On the road again - and winning

ATHENS - Georgia freshman Jeff Owens was a little nervous playing the first road game of his collegiate career two weeks ago. That was until he saw how his veteran teammates acted prior to playing Mississippi State.

"You can feel it in the locker room by the way people talk," Owens said. "(They're) saying, ‘OK, it's our game. Let's go on the field and take over like it's Sanford Stadium.' No matter if we're getting booed or (fans) are throwing things at us, it don't matter. We've got one goal and that's to come in and win, to take over their house and make it our house."

The No. 5 Bulldogs' upperclassmen have become accustomed to taking over in hostile territory. Under Mark Richt, Georgia is 16-2 in an opponent's home stadium. Their 89 percent winning percentage in that span is the best in the SEC and tops the conference average by more than 40 percent.

(Richt's record has been helped by playing Florida in a neutral site. If the Bulldogs played the Gators in a home-and-home series, their road record would be 16-4 or 17-3, depending on the rotation of the games.)

Tennessee, which Georgia will play Saturday in Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn., is the only team that comes close to Georgia's mark. The Volunteers have won 85.7 percent of their road games in since the start of 2001.

"That's impossible," said ESPN analyst Bill Curry, who coached at Kentucky and Alabama. "You can't do that in the SEC. It's amazing. It's one of the most mind-boggling stats I've ever seen."

While coaches in all sports, particularly in the SEC, consistently bemoan the tortures of playing on the road, the Bulldogs have defied the statistics.

"It's an unbelievable record to tell you the truth," said Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson, whose team is 3-19 on the road since the start of 2001. "Believe me, in this league, the stadiums are tough to play in. It's just not a comfort zone where you think your team is going to play well every week, but they have."

The home team wins 62.2 percent of the time in college football, according to a study published by Sports Illustrated in 2003. Since the beginning of 2001, SEC teams have won just 45.8 percent of their games on an opponent's home field.

On the road, "everything you do poorly gets overexaggerated in a negative way," Richt said.

"It doesn't matter what you do, if you don't do it well, even if it's just giving up a first down, they're going to go crazy," he said. "Every little thing gets magnified in your mind if you're not mature enough to just realize it's just a regular game."

Execution is the key to keeping control on the road, according to several coaches.

"You have to be able to stick to your knitting, stay focused and have a belief in your teammates that you're going to get the job done and that you're going to quite that crowd," said Arkansas' Houston Nutt, who is 8-11 on the road since the start of 2001. "A lot of teams take great pride in keeping 80,000, 90,000 people quiet, and you do that by executing."

Georgia's players, seemingly to a man, use the same phrase to describe road games.

"It's a business trip," cornerback DeMario Minter said. "We don't go to have fun or anything like that. We go to win a ball game and come home."

Curry credits three things for Georgia's remarkable record -- Richt's calm demeanor, a consistently good defense and the play of quarterback David Greene, who started every game in Richt's first four seasons. Richt belives the quarterback is the key.

"The quarterback position probably feels the noise factor more than anybody," Richt said. "He's got to be able to handle that and communicate. If the quarterback does a good job of communicating in the noise and keeps his poise and plays well, we typically have a real good shot of winning."

That combination worked in Greene's and Richt's first road game together, when they led the unranked Bulldogs to a 26-24 upset of No. 6 Tennessee in Knoxville.

"That was big," Richt said. "That game helped our guys believe that maybe us coaches weren't crazy because we had worked them hard and done some things they probably didn't understand. To win that game, I think it put a stamp of approval on our staff with players in terms of what we were doing and how we were doing it."

That attitude hasn't left since.

"I feel safe with my guys" on the road, Owens said. "They've got my back, and I've got their back and it's time to play football."

Winning on the road

SEC schools ranked by their record on an opponent's home field since the beginning of the 2001 season.

1. Georgia 16-2 88.9 percent

2. Tennessee 18-3 85.7 percent

3. LSU 13-6 68.4 percent

4. Florida 12-7 63.2 percent

5. Auburn 11-8 57.9 percent

6. Alabama 11-10 52.4 percent

7. Arkansas 8-11 42.1 percent

8. Ole Miss 10-14 41.7 percent

9. South Carolina 9-15 37.5 percent

10. Kentucky 6-15 28.6 percent

11. Vanderbilt 3-19 13.6 percent

12. Mississippi State 2-20 9.1 percent

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