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Richt says one big win is not enough

ATHENS, Ga. - What Alabama game? Of all the reasons for Georgia fans to worry about today's top 10 showdown against Tennessee at Sanford Stadium, lack of focus should be at the bottom of the list.

The significance of today's 3:30 p.m. Southeastern Conference clash between No. 6 Georgia and No. 10 Tennessee has made the Bulldogs' historic win at Alabama last week seem like a distant memory.

Georgia (5-0 overall, 2-0 SEC) played its best game of the season in winning for the first time in Tuscaloosa, Ala. But by Monday, all talk was on Tennessee (4-1, 1-1) as the Bulldogs face the opportunity to strengthen their hold on first place in the SEC East.

After losing nine straight games in the series from 1989-1999, Georgia has beaten Tennessee the last two years. Last year, an unranked Georgia team scored a huge 26-24 upset over the No. 6 Vols with a memorable last-minute drive capped by a six-yard touchdown pass from David Greene to Verron Haynes with five seconds left to play.

Last week's 27-25 triumph at Alabama and last year's win at Tennessee are landmark road victories.

Now Georgia must deliver at Sanford Stadium, where it has lost 13 of its last 14 big games  against ranked opponents. That streak of home losses against ranked teams began in 1992 and was interrupted only by a 21-10 win over No. 21 Tennessee in 2000.

Georgia has not beaten a top 10 team from the SEC at home since 1976, when it topped No. 10 Alabama at Sanford Stadium.

In an attempt to put the last two wins over the Vols and last week's win at Alabama in perspective, Georgia coach Mark Richt offered a stern reminder that one big win per season is not enough to end the program's 20-year SEC championship drought.

"Even when we beat (Tennessee) last year, who played in the conference championship game?'' asked Richt. "They did. Who's been playing in the conference championship game in the East for the last 10 years? Who's been pretty good but never gets there? That's us.''

Added Richt, in noting that Alabama is the only ranked team Georgia has faced this year and the Bulldogs struggled in close wins over Clemson and South Carolina: "Right now I don't know how good we are. The one thing I do know about them is they are tough mentally and will fight hard.''

Tennessee suffered a humbling 30-13 home loss to Florida on Sept. 21. After struggling for one half in a 35-14 win over Rutgers, the Vols were tested again last week when they beat Arkansas 41-38 in six overtimes.

Perhaps the only observer impressed by the win at Arkansas was Tennessee coach Philip Fulmer. While others have focused this week on injuries which threaten the status of quarterback Casey Clausen and running back Cedrick Houston, among others, Fulmer instead has tried to make the overtime win a turning point for his team's season.

"I'm just elated with what I was able to see in overtime,'' Fulmer said. "It was just a real emotional time. We put so much into it. I think it brought the team closer together.''

The latest injury news from Knoxville, Tenn., was the report that starting offensive tackle Michael Munoz has a broken hand. Munoz will play with a cast on the hand, similar to the cast that is being worn by Georgia tackle George Foster, who last week made his first appearance after breaking his wrist before the season.

The key for the Vols is the status of Clausen, who leads the SEC in total offense and completion percentage (67.9) and has passed for more than 260 yards in four straight games.

Fulmer has continued to express optimism that Clausen will play despite a sore shoulder, and the coach denied media reports in Tennessee that the quarterback has a broken left collarbone.

Tennessee junior  C.J. Leak, a transfer from Wake Forest, must be ready to start or play behind Clausen. Leak is only 4 of 9 passing for 41 yards, and he was sacked twice in his one appearance.

Fulmer also has given practice time to freshman James Banks and star receiver Kelley Washington at quarterback this week.

Whether as a means of protecting Clausen or a new starter at quarterback, it is likely the Vols will lean on their always productive running game. Sophomore Jabari Davis of Tucker High rushed for 135 yards against Arkansas and leads Tennessee with 275 yards rushing and seven touchdowns.

Bolstered by its strong effort last week at Alabama, Georgia ranks second in the SEC and 11th in the nation in rushing defense.

