Dawgs Headed to the Port

ATHENS – The destination might be unusual for Georgia fans, but the Bulldogs' matchup for this year's Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La. will feature two of college football's most storied programs.

Georgia officially accepted an invitation to the Independence Bowl on Sunday and will take on Texas A&M on Dec. 28 – a matchup head coach Mark Richt said should present a significant challenge as the Bulldogs wrap up the 2009 season.

"I'm really happy for our team and especially our seniors to have this opportunity to not only play another game but also visit a destination that will be new to most of our people," Richt said. "I know our team and coaches will prepare well to represent the Southeastern Conference against Texas A&M, a team with great football tradition who I'm sure will be at its best."

The trip will be the first to the Independence Bowl for Georgia since 1991 when the Bulldogs beat Arkansas 24-15 behind a strong performance from quarterback Eric Zeier.

Current athletics director Damon Evans was a wide receiver on that Georgia team, and he said he's excited about the opportunity to make a return trip to Shreveport and encouraged fans do match that enthusiasm.

"We'll push tickets as we always do," Evans said. "Being that last game we expect our fans to have some excitement and travel well and we need them to travel well because their support is crucial to our overall success. So we'll get out there an market this bowl as we do all other bowls and show our excitement."

The bid to the Independence Bowl caps what has been a turbulent season for the Bulldogs and marks a significant departure from the past few seasons when Richt's teams have played more prestigious bowl games.

But with six SEC teams finishing the regular season with a 7-5 record, sorting out the details of which team would head to which destination proved a but convoluted.

"When we were sitting where we were with everybody else sitting there, it was just a big wad of teams," Richt said. "To try to sort it out and try to make a lot of sense of where everybody should go, it was very difficult for everybody. So I had no preconceived ideas of where we might go or where we should go and I was just thankful that we got ourselves in a situation where we could play this bowl game and play on national TV one more time and a chance to coach these seniors one more time."

Texas A&M finished the season with a 6-6 record but showed off its offensive firepower in a 49-39 loss to No. 2 Texas in its finale.

That's a concern for Richt, who fired three-quarters of his defensive coaching staff last week and will employ only defensive tackles coach Rodney Garner and two graduate assistants on the defensive side of the ball in the bowl game.

"It'll be a great challenge and a great opportunity for those young guys and for our defensive players to step up to the plate and really do everything they can do to help with the situation we're in right now," Richt said. "It'll definitely be a challenge, no doubt. We've seen enough to know they can move the ball, put points on the board and it'll challenge everybody across the board – offensively and special teams, too."

While Garner won't be given the title of defensive coordinator, he will be the foundation of the Bulldogs' defensive preparations. But while the coaching staff makes the best of a sticky situation, Richt said he'll be chipping in heavily, too.

"It'll be an all-hands-on-deck situation, but I think everybody is going to have a good attitude about it and we're all going to work together to get prepared," Richt said.

Georgia's defensive staff will certainly have a much different look against Texas A&M, but Richt said the rest of the team will appear much as it did when the Bulldogs knocked off Georgia Tech to cap their regular season.

While positions changes for players like Logan Gray and Richard Samuel have been rumored and tweaks to the defensive scheme could certainly be in store down the road, Richt said the game plan for the Aggies will be to prepare as they always have and do what it takes to win the game.

"We're going to have our hands full just preparing for this game," Richt said. "A lot of people say it's more spring ball and that kind of thing, and not to say we won't have some opportunities for some young guys to scrimmage a little bit, but our main focus is preparing to play this ballgame."

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