ATHENS – There was some talk, Greg Pyke admitted, about not wanting to go to class on Monday. He didn’t specify whether it was his Georgia football teammates or regular students, but he summed up the sentiment with three words.
“It’s Bama week,” Pyke said, laughing, making sure to add: “I definitely still gotta go to class, go to tutoring. Treat it like a normal week.”
But it’s not.
“You prepare maybe a little bit harder in practice,” Pyke said. “You know that these guys are some of the best.”
Alabama may come into Georgia a bit less renowned than usual, having suffered a home loss two weeks ago, and dropped to No. 14 in the nation. Georgia is even favored, albeit slightly, and is ranked six spots higher.
But it’s still Alabama, which carries a mystique matched by talent, making this one of the biggest games the Bulldogs have played in some time. It’s one that’s been circled since it was announced in the spring of 2014.
Now that it’s here, however, the Bulldogs are trying to keep an even keel.
“I don’t think we’ve gotta create motivation. I think we’ve gotta temper it,” head coach Mark Richt said on his radio show Monday night. “And when I say temper it, I mean make sure we channel it in the right way.”
Pyke’s comments were the furthest a Georgia player came to acknowledging the magnitude of the game. And even his comments above were a lead-in to discussing the challenge his offensive line has with Alabama’s defensive line.
Three years ago, when Georgia prepared to play South Carolina in a match-up of unbeaten, top-10 teams, players openly admitted it was the biggest game they’d been involved in. This time around more players are downplaying it.
“We’re gonna prepare the same way we prepare for all SEC schools,” senior receiver Malcolm Mitchell said. “I know everyone wants to see it as a big game but all games are big because anytime we lose it’s gonna be bad.”
That’s true, and leads to one legitimate reason the Bulldogs could be careful about getting over-energized this week: The schedule.
Next week it’s on to Tennessee, which may have two losses but could still be dangerous and will be at home. Then it’s back to Athens for a game against Missouri, the two-time SEC East champion.
Beating Alabama would be big. But there has to be some juice left for what comes after.
“It’s one of those deals where if you continue to improve as the season goes on that gives you the best chance of being where you want to be in the end,” Richt said.
Still, coaches have to try to control their team, so it may be up to others to sum it up best. In this case it’s Vince Dooley, very familiar with big games and the man who hired Richt 15 years ago.
“He’s had a lot of big ones,” Dooley said of Richt. “This is among the biggest.”