ATHENS – Tate Ratledge will play in Neyland Stadium for the first time this Saturday, but the environment itself should be familiar.

Ratledge was raised a Tennessee fan, so the junior guard naturally respects the infamously raucous environment. Ratledge actually sparked some midsummer controversy among the fan bases when he dubbed Neyland Stadium ‘the best stadium in the SEC’ on his ‘Real Talk Georgia’ podcast.

Ratledge soon clarified that he was solely speaking of Tennessee’s stadium, not its actual fan base. Regardless, Ratledge highly anticipates his first chance to play in front of the crowd of 101,000-plus in Knoxville.

The Rome, Ga., product missed his first opportunity to play there in 2021, when he was sidelined with a foot injury.

“I think it’s something that, as a competitor, it’s what you look forward to, going into an amazing environment that almost every SEC team has,” Ratledge said.

“It’s you against the world basically when you go in a place like that, and I think that feeling as a competitor is amazing.”

Indeed, Ratledge still maintains a personal connection to the Tennessee program. Volunteer center Cooper Mays acknowledged his continued friendship with Ratledge on Tuesday, a friendship that began while the two linemen were both highly-touted recruits.

Ratledge’s respect for Tennessee doesn’t end with his personal ties, though. He also complimented the Volunteers’ defensive front Tuesday night.

“They’re probably the most physical group we’ve played all year, just watching film,” he said. “They get vertical off the ball, really good at getting that first step in the ground and creating knockback.

“They all get after the passer, and inside, it’s the big guys that can move.”

No doubt, Tennessee’s pass rush poses a serious threat. The Vols’ 33 sacks are good for the second-most in the SEC, trailing only Texas A&M (39).

UGA just proved it can neutralize a potent pass rush in its 52-17 domination of Ole Miss last Saturday. The Rebels, who entered Athens with 31 sacks on the season, failed to catch the quarterback for the first time this season.

The Bulldog offensive line’s ability to play united football has been key to its success this season, according to Ratledge. His observation was echoed on Tuesday when Georgia was named a semifinalist for the Joe Moore Award, given to the nation’s top offensive line.

That nonverbal comfortability will certainly help the Bulldogs in Saturday’s deafening environment.

“We have all played a lot of football together, and we know how other people are going to play next to us,” Ratledge said. “It’s just a cohesiveness we’ve built throughout being here since freshman (year), and I think it’s really showing now.”

Ratledge chose to play for Georgia over the Volunteers in 2019, citing the program’s dominance as a key factor in his decision.

It’s safe to say that Ratledge’s choice paid off, as he has established himself as Georgia’s right guard over the last two seasons.

Ratledge’s past allegiance is stained in orange and white, but the Bulldog is solely focused on the near future.

“I kind of hear it every now and then from other people, but it’s fully behind me now,” Ratledge said. “I’ve been here for almost four years now, so I’d say it’s pretty much behind me.”