ATHENS – It was the Sunday after yet another loss, this one to an arch-rival, and for one group of Georgia players, the coping mechanism was video games: The outside linebackers held an epic Madden and FIFA session at senior Chuks Amaechi’s house.
“Just get our minds off of what happened before,” Amaechi said, “When you lose games, some teams tend to expand and shy away from each other. But we’re trying as hard as we can to stay positive, and stay close to each other, and make sure nobody kind of wanders off on their own.”
That will be difficult, for a multitude of reasons.
On a roster that can include up to 85 scholarship players, and 125 total, it’s hard to keep everyone in line. And it gets harder when you go from SEC East title aspirations to a 4-4 record and just playing for a bowl bid.
Add in a new head coach and almost entirely new staff, which didn’t recruit many of these players, and you have the formula for a negative locker room.
But players insisted that’s not been the case.
“Nobody has sat there finger-point at anybody, or blaming the coaches and players,” junior guard Isaiah Wynn said. “So we’ve never really had to come across that. But if we do see signs of that coming along, then yeah, we’ll say something about it.”
How do you avoid finger-pointing and dissension?
“Just don’t do it,” Wynn said, then laughed. “Just don’t do it. Don’t bring that type of negativity into the building, and that type of stuff. It’s fine, you can talk about it on your own but once you come here you’ve got to realize it’s a whole team thing.”
After Saturday’s loss, the team’s fourth in fifth games, senior center Brandon Kublanow was asked where the team went from here.
“We stick together,” Kublanow said. “We want to build a program. Coach (Kirby) Smart’s building a program here. And we believe in that. And I know there’s a bright future for UGA, and we’ve just got to keep working.”
But how can you say that at 4-4? What evidence is there?
“Just the way we practice, the way we play,” Kublanow said. “It’s just you’ve got to trust in the system. It’s a new system, things change, and what happens happens.”
A few disclaimers: Smart doesn’t let many players speak to the media. There have only been about 20 who have been permitted to speak, out of 125 total on the roster, since the season began. But at the college level it’s not exactly commonplace for players to air grievances publicly.
Behind the scenes, it’s hard to get a good read, especially on such a massive roster. There has been no evidence of player-coach strife. There has been some concern of “going through the motions” by some players, even before the Florida game, according to an observer close to the program. But that would still potentially only be a handful out of a much larger roster.
“We’re going to have maybe a little bit more fun knowing that we get a chance to be the spoilers,” Amaechi said. “Playing all these teams that are leading us in the SEC, and breaking them down.”
Sophomore receiver Michael Chigbu was asked if he was surprised to be 4-4. He said yes, and took a deep breath.
“It’s just where we are right now,” he said. “And we have to do something about it.”
What has to happen for this to still be a successful season?
“Man, for us to leave on a good note it means every game we’re going hard,” Chigbu said. “We’re competing hard, we’re not losing focus, and during practice, during games, before the game, so when we’re not even around football, just for us to finish. That’s what we preach is finish. Strain. Play for one another.”
The video game session last Sunday at Amaechi’s house sounded like fun. Amaechi said he won FIFA easily. He didn’t say who won Madden.
It was only the outside linebackers, who apparently are holding together just fine. Amaechi was asked if they’d expand the video game session to other positions.
“Hopefully we don’t have to do that,” he said. “Hopefully we start winning more and we don’t have to have activities like this.”