August 30, 2009

Between the Pads: UGA knows BPS atmosphere will be tough

Anytime you come in contact with a person from the state of Georgia, all they seem to talk about is how your team is going to have to go "between the hedges" and fight hard in order to leave Sanford Stadium with a win.

And it's definitely a difficult place to play. And those hedges give the Bulldogs' field one of the most unique settings in all of college football. Oklahoma State found that out first-hand when the Cowboys traveled to Athens in 2007 to open the season. While the first half was fairly close, the Dawgs ended up walking all over the Pokes.

But this weekend UGA has to come to Stillwater. And while Boone Pickens Stadium has no natural shrubbery around the perimeter of the field, it does have some advantages of its own that could bother the Bulldogs once game day arrives.

For starters, there's almost zero sideline space on the field. After OSU removed the track and lowered the field in the 1970s, several more rows of seats were added, cutting out a lot of space and bringing the fans right on top of the action. Since then, the only thing dividing opposing teams in white from home fans in orange is a wall and some padding. That means people are right on top of a team in just about every direction. It also means catcalls and noise is all the louder. Add in a fully bowled-in stadium and the sound goes even higher.

So while UGA opponents need to go "between the hedges" to win, OSU opponents must go "between the black pads" to secure victory.

The lack of sideline space is a concern for UGA.

"Our guy that handles the headsets and our equipment guy, they both came to me in the last couple of days and were telling me about that," said Georgia head coach Mark Richt. "And Jon Fabris, who's our defensive ends coach, has also coached in that league and he's been in that stadium on more than one occasion. He said that's exactly right, that it's very, very close quarters.

While Richt might need to turn his headset up to 11 in order to hear communications with his box coaches on the sidelines, he's lucky in that he just stands on the sidelines during the game. Someone that will have to really deal with the orange claustrophobia is Bulldog quarterback Joe Cox, who will be out on the turf trying to silence the crowd with positive yardage and touchdown passes. A senior, Cox has appeared in less than 15 games for UGA.

So welcome to the starter's job, Joe, hope the heckling from the 50-yard-line box seats doesn't bug you too much. While Boone Pickens Stadium isn't home of 100,000 insane fans, the place is a football equivalent of a basketball gym bandbox between the close sidelines, new west bowl and the eastern wall also known as Gallagher-Iba Arena.

"We've talked about that, and that's just something that we're going to have to really concentrate on as far as keeping our focus," Cox said. "There's going to be a lot of stuff going on around us - the student section right there behind us on the wall. It's one of those things that we can't get caught up in, what's going on outside of the field. Everybody's got to just stay focused on the sideline and make sure they're paying attention for substitutions and different personnel groups and everything."

And while many programs might write off something seemingly as trivial as how close the crowd is to the team, this is an area not being taken lightly by the Dawgs. Cox says the issue has definitely been discussed.

"That is a change," he said. "I think the closest sideline that we've played on is probably Vanderbilt and this is a lot tighter than that. It's definitely something that we've heard about from other people and that we've checked out on film, just to try and see what it's going to be like. It's definitely going to be interesting to see."

Richt agrees. In fact, he even cracked a joke about the pressure his squad is sure to feel from the OSU fans beginning Saturday at 2:30 p.m.

"I'm sure the fans are friendly, though."

Welcome to Stillwater, Bulldogs. You'll have to go in between the pads to win here.

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