt will know more one week from now. "I know (the Vols) are big and strong and fast,'' Richt said. "They're talented, a bunch of winners. They're coached extremely well. They're right in the thick of the conference race. If they win the game they're basically taking the lead in the (division).'' Added Richt: "It's going to be a tremendous challenge. I hope our players are up to it.''

Richt's team was up to containing the Alabama running attack and also running against the Tide's respected defensive front. Though Georgia had the higher ranking, it was the underdog in the game and many observers - most notably former Auburn coach Pat Dye - did not believe Georgia could handle the physical challenge.

Admitted Richt Sunday: "If I was watching just as a fan, I would say Alabama was going to wear out Georgia.  To think we were going to go to Alabama and get the upset was kind of hard for anybody to believe.''

Dye made headlines last week when he said on a Birmingham radio show he didn't think Georgia was "man enough'' to beat Alabama. Asked Sunday if he thinks Dye owes Georgia, his alma mater, an apology, Richt for the first time said he thinks Dye was trying to do Georgia a favor. "No, I really think Pat Dye was trying to help us,'' Richt said. "He's a pretty smart football coach and he knows the psychology of the game and by saying those kind of statements I'm sure he knew he was going to help me and help our players get ready.''

Added Richt: "If anything I need to send him a thank-you card.''

NOTES: Richt said Georgia did not suffer any significant injuries in the game. Though quarterback D.J. Shockley participated in pregame warmups at Alabama, Richt said Shockley is "questionable at best'' for the Tennessee game as he continues to recover from a broken foot. Center Russ Tanner will begin practicing with no limitations this week as he returns from hand surgery.


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