Bulldogs don't mind being outside the hedges
Posted: Thursday September 18, 2003 2:56PM; Updated: Thursday September 18, 2003 2:57PM
ATHENS, Ga. (AP) -- It started one Saturday afternoon at Neyland Stadium.
With less than a minute to go, Tennessee turned a short pass into a long, go-ahead touchdown, sending the Big Orange faithful -- more than 100,000 strong -- into a frenzy.
Georgia, with a freshman quarterback and a rookie coach, seemed doomed. Instead, the "Road Warriors" were about to have their coming out.
David Greene calmly marched the Bulldogs down the field, hitting one pass after another till his team stood at the Tennessee 6. From the sideline, Mark Richt sent in "P-44-Haynes" -- a deceptive play that called for a pass over the middle to little-used fullback Verron Haynes.
It worked. Haynes was all alone in the end zone, Greene made the throw and the Bulldogs pulled off a stunning 26-24 victory.
Nearly two years later, the No. 7 Bulldogs still haven't lost a road game with Richt as the coach and Greene as the quarterback. Nine wins in a row, despite venturing to some of college football's most ornery settings.
"We just focus on what we're supposed to do," cornerback Decory Bryant said. "We don't worry about the crowd. That's why we are very successful."
On Saturday, the Bulldogs will head to always-raucous Tiger Stadium for a critical Southeastern Conference game against No. 11 LSU (3-0). Georgia may be a slight underdog, but it won't be intimidated.
"I know it's going to be crazy," offensive lineman Josh Brock said. "You've just got to get in your mind that they don't like you. You know they're going to be hollering, cussing, throwing stuff at you. We don't let it bother us."
The Bulldogs have kept their streak alive by margins both small and large.
David Pollack's end zone interception helped the Bulldogs escape with a 13-7 victory at South Carolina. Billy Bennett kicked a 32-yard field goal with 38 seconds remaining for a 27-25 victory at Alabama's Bryant-Denny Stadium. Greene threw an improbable fourth-down touchdown pass to Michael Johnson with just over a minute remaining to beat Auburn 24-21 at Jordan-Hare Stadium, clinching the SEC East last season.
The other wins have been more comfortable: 30-14 at Vanderbilt, 35-15 at Mississippi, 31-17 at Georgia Tech, 52-24 at Kentucky and 30-0 at Clemson.
The streak does come with an asterisk: The Bulldogs have lost three times outside the hedges of Sanford Stadium, twice to Florida in Jacksonville and the 2001 Music City Bowl against Boston College. But those are neutral-site games, with the tickets divvied up evenly.
So why have the Bulldogs been so successful in hostile environments?
"One reason we've played well on the road is David Greene has played well on the road," Richt said. "Usually, it's the offense that has trouble when the crowd gets loud. If the quarterback struggles, the offense struggles."
Greene always does most of his signaling by hand, so it's not a problem to get plays called and check off at the line even when the opposing crowd gets loud.
"We do a good job communicating without hearing," Richt said. "We do a lot of hand signals anyway. It's not like it's something we do just that week."
Something else to consider: Richt always takes his team to a hotel the night before a game, even when the Bulldogs are playing at home. That routine makes it easier to cope when the team loads up the bus for an actual road trip.
"Come Friday, it's a business trip," offensive lineman Bartley Miller said. "All we're thinking about is the game. There's no girlfriends, no friends to talk about. Once we get on that bus, it's all business."
Greene believes the Bulldogs are still reaping the benefits of their 2001 victory at Neyland Stadium.
"Knoxville is a tough place to play," he said. "That really opened a lid on this program. It was coach Richt's first game on the road. It was my first game on the road. That was just a huge win. It gave us a lot of confidence."
The kind of confidence they'll need to keep the streak alive this week.
"We think we can go in and handle the situation," Greene said. "I'm not really worried about the crowd noise. I'm not really worried about fans yelling vulgar stuff. I'm just going to go out and play my game."