ATHENS — Coach Mark Richt understands that most Georgia fans expect a decisive win over Louisiana-Lafayette.
That's not the message Richt is giving his Bulldogs before Saturday's season opener.
"I know Louisiana-Lafayette is coming in to beat a Top 25 team and make their reputation at the expense of us," Richt said. "Our guys understand that. It's been rare that we weren't pretty jacked up and excited to play an opening game, so I think that helps a lot."
Georgia is coming off a substandard 8-5 season. The last game played at Sanford Stadium was a seven-point loss to Kentucky, one of several disappointments that led Richt to fire his good friend, defensive coordinator Willie Martinez, and two other defensive assistants.
Under new coordinator Todd Grantham, the Bulldogs will debut a 3-4 scheme that must create more takeaways. Georgia had only 12 last season.
"We have to focus on getting turnovers and getting our great offensive players back on the field because they'll make plays," free safety Baccari Rambo said. "Our coaches have stressed that to us. Coach Grantham is aggressive on play-calling, and we'll do things and force the quarterback to throw bad balls and help us do what we need to do."
Cajuns quarterback Chris Masson runs an offense that was efficient in the red zone last year, converting 89 percent of its opportunities, and strong on third down at 42.4 percent.
Masson's experienced receiving corps includes Marlin Miller, one of three seniors who combined with three juniors to catch 111 passes for 1,093 yards and six touchdowns. Louisiana-Lafayette lost three starters on the offensive line.
Grantham's system is built around using the speed of his linebackers to control gaps. Inside linebacker Marcus Dowtin is the leading returning tackler, but he was beaten out of a starting job by Christian Robinson.
Akeem Dent retained a starting job at the other inside spot despite missing considerable practice time with toe surgery in late July. Justin Houston, who had a team high 7.5 sacks and 15 tackles for minus yardage last year, and Justin Gamble start on the outside.
Georgia's three-man front is a rotation that consists of ends Brandon Wood, Abry Jones, Demarcus Dobbs and Kiante Tripp and nose tackles DeAngelo Tyson, Justin Anderson and Kwame Geathers.
Tyson had hoped to work mostly at end, but Grantham wants him inside.
"You can never be comfortable because there's always room to learn, but right now I feel a little bit of comfort knowing the system and knowing we can play fast," Tyson said. "At first there was a lot of stuff to learn, but the coaches that we have are great teachers. When you have great teachers you become a great learner."
Georgia's offensive line returns all five starters, which should help inexperienced quarterback Aaron Murray. The redshirt freshman will play in a game for the first time since helping his Tampa, Fla., high school win a 2008 state title.
"There's great communication out there, which is really reassuring when you get to the line of scrimmage and they're all saying the same thing and are all on the same page." Murray said of his linemen. "It's great to have those five guys in front of me."
Louisiana-Lafayette had 16 interceptions last year, and the Ragin' Cajuns went 6-2 when forcing at least two turnovers.
Cornerbacks Orkeys Auriene and Bill Bentley return after combining for five interceptions and 11 pass breakups.
Regardless that few people expect his team to win, Cajuns coach Rickey Bustle believes the 92,000 fans at Sanford Stadium will bring out the best in his team.
"Our players love playing these teams," Bustle said. "It's a great challenge for us. People keep saying we are playing Georgia. They are playing us, too. It's just not us playing Georgia. We are looking forward to the game. These games are 'map games,' as I call it sometimes. You win one of these and you're on the map."