Davis' decision to sign with Tennessee was a bitter disappointment in Richt's first recruiting year at Georgia. Last year, Davis added salt to that wound by mocking Georgia's recent history of playing in such mid-level postseason games as the Peach Bowl, instead of the Vols' hopes at this point last year of playing in the Rose Bowl.

 

"The thing I know about Jabari Davis is how sad we were when we couldn't sign him,'' Richt said. "You hate to have a guy from your home state come back and beat you, and we're facing that possibility this week. He's big and strong and powerful and has good speed for a big man. We liked him quite a bit. We were sad we couldn't get him.''

Georgia is expected to again lean on only Greene at quarterback. D.J. Shockley, who shared playing time at quarterback in the first two games, may still be a week away from returning from a broken bone in his left foot.

 

Georgia was handed an unexpected distraction on Monday when it was announced that running backs coach Tony Pierce had resigned for personal reasons. Mike Bobo shifted from quarterbacks coach to take over the running backs this week, leaving Richt to coach the quarterbacks.

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No. 10 Tennessee at No. 6 Georgia 
When/Where: Today, 3:30 p.m. ET/Sanford Stadium, Athens, Ga. 
TV: CBS 
Last week: Georgia beat No. 22 Alabama, 27-25; Tennessee beat Arkansas in six overtimes, 41-38. 
Records
:  Georgia (5-0 overall, 2-0 Southeastern Conference); Tennessee (4-1 overall, 1-1 SEC). 
Head coaches
: Mark Richt is 13-4 in his second season at Georgia; Phillip Fulmer is 99-21 in his 11th season at Tennessee. 
Georgia players to watch
: QB David Greene (83 of 144 passing for 1,013 yards, 9 TD, 5 INT);  RB Musa Smith (91 carries for 483 yards, 3 TD; 8 receptions for 69 yards); WR Fred Gibson (23 receptions for 374 yards, 1 TD); WR Terrence Edwards (20 receptions for 249  yards, 5 TD); WR Damien Gary (16 receptions for 145 yards, 2 TD); DE David Pollack (39 tackles, 5 sacks, 1 INT); LB Boss Bailey (51 tackles, 1 sack).
Tennessee players to watch: QB Casey Clausen (110 of 162 passing for 1,361 yards, 8 TD, 3 INT); WR Kelley Washington (20 receptions for 411 yards, 1 TD); WR Tony Brown (20 receptions for 210 yards, 1 TD); RB Jabari Davis (58 carries for 275 yards, 7 TD); RB Cedric Houston (28 carries for 193 yards, 3 TD); TE Jason Witten (18 receptions for 244 yards, 3 TD). 
Keep an eye on
: Tennessee ranks third in the nation in net punting, and Georgia ranks ninth in the nation in punt returns. The winner of that battle for field position could play a big role in a close game.
Worth noting
: Tennessee will be trying to give Phillip Fulmer his 100th win as a head coach. Today is the 73rd anniversary of the first game played at Sanford Stadium, a 15-0 Georgia win over Yale on Oct. 12, 1929. Georgia has not been 6-0 since 1982, the year it won its last SEC championship. Tennessee is 6-2 against Georgia when both teams were ranked, including a 21-19 loss in Athens in 2000. ... In all-time games when both Georgia and its opponent were ranked in the top 10, Georgia is 4-3, including three wins over Georgia Tech in top 10 showdowns in the 1940s and a 21-0 win over No. 10 Alabama in 1976 when the Bulldogs, like today, were ranked No. 6. Fifth-ranked Tennessee beat No. 7 Georgia 22-3 in 1998. ... Senior Terrence Edwards needs 36 yards receiving today to pass Brice Hunter's school record of 2,373 career yards. 
Worth quoting
: "I get chill bumps thinking about us winning the rest of our games. I try not too look ahead too much, but I find myself thinking constantly if we're undefeated by the time we play Florida, and beat Florida, it's going to be crazy. I try not to think about it too much.'' - Georgia receiver  Damien Gary.   

Prediction:  Georgia 30, Tennessee 24  
Compiled by - Charles Odum


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