ATHENS -- Normally, Mark Richt waits until late in game week to inject emotional motivation to his team. This week, however, the Georgia head coach chose Monday to issue a warning to his fifth-ranked team.
Eight years ago Tennessee, under very similar circumstances, went into Georgia and pulled off the upset. So keep that in mind, Richt told his players.
But one Bulldogs senior, linebacker Mike Gilliard, had a blunt answer when asked if Richts plea served as a reminder.
Honestly, to me, no, Gilliard said. I personally feel like were going to go out there Saturday and do what we do best. What Coach Richt said, you definitely have to keep that at the back of your mind, just stay humble and play every team hard and physical. Im basically going into this game as (were playing) another team in our way.
For months, this Georgia team has given the aura of having a more business-like approach than the past few years, relying less on emotion.
This game appears to be a test of that.
Tennessee (3-1) is certainly no slouch, and Richt has done his best to talk up the Volunteers, especially their passing ability. But Georgia is a two-touchdown favorite, according to Las Vegas, for a reason.
Imagine a few years saying that a game against Tennessee -- sandwiched in between games against Vanderbilt and South Carolina -- was a letdown game. But thats exactly the worry in some quarters. Georgia players have tried to lessen those worries.
For us, its about getting to Miami. Every team we play is trying to stop us from getting to Miami, cornerback Sanders Commings said f the BCS national championship game. Its easy to get up for every game.
There is another sub-plot this week: the expected return of two key defensive starters. Richt has remained coy on whether safety Bacarri Rambo and inside linebacker Alec Ogletree will return after four-game suspensions, but the evidence points that way.
The return of the two players, assuming they do play, should shore up a defense that has had some struggles so far and is facing its stiffest test this week.
Richt talked up the Vols offense, ticking off some impressive stats: more yards than any team in program history during the first four games, averaging more than 500 yards and 38 points per game and topping in the SEC in passing yards and first downs.
I was saying just the other day that if I had those receivers and that quarterback, Id have a hard time trying to stay balanced, Richt said.
Still, there are indications that Georgias emphasis will be on making Tennessee one-dimensional by stopping the run game.
Tennessee has a great passing attack, but its very tough to win in this league if you cant establish a balanced offense, Georgia senior linebacker Christian Robinson said. (Tennessee head coach Derek) Dooley has said that he wants to be able to run the ball a little more, so were going to be watching for that. Weve been good at defending against the run the past couple of years with big guys like Kwame (Geathers) and John (Jenkins) plugging up the holes, so hopefully well be able to keep it going.
Defensively the season has been a struggle for the Volunteers, who are in the first year of a 3-4 defense. They seem to be having the same adjustment problems that Georgia had in the first year under Todd Grantham.
The Volunteers, unlike the Bulldogs in 2010, do have a big, physical nose guard. Junior Daniel McCullers is listed at 377 pounds. So that matchup with Georgia center David Andrews, who is just less than 300 pounds, will be intriguing to watch. Andrews at least has been going against Georgias massive nose tackles (Jenkins and Geathers are each more than 350 pounds) in practice for six months.
Georgias offense could also look a bit different this week. Malcolm Mitchell is expected to get more time at receiver, after spending the first four weeks at cornerback. Still, with Georgias passing game on a roll, Mitchells role is likely to still be limited.
Hes a talented kid, and were gonna give his ability a chance to make some plays in the game, offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said.
But Georgias main goal may just be mental. The evidence is that it has the talent advantage, and it definitely has the edge in experience and a home crowd to boot.
It was always a mental thing, Robinson said. We were on point against Vanderbilt this past week; everyone showed up and was ready to play. If you start strong then I think its easier to finish because you can just keep up what youre doing and allow the coaches to just stick to the game-plan.