September 1, 2009

Road Dawgs: UGA tough away from home

In the world of major college football, road games always have the ability to become snake pits, where a one-point win is a cause for celebration and relief regardless of the opponent.

Because of that, coaches fret over every little aspect of a road trip anytime they come around on the schedule.

Unless you're Mark Richt.

Well, he surely dotes over everything before a road trip, but in the back of his head he has to feel like everything will end up alright. Loud opposing fans? Eh. Players getting rattled? No worries. Playing away from home? No problem.

Or maybe it's that 30-4 record away from Sanford Stadium.

That's not just a dominant mark on the road, it's straight up oppressive. Any team that plays that well on the road is a force to be reckoned with. And that's a stat Oklahoma State will face this Saturday at 2:30 p.m., as Richt and his Dawgs run out onto the turf at Boone Pickens Stadium.

So what does Richt believe is the secret to his squad's success?

"I think a lot of that has to do with quarterback play," Richt said. "Quarterback is the one position that has to handle the pressure of that stadium. The crowd noise, the accentuation of 'If something goes bad it seems worse than it is' type of thing. He's the one that's got to communicate everything to the team and also keep his poise if things get a little rocky."

That mindset will be put to the test this weekend. After losing Matthew Stafford to the NFL, Richt comes to Stillwater with a new quarterback leading the Dawgs - senior Joe Cox, who has seen sporadic playing time over the past few years.

"Of course Joe has seen that, he's with us (on the road) about ever since he's been here," Richt said. "So hopefully that will help him. But this is his first crack at it."

Cox enters his year as UGA's man in a high-stakes non-conference matchup. Both teams are highly ranked and the game is set for an ABC broadcast. Big 12 vs. SEC. Big pressure to kick off the season.

Even with all that, Cox says the quiet confidence of the ninth-year leader of the Dawgs.

"He (Richt) approaches a road game the same way he would any other game," Cox said. "When we go on long trips, he tries to make it as 'business' as possible. We don't have a lot of time where we're sitting around. We don't go anywhere once we get to where we're going to be playing. All we do is talk about what's at hand, what our business is in that town and take care of it.

"His demeanor, in terms of being a calm guy, definitely helps out too. There's never been a game where we've sensed that he was tight about it. I think that definitely helps spread an ease about the team."

Hey, the guy has an overall record of 82-22 at UGA - why would he ever feel tight about a ballgame?

Another interesting note on this game for the Bulldogs is their historical provincialism. It's not often that the Bulldogs leave the South for a game, though that has started to change. Last year, the Dawgs traveled to Arizona State and they'll spend this weekend in Orange Country. So what prompted the sudden shift from scheduling tradition?

"When the 12th game was added to everybody's schedule, we - as an administration and myself - decided we would a BCS opponent outside the southeast region," Richt said. "Georgia really hasn't played much outside the southeast region. Really, for the entire time Georgia's been playing football, it's been very rare. So we felt like we would play a BCS opponent outside of our area to give our fans an opportunity to see some places they hadn't seen and to also involve a national awareness about our team and let people on the other side of the Mississippi see us."

And OSU fans will see the Bulldogs in person on Saturday. And the Dawgs will experience the rough roads of Oklahoma - not that that should scare them, given the numbers above.

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