ATHENS — Malcolm Mitchell said he has heard only supportive things from Georgia fans since Saturday’s humiliating 38-10 loss to Alabama. At least no one egged his house.
That happened to Aaron Murray and three teammates three years ago after the Bulldogs were similarly blown out on the road at South Carolina.
“But I don’t think they know where I live,” Mitchell said playfully.
The real key to Mitchell’s anecdote is this: That season actually turned out OK for Mitchell and his mates.
While Georgia lost the battle that day in Columbia, 35-7, the Bulldogs won the Eastern Division war and played in the SEC Championship game. And if not for a fortuitous leap by one Alabama linebacker, Georgia could have played for all the marbles that season.
That’s why Mitchell projects that he and his current Georgia teammates will be laser-focused on the task at hand when they travel to Knoxville Saturday to take on Tennessee.
“It’s not about getting a bad taste out of your mouth,” Mitchell said. “It’s about if you lose the next week you can’t achieve the goals that you set at the beginning of the season. That’s simply how it goes in the SEC. So getting a bad taste out of your mouth is not gonna motivate us. I think us losing the next game and not getting to where we want to be is all the motivation we need.”
The fact is, the Bulldogs have suffered more lopsided defeats than they’d like to admit under coach Mark Richt. But, by in large, they’ve tended to respond well to humility.
After losing to South Carolina three years ago, the Bulldogs eked out a win on the road at Kentucky (29-24) then strung together six wins to make it to Atlanta. Georgia rebounded similarly after losing to Boise State 34-21 to open the 2011 season to make the title game.
The message there is, while you’d prefer to not be dominated by any opponent any time, it doesn’t necessarily foreshadow a lost season.
“Our big thing is to grow from it,” Richt said at his media day news conference on Tuesday. “It’s not a total loss if you learn from it. And that’s true in all losses. So we do feel like we put it behind us. We feel like we’ve made the corrections we need to make and we’re moving forward and hopefully be better because of the changes or the feeling that you just don’t want to feel again. Hopefully that’ll help us, too.”
Georgia suffered an inexplicably bad 35-14 loss to Tennessee in Knoxville in 2007 but went on to win seven straight and finish No. 2 in the country with a dominating victory over Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl. The Bulldogs were also blown out by Alabama in 2008 (41-30) but managed a 10-win season.
Georgia even executed a bit of a turnaround after its humbling 38-20 loss to Florida last year in Jacksonville. Somewhat forgotten in what transpired in the weeks following that defeat was No. 9 Auburn awaited soon after that. The Bulldogs rolled 34-7.
What Alabama did to the Bulldogs on Saturday was at least as humbling as that Florida debacle a year ago.
“I think that the good news is it only counted as one loss,” Richt said of the Alabama game. “I mean, that was enough of a (bad) game where it could have counted as two. But it was one loss, so that’s good. And when you get beat that way, it certainly gets everybody’s attention. I think any loss does.”
It certainly got the attention of Georgia’s players.
“It was just a humbling experience,” said sophomore tailback Nick Chubb, who managed to rush for 146 yards, with 83 coming on one carry. “You just know you got ‘whupped.’ You’ve got to live with it and just learn from it.”
Said senior linebacker Jordan Jenkins: “It’s a big learning experience, especially for the younger guys on the team. One, they learn to how to deal with a loss; it hurts for them and they don’t want to feel that feeling again. And, two, it’s a learning experience about staying under composure and not getting too emotional in a game and letting your emotions take away all the coaching you got the week prior.”
As for the perception that Georgia falls on its face in the proverbial “big games,” it’s not entirely accurate. During the Richt era the Bulldogs are 38-33 versus ranked opponents. Against top 10 teams the record is 11-16, which isn’t great, but not terrible considering those are, well, top 10 teams.
For every blowout loss such as Saturday’s to Alabama or the 49-10 embarrassment No. 8 Georgia suffered against Florida in 2008, there are wins such as last year over Clemson or 2013 versus sixth-ranked LSU (44-41). And even close, well-played games — the Prayer at Jordan-Hare in 2013, the 2012 SEC championship game — feed the perception that the Bulldogs can’t win the big one.
What can’t be denied is Georgia always seems to come back to make itself a factor again. And that’s the focus this week.
“You learn from it,” Mitchell said. “I know it’s kind of cliche for people to hear you say ‘you learn from your mistakes’ or ‘when you’re knocked down you get up,’ but that’s what you have to do. You have to let the bad make you better any way possible and that’s what we have to do moving forward in this season.”
“The worst thing you can do is let something that happened the previous week affect you in the weeks to come. That’s when a season goes downhill.”
DawgNation’s Seth Emerson contributed to this report.