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Georgia redshirt senior Warren Ericson says the Bulldogs are motivated to win the SEC Championship Game, something the program has not done since 2017. Tony Walsh/UGAAA

Georgia football: ‘Unfinished business’ to get back to SEC Championship Game, win league title

ATHENS — Georgia offensive lineman Warren Ericson and his Bulldog teammates didn’t need any reminders about what happened in the SEC Championship Game last December.

It turns out the CFP national champions were already using the 41-24 loss to Alabama as motivation.

“We want to win the SEC, because we didn’t accomplish that,” Ericson said last week, as the Bulldogs opened spring practice. “We have unfinished business as far as getting back.”

2018: Alabama 35, Georgia 28

2019: LSU 37, Georgia 10

2020: Alabama 52, Florida 46

2021: Alabama 41, Georgia 24

The Bulldogs are using their SEC Championship Game losses as fuel to keep a sharp edge even as the fans celebrate the CFP Championship and signage is all over campus and in the football facilty.

Seventh-year UGA coach Kirby Smart, meanwhile, made it clear to the media — and surely, his players — that the team mentality cannot and does not include any sort of “defender” element.

The 2022 team does indeed feature many new faces with half the position starters from Georgia’s 33-18 CFP Championship Game lineup no longer with the program.

WATCH: Kirby Smart stresses contender, not defender, mindset

Smart likley relished Alabama defensive tackle Phidarian Mathis reminding everyone at the Senior Bowl that the Crimson Tide — not the national champion Georgia Bulldogs — won the SEC Championship Game.

“I’ve got a lot of respect for those [Georgia] guys, we came up short,” Mathis said at the annual all-star game in Mobile, Ala. “But we’ll remind y’all, we still run the SEC, just letting that be known.”

RELATED: Alabama defender brings up 41-24 Tide win over Georgia in SEC title game

Coaches are always looking for motivation, to the extent former Georgia offensive line coach and current Arkansas head coach joked about generating bulletin board material.

“If nobody’s talking bad about us,” Pittman said, “we’ll just make it up.”

While no one is necessarily talking bad about Georgia football, the team is focused on upping its game after losing what will be a record number of players to the NFL Draft — 15 outgoing UGA players have NFL Draft grades.

Ericson, one of the three returning starters on the offensive line with Warren McClendon and Sedrick Van Pran, said focus hasn’t been a problem.

“Once our winter workouts started, we had to flip a switch,” Ericson said, crediting Scott Sinclair’s strength and conditioning staff. “I think everyone has done a really good job of buying in.

“The great part about being at Georgia is you have high-class individual players who want to constantly win and get back to the top.”

There are so many of those great players that Ericson is among those who will be fighting to keep his starting position at offensive guard.

That won’t bother the redshirt senior from North Gwinnett High School, though.

“It comes with every spring,” said Ericson, a 6-foot-4, 305-pounder who can also play center. “Spring is all about being in competition and improving yourself, especially with a new (position) coach.”

Ericson said new offensive line coach Stacy Searels has stressed the more physical elements of playing upfront, and there are new leadership voices holding one another accountable with team captain Jamaree Salyer headed to the NFL.

“I would say Warren McClendon has stepped up as well, he’ll always say something if he sees something he doesn’t like,” Ericson said. “Sedrick has really stepped into that role, as well.

“Everyone has locked in on the mentality that we have to get back to work to get back to where we were.We have to do every9ting we did before and more.”

The Bulldogs completed their third spring practice on Saturday and return to practice next Tuesday.

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