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Dawgs ready for duel in the desert
Georgia’s Knowshon Moreno leaps past South Carolina’s Mike Newton (35) on his way to a 4-yard, go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter of last week, when Georgia defeated South Carolina 14-7 in Columbia, S.C. - photo by Jeff Blake


TEMPE, Ariz. — From the moment Arizona State’s 2008 schedule was released, the Georgia game loomed as a springboard into the national spotlight for the Sun Devils.

An unthinkable loss to UNLV pulled the plug on the spotlight, and it has given the third-ranked Bulldogs’ visit an entirely different meaning.

The Sun Devils hope to restore their confidence and erase perceptions that they can’t handle weighty expectations. After opening the season at No. 15 in The Associated Press Top 25, Arizona State tumbled from the rankings this week.

"This is an opportunity for our team to win a big game," quarterback Rudy Carpenter said. "It’s a big opportunity for myself to help our team win a big game, which we haven’t been able to do, which is something that I would love more than anything in the world. This game is huge for our confidence."

The UNLV loss was embarrassing. But the schedule has given the Sun Devils (2-1) a chance to bounce back quickly. With Georgia coming to town and No. 1 USC ahead, Arizona State still controls its destiny.

"Although we didn’t play well (against UNLV) — that’s an understatement — there are a lot of things left to play for," ASU coach Dennis Erickson said.

For Georgia (3-0), the rare ramble into the desert represents a potential trap. This is the first meeting between the schools.

A week ago, the Bulldogs survived a typically bruising Southeastern Conference battle, defeating South Carolina 14-7 in Columbia. Next week, No. 9 Alabama comes to Athens.

Saturday’s victory was Georgia’s 10th in a row, its longest streak since it won 11 consecutive games in 1982.

Like many SEC teams, the Bulldogs rarely venture out of their familiar humid corner of the country. This is Georgia’s longest regular-season road trip since 1960, when the Bulldogs went to Los Angeles and lost to Southern California 10-3.

"I think everybody’s excited about an opportunity to play a Pac-10 team and just see what it’s like to get out in another stadium that we’ve not ever been in," coach Mark Richt said Wednesday on the SEC coaches teleconference. "It’s great for our fans too."

Those fans hope to turn Sun Devil Stadium into a dawg house. After Georgia quickly sold its allotment of more than 7,000 tickets, and a request for more was denied, Bulldogs fans began buying ASU season tickets to ensure themselves seats for this game. By some estimates, there could be as many as 15,000 black-and-red supporters in the 71,706-seat stadium.

Georgia’s beloved mascot, Uga VII, will be among them. He made his debut against Georgia Southern Aug. 30 in Athens.

When full, Sun Devil Stadium can be a loud venue, but it’s not a particularly intimidating one for talented visitors. Since 2000, Arizona State is 2-10 against ranked teams at home.

Last year, No. 11 Southern California blitzed Arizona State 44-24 in a much-anticipated Thanksgiving night game, and by game’s end the crowd resembled a gathering for the USC spring game.

Georgia might be every bit as talented as those Trojans were. But the Bulldogs’ offensive line is inexperienced and remains a work in progress.

"We’re about like last year, trying to find the right combination and learn how to play against these kind of defenses, so it’s been tough," Richt said.

Still, Georgia will try to control the line of scrimmage, and the Sun Devils expect to see a healthy dose of tailback Knowshon Moreno, who averages 6.7 yards per carry. Last week, a UNLV team that ranks 78th nationally in rushing romped for 120 yards against ASU in the second half.

With tailback Keegan Herring slowed by a hamstring injury, Arizona State ranks 91st nationally in rushing. But the Sun Devils rank ninth in passing, and they hope to copy the success South Carolina had late in last week’s game.

The Gamecocks seemingly threw the ball at will in the final quarter. But the Bulldogs’ defense came up with the critical play — an interception by free safety Reshad Jones at the Georgia 3 with 13 seconds to play. Arizona State will need Carpenter, a senior who is 23-11 as a starter, to have a big game. At a school with a long line of star quarterbacks, Carpenter is among the career leaders in most statistics.

"I think the main thing with Rudy is just his high level of production for such a long time," Richt said. "He’s not a guy who’s had just one good year. He’s had more than one good year. He’s one of the top five passers in America today."

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