Athens, Ga. • After failing to even qualify for the 2010 NCAA Championships, Georgia might be a gymnastics team that has lost its bite under second-year coach Jay Clark.
Such thinking is foolishness, though, in the view of Utah's third-ranked gymnastics team, which takes on the No. 6 Gym Dogs here Saturday.
Utah coach Greg Marsden is buying into the phrase, "A wounded dog is a dangerous dog," expecting his rival to be more motivated than ever.
"I know they are still going to be upset about last year, and they are going to be ready for us," he said. "Georgia has a great following, and it's an intimidating environment. It's a place where you are going to be challenged."
For his young Utes, competing in front of thousands of hostile fans is yet another step in their education on what college gymnastics are all about, in Marsden's view.
While home meets are held in front of thousands of supportive fans, competing in SEC territory presents a difficult challenge for the Utes, thanks to the more rabid, football-like atmosphere of the meets.
It's the perfect kind of primer, as the Utes want to get a taste of what the post-season might be like, even if it's still many months away.
"You have to work on handling those situations," Marsden said. "We've done a good job, some years, but when you are the visiting team, being in front of that kind of crowd can sometimes be overwhelming for the other team."
Overwhelmed is the best way to describe most of Utah's experiences here. The Utes are 2-10 against Georgia in Athens and haven't won a regular-season meet here since 1991, a stretch that includes a period when the teams didn't compete against each other from 1992 to 2004.
Coincidentally, Utah's last NCAA championship was won here in 1995.
But instead of running from difficult competition, Marsden hopes he can continue to give his team a test of its physical and mental strengths by visiting such places as Georgia and Florida when his team adopts a Pac-12 schedule.
However, he is unsure how he can maintain all the rivalries the Utes have going now. Gymnastics is transitioning into the Pac-12 by holding two home meets and two away meets in 2011-12, then will adopt a round-robin, three home meets and three away meets in 2012-13.
"We're not sure how we are going to meet with everyone, but we'd love to continue our meets both with [Georgia] and Florida," Marsden said. "Competing against them gets us to the other side of the country in some challenging environments, but we're going to have to see what is available for them and what we can work out."
Marsden's more immediate concern is seeing how his team handles Georgia's atmosphere.
Georgia scored a 195.575 in its opener at Denver, while Utah downed UCLA 195.7-195.3 at home.
Winning Saturday will be just as difficult as knocking off the top-ranked Bruins, if not harder, Marsden said.
"It doesn't get any easier," he said. "But our focus is trying to get ready to be where we need to be at the end of the year."
Utah at Georgia
Start • 2 p.m. MST
Records • Utah (1-0); Georgia (3-0)
Series history • Georgia leads 24-21-1
Last meeting • Utah, 196.55-196.5
About the meet • Utah's most recent wins against Georgia were in 2008 and 2010 in Salt Lake City. â¦ Utah hit 23 of 24 routines in its opener. ... Kyndal Robarts is tied for first in the nation in vault. ... Utah is ranked No. 1 in vault.