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October 10, 2008When you sit down and try to add up all the different demons 10th-ranked Georgia hopes to exorcise Saturday against Tennessee (3:30 p.m., CBS), it's almost too difficult to know where to start.
For instance: The Bulldogs (4-1, 1-1) have now had two weeks to stew over their loss to Alabama, a game that exposed some noticeable chinks in Georgia's armor, not to mention trying to figure out a way to stop the onslaught of penalties that have pelted Mark Richt's squad like stinging droplets of acid rain.
That doesn't even take into account the trouble the Bulldogs have recently had trying to figure out Phillip Fulmer's Volunteers.
Tennessee has certainly had its way with Georgia. Nobody can forget the 51-33 spanking the Vols laid on the Bulldogs during their last trip to Athens in 2006, or the 35-14 pasting last year in Neland Stadium which saw Tennessee jump out to a 28-0 halftime lead.
Yes, there are plenty of questions the Bulldogs must find out about themselves. But as Georgia prepares to tackle the most arduous stretch of its 2008 campaign, Richt said his team realizes its goals remain firmly intact and that knowledge has fueled the desire to improve to make sure it doesn't lose its grasp on what the coach firmly believes can still be an excellent year.
"We have a wonderful opportunity to turn it around. I really hope we take advantage of it. I see nothing out there to make me feel like we won't turn it around," Richt said. "Alabama is undefeated. They are second in the country. They are pretty good. They are a very good football team and for whatever reason, we had that slow start but I believe that we have a bright future ahead of us and this game is huge in how our season is going to be remembered."
Never mind that the Vols are doing some teetering of their own, as Tennessee comes into the game 2-3 and last in the SEC East with an 0-2 conference mark after dropping league contests to Florida and Auburn.
"Their record doesn't mean a thing. We haven't proven anything to them anytime we've played them," linebacker Rennie Curran said. "We know where they stand but we also know what kind of team they are and we know how they feel about us and our whole entire program. No question they don't like us and they're going to bring their A-game. We're not going to take them for granted. Look at their record? That's the last thing we're going to do."
If history is any indication, Georgia figures to at least stand a decent chance of giving a proper response.
The Bulldogs are 10-2 after a bye week, including a 1-0 mark against Tennessee after a 27-14 win in Knoxville in 2005.
The two losses came in 2001 and 2005 to Auburn in Athens.
"The week off helped refocus us, getting our legs back obviously, let us get back in the weight room and relax just a little bit," Curran said. "It's been five hard games, a grind. But after getting back in the film room, getting back to the basics, it's definitely given us time to become a better team. It's definitely been a productive week."
The extra week of preparation has also given Richt the chance to work on way to eliminate the penalties that have plagued his team throughout the year.
Bulldog fans can probably recite the numbers by heart: Georgia ranks as the most flagged team in the country having been penalized 53 times for 437 yards, compared to just 21 times for 165 yards by opponents.
"That's been our No. 1 priority, no question about it," Richt said. "I made a mistake earlier on how to approach this, but we've since taken steps, so it will be interesting to see how well they've listened."
There's both good and bad news on the injury front.
Georgia will play the team without two more starters ? tight end Tripp Chandler (shoulder) and Mike linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (shoulder), while receiver Kris Durham (ankle) will also sit out Saturday's contest.
The good news, the Bulldogs will welcome fullback Brannan Southerland back to the backfield for the first time since undergoing two surgeries to correct and issue his foot.
"It's great to have him back, Brannan's a big boy," tailback Knowshon Moreno said. "We need him."
Tennessee, meanwhile, will be crossing its collective fingers that quarterback Nick Stephens' second career start will be a successful one.
Stephens made his first start last week and completed 10-of-17 passes for 156 yards and one touchdown in the Vols' 13-9 win over Northern Illinois in place of former starter Jonathan Crompton.
But whatever success Tennessee enjoys, there's a good chance running back Arian Foster will be leading the way.
In his last two games against the Bulldogs, Foster has rushed for a combined 161 yards and scored a remarkable six touchdowns. He currently ranks fourth on Tennessee's all-time leading rusher chart with 2,732 yards.
Defensively, Tennessee has given up just one rushing touchdown all year.
Fulmer just hopes for some kind of successful combination that can keep his team's season from spiraling completing out of control. The Vols did so last year, bouncing back to win the SEC East after a slow start, and that's the memory Fulmer seems to be hanging his hat on as his squad prepares to come to Athens.
"In the past our team has always been a team that fought back and fought with a lot of pride and commitment to get back where we want to be and this team has not lost sight of that," Fulmer said. "We've come to practice this week, we've worked hard, tried to fix what we can and just plan on giving it our best shot to see if we can get things turned around this weekend."