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UGA-UT clash has lost some luster

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Georgia suffered a disappointing season start, an unwarranted penalty and a last-minute loss to LSU.

But Bulldogs coach Mark Richt knows Tennessee doesn't have any sympathy for his now unranked Bulldogs.

'The bottom line is Tennessee is not going to feel sorry for us. We can't feel sorry for ourselves,' he said. 'We have to buckle it up and get ready to go.'

The annual meeting of the Bulldogs and the Volunteers used to be one of the premier matchups in the Southeastern Conference's East Division, but the game has lost a bit of its luster this season.

Neither team is ranked for the first time since 1937, and after both lost last week the game drew a 12:20 p.m. time TV slot.

Georgia (3-2, 2-1) is trying to get back on track after the loss to LSU in case No. 1 Florida stumbles in its quest to repeat as divisional and conference champion.

Tennessee (2-3, 0-2) is just trying to get its first SEC win under new coach Lane Kiffin. The Vols don't want to paint it as a 'must win' game, but with No. 3 Alabama and No. 25 South Carolina still on tap for October they could use a victory.

'We're going to go out there and play our best and go from there,' quarterback Jonathan Crompton said. 'We're not putting the pressure on ourselves and say, 'Hey, if we don't win this game our season's over,' because it's not.'

After more than a decade of streaks - the Vols won nine straight in the '90s, which the Bulldogs followed with a four-game streak - the teams have traded wins lately.

Tennessee was a 11/2-point favorite late in the week, but with the way the teams have played this season it's seemingly anyone's game.

'There is a lot of tradition involved, a lot of emotions and goals that can be achieved for whoever wins. It is going to be a big game for both teams,' Georgia linebacker and Brookwood grad Rennie Curran said.

Both teams are struggling with one-dimensional offenses. The Dawgs can't seem to get their running game off the ground while the Vols struggle to complete passes while the game is still within reach.

Georgia is averaging only 98.8 yards rushing per game and likely will be without tailback Caleb King, a GAC grad who suffered a fractured jaw and concussion against LSU. The Bulldogs will face the No. 19 defense in the Football Bowl Subdivision with Tennessee.

The Vols are looking forward to facing a more traditional offensive scheme after three-straight weeks of trying to defend option-prone teams.

'Getting back to reading base offenses and knowing your keys and knowing what's going on, it feels good,' Tennessee linebacker LaMarcus Thompson said.

Still, the Vols will have their hands full with the SEC's leading receiver in A.J. Green, who's averaging 105.4 yards per game. Green made the brilliant touchdown catch that almost led to a win over LSU and drew the questionable excessive celebration penalty.

Tennessee has its own star in tailback Montario Hardesty, who is leading the SEC on the ground with an average 115 yards per game.

Hardesty and fellow back Bryce Brown are looking for an improvement over last season's ground game against Georgia - which shouldn't be hard. The Vols managed only a yard rushing.

The Dawgs have been prone to mistakes on both sides of the ball this season. Their negative-1.8 turnover margin is tied for fourth worst in the country, and they're averaging 9.6 penalties and nearly 75 penalty yards per game.

Tennessee has committed an average of only 3.6 penalties for 28.8 yards this season.

'We need to play extremely well,' Kiffin said. 'The most important thing is playing well, and the rest will take care of itself. We're not worried about winning, we're worried about playing well. The wins come if you do things right'

SideBar: GEORGIA AT TENNESSEE

When: Today, 12:20 p.m.

Where: Knoxville, Tenn.

TV: Peachtree TV