ATHENS, Ga. - Uncertainty has been the only certainty of Mark Richt's brief tenure as Georgia's head football coach.
He wasn't sure how his team would react in the opener against Arkansas State. He didn't know how the Bulldogs would confront the big-game atmosphere against South Carolina. He questioned whether his team was emotionally prepared for Arkansas after a three-week layoff.
Each game has presented its own unique test of will and expectation, and today's test at No. 6 Tennessee (noon, CBS-Ch. 12) should be no different. What sets it apart is that it is the Bulldogs' toughest test yet.
Richt, who will be in Knoxville, Tenn., for the first time, is certain of that. His only question is how his team - particularly redshirt freshman quarterback David Greene - will handle its first road game of the season in front of 108,000 fans at Neyland Stadium.
"I don't know how he'll react," Richt said of Greene, who led Georgia to a 34-23 win over Arkansas last week. "He's been home. He's been more comfortable at home. Now we'll see how he reacts to the adversity of the crowd and just being away from home."
Playing away from home is one thing. Playing in Knoxville, where the Bulldogs haven't won since their national title season of 1980, is quite another.
Georgia (2-1, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) has lost its past five games at Neyland by an average score of 32-16, which isn't unforgivable given the Vols' 51-4 record there under 10th-year coach Phillip Fulmer.
Still, Richt said his team believes it can enter such a daunting environment and leave with a victory. He has tried to instill that belief since his first practice in the spring, when he took over a team that was reeling from the firing of former coach Jim Donnan and the disappointing 7-4 season that preceded it.
Defensive line coach Rodney Garner, the lone holdover from Donnan's staff and a former Tennessee assistant, said the Bulldogs won't be intimidated by the Volunteers (3-0, 2-0) or the surroundings.
"I don't think we'll have a scared group of young men," Garner said. "Obviously, we need something good to happen for us."
In many ways, what happens today could go a long way toward defining Georgia's season: Will the Bulldogs underachieve, as they did in the last two years of Donnan's tenure, or will they become known for gritty efforts under daunting circumstances and surpass their expectations?
"This will give us an indication of where we're at," said junior split end Terrence Edwards, a former Washington County star. "Can we play with the big boys, or are we just going to stay in the back?"
Reach Larry Williams at (706) 823-3645 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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