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Georgia Looks to Break Into Upper Echelon of SEC

October 11, 1996

ATHENS, Ga. (AP) _ In recent years, Georgia has been an easy mark for the big boys of the Southeastern Conference.

The Bulldogs would like to start reversing that trend Saturday night when No. 7 Tennessee comes to Sanford Stadium.

``We’ve not beaten them since I’ve been here,″ said junior linebacker Greg Bright. ``When I came to Georgia, I wanted to beat every team before I left. I’d like to win at least one against these guys, and I’m starting to run out of chances.″

The Volunteers (3-1 overall, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) have five consecutive victories over Georgia (2-2, 1-1) dating back to 1989, a streak topped only by Florida’s six straight. There’s no way for Georgia to even reach the SEC championship game if it can’t compete with the two powers in its own division.

``I can’t put my finger on it,″ Georgia offensive lineman Adam Meadows said. ``A lot of it might be intimidation. Or maybe it’s just the fact that we’re always playing a top 10 team.″

The Bulldogs still remember their 1995 loss to Tennessee at Neyland Stadium _ 30-27 on a late field goal _ and believe they have something to build on now that they’ll be playing at home.

``Last year, we hung in there with those guys,″ receiver Hines Ward said. ``That gives us a lot of confidence coming into this year.″

But the Tennessee offense, led by quarterback Peyton Manning, has a way of turning confidence into doubt. Manning already has thrown for 1,320 yards and eight touchdowns, and his favorite receiver, Joey Kent, is on his way to a monster season (27 receptions, 498 yards).

The Vols have piled up 1,004 yards of offense in their last two games.

``It’s amazing to me still to watch Peyton Manning and his consistency, and Joey Kent and the way he’s making big plays for us,″ Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said.

He believes Georgia has the same big-play potential, though the Bulldogs didn’t begin showing it until last week in a 38-19 victory over Mississippi State. In the first three games under Jim Donnan, they had managed only 36 points.

``Offensively, they have a number of weapons to attack you with,″ Fulmer said. ``The balance of their offense is a big concern.″

While it’s true that Georgia is loaded at the skill positions _ running back Robert Edwards, Ward and Juan Daniels at receiver _ the offensive line is still questionable. And it faces the biggest challenge of the season trying to keep defensive end Leonard Little out of the backfield.

Last week in a 41-3 victory over Mississippi, Little had three sacks, a tackle for a loss and caused two fumbles that led to touchdowns.

``He’s got outstanding quickness,″ Donnan said. ``He’s someone you’ve got to account for on every play. ... I’m sure we’re not going to have any trouble finding him. He wears No. 1.″

The Vols plan to move Little all over the field in hopes of freeing him up to make the big play.

``I’m sure he’ll get everything in the world thrown at him,″ Fulmer said. ``He’s a difference maker in the game if you let him disrupt you.″

Ward has proven to be a difference maker for Georgia.

After switching around between three distinctly different positions last year, he has found a home at receiver and is coming off the biggest game of his career: five receptions for 184 yards and two touchdowns, not to mention an 8-yard scoring pass on an end around.

Ward attributes his big numbers to a better understanding of Donnan’s intricate offense.

``There was a lot of doubt about this scheme,″ Ward said. ``People really didn’t understand it. But I think we’ve finally got a grasp of how explosive it can be.″

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