With the Sugar Bowl forced out of flood-damaged New Orleans, the
No. 8 Bulldogs get the benefit of playing 11th-ranked West Virginia
just 75 miles from their Athens campus.
These are certainly familiar surroundings for Georgia, which
will be playing its third straight game in Atlanta. The Bulldogs
closed the regular season with a 14-7 victory at Georgia Tech -- just north of the Dome -- and returned a week later to rout LSU in
the Southeastern Conference championship game.
Georgia (10-2) is treating the Sugar Bowl like a home game,
right down to the "Dawg Walk" that precedes all contests at
Sanford Stadium. The players will march into the Georgia Dome
through a cauldron of red and black Monday night. The only thing
missing will be the hedges.
"Playing in the Dome will be great for us," Georgia coach Mark
Richt said. "We have had some great experiences in the Dome. Our
fans have been fantastic in there. We will have a 'Dawg Walk'
before the game, so we will try to mirror what we did in the SEC
The Big East champion Mountaineers (10-1) realize what they're
While a sizable contingent from West Virginia has descended on
Atlanta, there's no doubt that Georgia is the de facto home team.
The oddsmakers certainly feel that way, making the Bulldogs a solid
West Virginia quarterback Pat White summed it up best, saying he
expects to find "a sea of red" when he trots on the field.
"It's pretty much a home game for them," the redshirt freshman
said. "We like the underdog role. They're an SEC school. Nobody
expects us to do anything against them. We know we can go out and
play with anybody on any given day."
The Sugar Bowl will finish off a three-games-in-four-days run
for the Georgia Dome.
After LSU blew out Miami in the Peach Bowl on Friday night, the
stadium crew hustled to get things ready for Sunday's game between
the Falcons and Carolina Panthers. The end zones and 50-yard line
were repainted in Atlanta colors. The narrower pro hashmarks were
laid out. The facades and railings were decorated for the NFL team.
As soon as Carolina finished off a 44-11 rout of the Falcons, it
was time for another makeover -- with only about 28 hours to get
things ready for the Sugar Bowl, which will be played outside of
New Orleans for the first time in its 72-year history.
The Sugar had to find a new home after New Orleans was flooded
by Hurricane Katrina, causing major damage to the Superdome. Bowl
officials wanted to keep the game in Louisiana, but there weren't
enough hotel rooms in Baton Rouge to support the influx of fans.
Atlanta stepped into the void, volunteering to host the game
even though it fell on a busy weekend with the Peach Bowl and the
Falcons' season finale.
The move certainly worked out well for Georgia, which won its
second SEC championship in four years after going two decades
without a title.
"It has been a little different with it being so close to
home," said kicker Brandon Coutu, who grew up in the Atlanta
For players such as Kregg Lumpkin, this most unusual Sugar Bowl
provides a chance to get a jump on 2006. Coming back from a knee
injury, he spent most of this season as Georgia's third-string
tailback but came on strong in the last two games. Now, he's
looking forward to competing with Thomas Brown and Danny Ware for
the starting job.
"I have picked up a lot of positive momentum since the Georgia
Tech game," Lumpkin said. "In 2006, I have to play every snap I
can. I have to train harder and get faster and stronger in the
offseason. There will be a lot of competition for the No. 1 spot
West Virginia knows that a victory over the Bulldogs would
provide a much-needed boost for the Big East, which caught a lot of
flak about its automatic berth in the Bowl Championship Series
after powerhouses Miami and Virginia Tech bolted for the Atlantic
"Personally, I think it would be a big statement," freshman
running back Steve Slaton said. "A lot of people have us as
underdogs. We proved ourselves so far this year, so we're ready to
do it again."
The Mountaineers rely heavily on their two star freshmen. Slaton
has 924 yards rushed and 14 touchdowns; White has run for 708
yards, passed for 875 and accounted for 14 touchdowns in all.
"They just stepped right in and kind of kept the ball
rolling," fullback Owen Schmitt said. "Stuff they pull out on the
field, it's really exciting to watch. Even when you're on the
field, you kind of almost stand still for a second and you're like,
But Slaton and White haven't faced a defense with Georgia's
speed, which begins up front and extends all the way through the
"They're freshmen," All-American safety Greg Blue said.
"We've just got to introduce them to how we play in the SEC."