ATHENS – Once this trivial game week was over, and Georgia had secured exactly what it paid for when it cut a check for $650,000 to Southern University — $649,998.75 for the band, $1.25 for the football team – the questions started
Can you beat Alabama?
Will you wear death black jerseys again?
Nick Saban – Underworld Lord or just reptile?
“We already know how the media and fans are going to hype this up,” Georgia wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell said. “And I hoped hope they do. I want it packed in the stands. I want everybody watching. But we can’t get caught up in that.”
Georgia is 4-0. The win with that carried the most significance came last week: 52-20 over South Carolina. The win that carried the least came Saturday: 48-6 over Southern, an FCS program whose tuba players were in far better step than its football players.
Every major football program sprinkles throw pillows into the schedule before big games. SEC teams have elevated this to an art form. Consequently, we were subjected to the No. 7 Bulldogs vs. the No. 206 Jaguars (according to computer power rankings).
Greyson Lambert for a couple of touchdowns, and Nick Chubb and Sony Michel ran for a bunch of yards, and Southern totaled 34 yards in offense in the second half, and the check cleared, and blahblahblah.
Now we can move on.
Georgia’s season won’t be defined by the first four weeks. It will be defined in part by what happens next. Because if the Dogs defeat Alabama, everybody will jump to attention when their name is brought up in conversation. And if they lose, the laments of a second-tier bowl season will smother the program again.
This week will be hype central. Georgia coach Mark Richt knows that. But he doesn’t want his players to get sucked into that undertow of the hype, which is why it was so prevalent in his post-game comments to his team.
“That’s the very thing I said to the team after the game,” Richt said after a question on the subject. “We have a three-game stretch here that’s very important in (SEC) play. I said that very thing — the media’s going to want to talk about the game, the fans are — which is great. We’ve created enough momentum for people to get excited. But we have to be focused on what’s going on at the Butts-Mehre building. We have to be focused on the classroom. All of the other stuff is not healthy to get in the middle of it. Just focus on your job and focus on getting better.”
Saban took over at Alabama in 2007. That season, Georgia went into Tuscaloosa and won 26-23 in overtime. The significance of that accomplishment was diminished when the Crimson Tide closed the regular season with four straight losses including 21-14 to Louisiana-Monroe (lightning crack!).
But two meetings with Alabama since created only misery for Georgia fans. The Dogs won their first four games in 2008 and were ranked No. 3 when the Tide came to Athens. Players and fans wore black jerseys. Then Alabama bodyslammed everybody in the first half 31-0 and won 41-30.
In 2012, Georgia came close to upsetting Bama in the SEC title game — a relative play-in for the BCS championship against Notre Dame – but lost 32-28 when a drive ended as time expired at the Tide’s five-yard line.
Will the outcome be different this time? There’s no shortage of positive signs. The Dogs have the best rushing attack in the nation with Chubb and Michel, a solid offensive line, a quarterback who suddenly look comfortable, confident and accurate (Lambert’s past two games: 33 for 35, 476 yards, five touchdowns, zero interceptions) and a very good defense.
But they seemingly had a lot going for them the last time Alabama came to Athens in 2008, only to get punched in the mouth.
What tells Mitchell this Georgia team will be ready for Alabama?
“I believe we’re a team that will compete with anybody and will lay out for each other,” he said.
As for this game going a ways toward defining Georgia’s season, Mitchell said, “I look at it like this: If we win a game, we build momentum. You say a lot people weren’t talking about Louisiana-Monroe or Southern. But if we lost, they would have been talking about it.”
That wasn’t going to happen Saturday. Southern’s famous marching band and team performed as expected. The band had the greatest on-field adjustment, spelling out the halftime score: 20-6.
It seemed like a weird team for the losing team’s band to spell out. But maybe they were bragging. Their team was 54½-point underdogs, after all.
Georgia didn’t play all that well in the first half, particularly defensively. But after some choice words from Richt and presumably defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt at halftime, Southern went three-and-out on its first three possessions in the second half and was held to two first downs and 34 net yards, while the Dogs scored touchdowns on their first four drives. They rushed for only 35 yards in the first half, 226 in the second.
“We just didn’t come out fired up, I guess,” Lambert said.
Not surprising. There probably were other things on their mind.
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