When he played at Miami, he remembers a season-opening game at Colorado in which his Hurricanes lost. As an assistant at Florida State, he coached a game in Anaheim, but his team had flown out days before. Since he came to Georgia, the farthest west his team has gone is Baton Rouge, La. In fact, the Bulldogs haven’t been to the West Coast since 1960.
The advantage Richt does have when Georgia takes on Arizona State in Tempe today is an extraordinary record of winning in the opposition’s stadium, so despite the unusual nature of this trip, he’s treating it as business as usual.
“We’re not going to change our routine at all,” Richt said. “I’m hoping just the routine of the trip will be where it’s pretty seamless.”
So Georgia waited until Friday to fly to Arizona. The team won’t be doing any sightseeing or exploring. It’s a business trip, Richt said, even if that comes as a bit of a disappointment to some players.
“I wish it was a bowl game so we could go out and see some mountains,” cornerback Asher Allen said. “But the team is excited. I know me personally, I can’t wait to get out there, get off the plane and just be in Arizona and see a whole different landscape.”
It has been nearly a half-century since Georgia traveled this far for a regular-season game, but the distance from Athens to Arizona State is hardly the Bulldogs’ only concern.
A week after a 14-7 win over South Carolina, Georgia is making a few changes, starting with its offensive line.
Richt said a new group of starters will take the field against the Sun Devils after the unit struggled to protect quarterback Matthew Stafford against the Gamecocks.
“The first two games they weren’t tested all that much from the athleticism that we played they held up very well,” Richt said. “We ran well, we threw well, we could do just about whatever we wanted to do offensively. Then this last game we ran up against a bit different resistance.”
The new-look line will face a lot of resistance today, too.
Arizona State’s defensive ends are among the best in the nation, led by 250-pound junior Dexter Davis.
“I think any of our guys would need help versus this Davis kid,” Richt said. “He’s a very good technician, speed, skill, but he comes hard down after down after down. He’s got that high motor that great sack guys have. He’s going to be a handful, and we’ll probably do it by committee.”
That’s not the only challenge for Georgia’s offense, lineman Vince Vance said. The Sun Devils feature quick linebackers and a strong secondary, but Stafford said they don’t play as physical as what the Bulldogs have seen in the SEC.
“They don’t press man as much,” Stafford said. “They’re not as in your face like a lot of players are in the SEC, grabbing and holding on to guys. It’s more trying to run with them and make plays on the ball. It’s just a different style.”
On the other side of the ball, Georgia’s defense will face one of the Pac-10’s best passers.
Rudy Carpenter has completed more than 70 percent of his passes and thrown six touchdowns through three games this season. While Arizona State’s offensive line struggled last year, the Sun Devils’ quarterback has shown a knack for making a big play even with a hand in his face.
“He’s a very good player,” defensive coordinator Willie Martinez said. “Very good instincts. He knows when to get out of the pocket, avoids pressure, he’s tough to tackle. He’s a tough player, and you can tell he’s a really good leader on the team.”
So while the long trip to an unfamiliar place for a nationally televised game are enough to get the Bulldogs excited, Arizona State provides plenty of motivation to stay focused on the task at hand, Richt said.
“They like playing on TV. They like getting attention nationally. They like the challenge of playing a gritty football team,” Richt said. “I think it will get their blood flowing pretty good.”