STARKVILLE, Miss. - When Mississippi State stunned Florida in one of last year's biggest upsets, Georgia coach Mark Richt took notice.
With a showdown against Tennessee looming in two weeks, Richt's immediate challenge is keeping his seventh-ranked Bulldogs from joining the Gators as Mississippi State's latest upset victims.
"We can't be thinking about what's going to happen down the road," Richt said. "You look at what happened to Florida last year, going in there and getting beat, and then you just watch the tape.... They're much better at doing what they do than they were a year ago."
Richt is trying to keep Georgia (3-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) focused on an improving Mississippi State team - not his Bulldogs' Oct. 8 matchup with the Volunteers.
He said Georgia can't afford to look ahead because Mississippi State proved last year in a 38-31 stunner over then-No. 20 Florida that the Sylvester Croom-led Bulldogs - and a raucous, cowbell-clanging crowd at Scott Field - can create havoc for an unfocused opponent.
"We've heard that Mississippi State is a tough place to play," running back Danny Ware said. "They are a good defensive team and it's a hostile environment."
Mississippi State (2-1, 0-1) is preparing for a brutal three-week stretch which also includes games against No. 3 LSU and at No. 5 Florida, and is hoping a defense which has improved from awful last season to average can help the two-touchdown underdogs pull the second huge upset of the Croom era.
"Knowing that we beat Florida last year, and knowing that we've got a good defense, it's going to be a big key," said defensive lineman Willie Evans, who leads the league with five sacks and eight tackles for loss.
But getting to quarterback D.J. Shockley isn't going to be easy.
Shockley, who ranks second in the league in total offense and is the SEC's most efficient passer, is protected by an experienced offensive line that has allowed only two sacks and is tied for tops in the conference with Tennessee.
"Everything that we have done successfully on offense is because of the offensive line," Shockley said.
After winning three straight Between the Hedges, Shockley is making his first career start on the road, and Evans said Mississippi State must find a way to intimidate the fifth-year senior.
"If we can just get pressure to him, rattle him a little bit, we're going to be all right," Evans said.
Because of the SEC's rotating interdivisional schedule, the teams haven't played since Georgia won 47-0 in 1997. Mississippi State's most recent win came in 1974, and Georgia has won the last seven meetings.
With a victory, Georgia would improve to 4-0 for the third time in Richt's five seasons. If Mississippi State wins, the Bulldogs would be 3-1 for the first time since 2000 - the last time they reached the postseason.
"As long as we're moving forward - some days it's inches, some days it's a yard or so," Croom said. "The biggest thing in last year and this year is getting a foundation laid as far as our identity as a program and our identity as a football team. Our players are buying into that, we're starting to win and we've just got to keep moving forward."
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