ATHENS – To get a good gauge of what playing in the SEC Championship Game on Saturday means to Georgia’s players, one need to look to no one other than Lorenzo Carter.
The senior outside linebacker from Norcross, Ga., has been more vocal than anybody else this year about wanting “to play for a championship” before he left Georgia. It’s something Carter did every year when he was playing high school ball with the Blue Devils, and it’s something he hasn’t done since he has been with the Bulldogs.
No. 6-ranked Georgia (11-1) will play No. 4 Auburn (10-2) on Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta with an SEC championship and College Football Playoff berth on the line. The Dogs are pumped about it ― Carter chief among them.
“Everybody’s really focused,” Carter said Monday at the Bulldogs’ pre-SEC championship news conference. “We’re playing for a championship. We’ve got a lot on the line.”
This is exactly what Carter wanted: a lot on the line. All the Georgia seniors wanted that, really. But it was Carter, back in the summer when the Bulldogs held their first practice of the preseason, who let loose about how frustrated he was to have not won anything of significance in college.
“I need to win something, man,” Carter said July 31. “I finished high school with four rings. Just coming here to Georgia, with the legacy of the ‘G,’ it’s been a minute. It’s been a minute since Athens had something to celebrate. I’m trying to come back and give people a reason to be happy.”
Carter and his teammates have given UGA fans a lot to smile about so far this season. With its 38-7 win over Georgia Tech on Saturday, the 2017 Georgia team became just the 10th in program history to win at least 11 games in a season.
And it hasn’t been by a little bit. Other than the 1-point road win over Notre Dame, all the games have been blowouts. Georgia’s average margin of victory has been 26 points.
But there remains one blemish. Georgia, then the nation’s No. 1-ranked team, was annihilated by Auburn 40-17 on Nov. 11 at Jordan-Hare Stadium. The Tigers also knocked off No. 1 Alabama 26-14 on Saturday.
Georgia didn’t find out until it had unloaded its buses in Athens on Saturday night that it would be Auburn, and not Alabama, that it would be playing in the SEC title game.
The Bulldogs are more than fine with that. Carter especially.
“It always sucks to have that feeling leaving the field, because you put in so much,” Carter said of the 23-point loss on The Plains. “That’s one of our rivals, and it’s a deep rivalry. Just losing a game like that, I felt horrible. So, yeah, I think that’s motivation for everyone not to want to feel that way again.”
In that game with Auburn, Georgia committed 4 personal foul penalties, was flagged 7 times overall, had a devastating turnover when Mecole Hardman muffed a fair catch, and missed a field goal. The Bulldogs didn’t play particularly well offensively or defensively, but the incredibly ill-timed miscues added fuel to an already volatile atmosphere inside the Tigers’ sold-out stadium.
“It wasn’t really excitement,” junior Terry Godwin said of the team’s reaction when the Bulldogs learned they’d get another shot at Auburn. “It was more like, ‘It doesn’t really matter who it is because they know they’re going to get our best shot, regardless.’ But all the mistakes, all the penalties, we just have to play with more discipline and focus this time. We didn’t play Georgia ball. We got away from what we’d been doing all season and it showed on the scoreboard.”
Added senior tailback Sony Michel, “It’s not that we wanted a redo; we’ve just got to fix those mistakes now. It’s great that we get another shot at them. We’ve just got to prepare well.”
Georgia has gotten a lot of mileage on what has come to be called its Revenge Tour this season. The Bulldogs already avenged in 2017 the losses they had in 2016 to Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Florida and Georgia Tech. The narrative now is that they can make it 5-0 with a redemptive victory over Auburn.
But that’s really not the players’ thinking as they prepare for this rematch. As ever, it remains about what’s on the line. It’s about winning a championship.
“It’s crazy,” Carter said. “In the past it’s been about getting rest after Georgia Tech. We’re not getting any rest now, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. I’m excited about the chance we’re getting instead of sitting at home watching everybody else play.”