ATHENS – Total domination. This was the plan all along for this season. That’s what we’re now learning from the Georgia Bulldogs, and those notable seniors in particular.
Having played their final home game, which resulted in another blowout win over an SEC East opponent, the Bulldogs are allowing themselves to talk a little about what they’ve achieved this season. That hasn’t been the case all year, you know, with that whole “next game” mantra and all.
But some things have been achieved at this point. UGA (10-1, 7-1 SEC) finished undefeated at home for the first time in five season, for instance. In case you haven’t heard, the Bulldogs have won the SEC East championship. And not by a little. With that 29-point victory over Kentucky on Saturday, they outscored their division brethren 247 points to 72, or an average score of 41-12 per game.
It was as thorough and complete a domination as we’ve witnessed by Georgia. So, clearly, the right team will be representing the division when the SEC Championship Game commences Dec. 2 in Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
And that was the plan. Georgia is exactly where it intended to be at this point.
“It didn’t go exactly how we wanted,” senior tailback Sony Michel said. “We planned on winning every game. Ultimately, things don’t always go as planned. But, you know, this is the type of season we planned on having.”
Ah, yes. There was that anomaly that occurred on The Plains two weeks ago. Unfortunate, but not fate altering. Georgia can still win out and achieve all those preseason goals.
But there remains one more box to check.
Since Saturday, a lot of people have asked me if I thought there was any danger in Georgia tripping up against its archrival, Georgia Tech. You know, that team that just fell to Duke, 34-20, giving up 319 yards rushing.
Normally, I’d say yes to that. “Of course.” Throw out the records and all that business when it comes to Tech and that Clean Old-Fashioned Hate rivalry.
But I’m going to say no. And here’s why. Here, I return to all those seniors – and The Big Four, in particular. I return to that scene from last November and what Nick Chubb had to say about what happened at Sanford Stadium in the last game of the season.
“The last game didn’t go how any of us wanted,” he said of the 28-27 loss to Georgia Tech. “It kind of hurt inside. I’m a very prideful guy.”
That was Chubb nearly a year ago. He was explaining the reasons he intended to come back his senior year.
There was the loss to Tech. There was the way the Bulldogs lost, giving up 14 points in the final 6:28. And then there was what happened after the loss.
You might recall that about half of the field-side hedges on the north side of the field were left bare.
It’s a scene these seniors haven’t forgotten. It also was Georgia’s second loss in three years to the Yellow Jackets. That’s the main reason why the Bulldogs are in no danger of overlooking their 5-5 (4-4 ACC) opponent this week.
Losing to Georgia Tech is not cool in these parts. Leaving school with a losing record to that school borders on sacrilegious.
“That was one of the things I thought about personally, something I needed to come back and finish,” senior Lorenzo Carter said. “I had unfinished business. I didn’t want to leave having a losing record to Tech. Right now I do. All the seniors do. So we wanted to come back play our ball and finish strong.”
Said fifth-year senior John Atkins: “That’s what a lot of guys came back for, losing to Tech last year. You don’t want to lose to Tech in your last year. I mean, we’re not thinking about the SEC yet. Tech’s the next game. We’ve just got to go out against them and play ball.”
Regardless of what has happened to this point, Georgia has had a great season. It has been a special year no matter how one slices it up. A win Saturday gives the Bulldogs 11 wins. The program has managed that many wins only nine other times, with the 13-1 season of 2002 representing the most wins ever.
They’ve left a regular season undefeated and untied only three times. With that goal thwarted, the Bulldogs don’t want to relent on anything else. Least of all, Georgia’s seniors don’t want to leave with the smudge of another loss to Tech.
Because of what Georgia has done to this point, Kirby Smart is in line for coach of the year, nationally as well as in the SEC. But when talk turns to what the Bulldogs have accomplished this season, he deflects the praise and redirects toward his fourth-year guys.
The true value in all that, Smart pointed out Monday, is theirs is a gift that will keep on giving. The seniors’ willingness to “buy in” to what Smart and his staff have been selling since they showed up will pay dividends with all those underclassmen who will come back next year.
“I know you see [their leadership] on the field,” Smart said. “But you don’t get to see it in the meeting room. You don’t get to see it when a guy’s late. You don’t see it when a guy does some undisciplined penalty out of bounds and they grab the guy. That part is what they bring of setting a standard, the standard that we want to play to, they help set that standard.”
That includes not losing to Georgia Tech but once every seven or eight years. Certainly not two of every three years, or three of every four.
The last time Georgia lost three to the Yellow Jackets in such a short span was 1998-2000 when coach Jim Donnan’s teams dropped three in a row. He was out of a job after the third one.
Between the buy-in for the future and going out on top against Tech, these Bulldogs aren’t about to let up.
“We came back for a bigger purpose and we’re still working toward that,” senior outside linebacker Davin Bellamy said. “Everything’s been nice till now but it’s all about how you finish.”
Said Michel: “I think most definitely we have built a foundation for our coach, offensively and defensively. The guys have bought in to what we’re trying to do; the standard is set. And I think the bar is only going to be raised when we leave. I’m excited for this program. Great things are ahead. We have guys here who are willing to learn. It’s crazy to see what’s going to happen.”