Originally created 09/02/01

Tune-up game sets the stage for 'real play'



ATHENS, Ga. - One of the beauties of college football is that preseason games count. One of the dangers is reading too much into the results.

The Mark Richt era got off to a swimming start Saturday as Georgia showed off its new coach, new quarterback, new offense and improved confidence against a significantly over-matched Arkansas State team that finished 1-10 a year ago.

It seemed to settle a lot of questions about the Bulldogs' potential just a week before the real season begins against SEC East rival South Carolina.

Even Richt, who is undefeated as a collegiate head coach, preached restraint. He wouldn't even commit to preseason superstar David Greene settling the quarterback situation once and for all.

"We'll see what he does when something bad happens to him," Richt said of his exalted redshirt freshman. "He had all day to throw most of the time and he had receivers who were open. A lot of guys can perform well in that situation. But who knows. That was just one ballgame."

One ballgame that, in spite of all the caution signs, was easy for starving Bulldogs fans to get excited about. They've spent too long recovering from a underwhelming 2000 campaign, suffering through a long offseason that included everything from a coaching change to player misdeeds to recruiting letdowns.

This was a result they could hang their hearts on.

"We have confidence in our offensive line, confidence in our receivers, confidence in our quarterback, confidence in our whole team," said exuberant receiver Terrance Edwards.

Richt couldn't say the same thing even one night before. That was when he was deeply questioning whether his choice for the starting QB was a bad call.

The coach thought Greene had slipped a little behind Cory Phillips in practices since he tentatively tapped Greene as the starter. Then he struggled on a 40-page written test on the eve of the opener that Richt said left his QB delirious.

"When I went out with those guys last night I thought we might be in trouble," Richt said. "It was like three freshman taking the test for the first time."

But Greene passed the test on the field.

"You'd think David was a three-year starter and not a freshman," said Damien Gary. "It was tremendous to see how calm he was when we had an offense that we really have never played before."

You could gush as much about Richt. He is doing some impressive new things with a program that basks in tradition. His pregame walk through a tunnel of tubas, tube-tops and a too-long-waiting faithful flock was ravenously received.

His no-huddle, no-mercy. no-prisoners offense was welcomed even more - though at one point it worked so well at confusing Arkansas State that the officials penalized Georgia for moving too fast.

"If we are making a substitution we might have to actually wait so the defense can make a sub," Richt said, having been notified of the rules.

He is fretting about the minor flaws. Richt's spent so long preparing himself and players for this day that he's happy it went off with few hitches.

"Just to get through the game with a new staff and new team and all the little things that are different ... I think it went pretty well," he said.

Well enough that Bulldog nation can feel a little frisky when the Gamecocks roll into Athens on Saturday night bearing the favorite's burden.

The preseason is officially over. Bring on the bigger challenges.

Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219.