ATHENS — The chapel bell was ringing in victory again on the UGA campus Saturday, and for Mark Richt and the Georgia Bulldogs there could be no sweeter sound.
The Bulldogs (6-3, 4-3 SEC) beat the lowly Wildcats 27-3 on yet another rain-splashed Saturday between the hedges. And while the three-score margin probably won’t turn any heads regionally or nationally, it was the context in which the win was secured that makes the thorough and complete domination significant.
Georgia’s victory came at the end of a week of turmoil and speculation not seen around here since the Bulldogs lost the first two games of the 2011 season. And rather than deny that was the case or claim to have paid it no attention at all, Richt and his charges acknowledged it and used it like special weapon.
“How many times within a family, there’s some type of crisis and everybody just pulls together?” Richt said during his postgame news conference. “That’s how it is with a football team. When things get rough, we know our best shot is to count on each other and trust each other and play hard for each other and prepare well together. When you hit that type of adversity things can go one way or another. They went the right way and I’m proud of everybody. But we’ve got to crank it up again.”
Georgia (6-3, 4-3 SEC) had lost three of its last four contests coming into Saturday’s game, and it had done so in embarrassing fashion. The latest — a 27-3 loss to Florida — brought a furor of discontent and scrutiny from the fan base up.
Changes were being called for not only on offense, where UGA averaged 9.7 points per game in the month of October, but throughout the staff. But no one has been feeling more heat than the Bulldogs’ 15-year head coach, whose justification for retaining his job beyond this season was being debated not only locally but nationwide.
“Our focus was for our team to not focus on the outside noise,” said talkback Sony Michel, who led the Bulldogs with 165 yards rushing. “Coach Richt did a great job of getting us to focus on who we are at Georgia and come out and play for the love of the game.”
Joy and relief were the prominent locker room descriptions.
“Everybody wasn’t doing backflips or anything like that. Everybody felt good; everybody felt better,” Richt said. “There was a lot of support throughout the week for each other, a lot of support throughout the game, and afterwards you could see genuine hugs and handshakes between coaches and coaches, between coaches and players, between players and players. It was a good, solid victory and it was good medicine for us right now.”
While the final score might not reflect it, this was a total and complete domination of Kentucky by Georgia on Saturday. Georgia doubled-up its visitors in total yardage — 390 to 180 — and barely let them come up for air defensively. Kentucky’s lone score came after the Bulldogs turned the ball over at its own 20 and gained only five yards.
Offensively, it took the Bulldogs a while to get going on a day it utilized two quarterbacks. Greyson Lambert started and Brice Ramsey played two possessions in the game. But Georgia got back to the basics with its running game. Often utilizing the “Wild Dog” formation, where the tailback or a receiver lines up at the quarterback position in the shotgun, the Bulldogs rushed for a season-high 300 yards on the day.
“It let’s you go into Sunday with a little more pep in your step,” said Lambert, who was 6-of-13 passing for 64 yards and a touchdown. “Winning brings a lot of momentum with it. Hopefully we can keep it up.”
The Bulldogs pulled away in the second half after slogging their way to a 10-3 lead in the first. In all they scored three touchdowns after going 31 consecutive possessions without one over three games.
Georgia fumbled an intercepted pass inside Kentucky’s 10-yard line and missed another short field goal, which prevented this from looking like the blowout it actually was.
There is still a lot of work to be done for the Bulldogs to stem the tide of criticism. The effort will continue on Saturday when they visit Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium, site of countless dramas over the years. As bad as Kentucky’s defense was Saturday, the Tigers’ has been worse. They were ranked last in the SEC heading into Saturday’s last night’s late contest with high-scoring Texas A&M in College Station.
“There’s still a lot of ball to be played,” Richt said. “A lot of things are going to happen before the season is over. But this particular week, considering everything that was going on, I thought the guys rose to the occasion.