October 16, 2009

Dawgs, 'Dores both in need of victory

When Georgia travels to Vanderbilt for Saturday's 12:21 kickoff in Nashville there will certainly be plenty of pent-up frustration to go around.

For the Bulldogs (3-3, 2-2), it's due to the pain of dropping back-to-back games to LSU (20-13) and Tennessee (45-19) while the Commodores (2-4, 0-3) are coming off a disappointing 16-13 loss to Army and are looking for their first SEC win.

Both squads are in desperate need of a victory.

Dealing with losing seasons isn't necessarily something new for head coach Bobby Johnson's crew, despite last year's trip to the Music City Bowl. However, this unchartered territory for the Bulldogs, who would love to give their disgruntled fans something to be happy about - at least temporarily.

"There are certain things you can control in life and certain things you can't control. What people say about you or your team or your coaches, you can't control that. All you can control is how you focus, how you prepare and how you keep your mental frame of mind," head coach Mark Richt said. The most productive thing for us right now is to really focus on this ballgame. Every day that we come in, whether it's lifting, running or practice, whatever it might be, let's focus on what's important and that's the only way we'll move in the right direction here."

Johnson can certainly agree with that.

"Both teams are probably frustrated and feel like they are better than their records indicate and the only way to prove that is to win the next game. This is the next opportunity," Johnson said. "I hope our players hold those opportunities dear. It is important to them to approach every game as an opportunity to get a big win, especially in the Southeastern Conference. If you win a game in the SEC, it is a big win."

The Commodores are certainly treating it as such.

Besides being Homecoming at Vanderbilt, the school has called for a "Blackout" against the Bulldogs, who will try to avoid their first four-loss season since 2006.

Ironically, that 2006 squad is one Richt's favorite teams.

That year, Georgia dropped four of five games before rallying late to beat Auburn, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech in the Chick-fil-A Bowl to finish a respectable 9-4.

Comparisons to that season and this year are already being made.

"In '06 it was worse than this. We lost 4 straight including losses to Vanderbilt and Kentucky," senior safety Bryan Evans said. "There were a couple of days where you felt like throwing in the towel, but it's just not our nature to give up so anytime that we can go out and try to get a win and get our win streak up that's what we are going to do."

But Richt admits the pressure is on. How his Bulldogs handle it remains to be seen.

"It's hard to measure a team's ability to withstand pressure. I think a lot of teams fold under that kind of pressure. A lot of coaching staffs fold under that kind of pressure and we never did. We were very resilient. We were very persistent. We stayed the course. We didn't make a bunch of wholesale changes, whether it was players, coaches or anything like that," Richt said. "We just kept grinding, we kept banging away. You just never know how close you are to success until you live it out. I was pretty proud of that team considering what they went through and how we finished. Even that last ballgame (Virginia Tech) I think we were down 15 or 18 at the half to the No. 1 defense in America. It didn't look like we had much of a chance, but we found a way and there is a lot to be said about that."

Both teams come into Saturday's game hoping to reverse a frustrating offensive trend.

Although Georgia ranks third in the league in red zone offense (93.3 percent success rate), the Bulldogs didn't even sniff the 20-yard line of the Vols, scoring both their touchdowns on a 100-yard kickoff return by Brandon Boykin and a 28-yard pick-6 by Bacarri Rambo.

Vanderbilt, meanwhile, has found the red zone 24 times but has only converted 16 of the trips into points, a 66.7 percentage which is last in the SEC.

The Commodores are also last in the SEC in scoring offense, averaging just 18.8 points per game.

"Obviously, a top priority for us is to find some sort of offensive production, especially getting the ball into the end zone. Our red zone efficiency has been pretty poor and kept us from winning that game on Saturday," Johnson said. "That was the biggest thing that we didn't do and we are going to search to get better. It is always tough to be searching when you are going to play a good football team like Georgia. They are going to make it tough for us, but that is our charge this week. We need to continue to play well on defense and try to maintain our upward trend on special teams. If we can do that, we are going to have a good chance to win the game."

For Georgia, the Bulldogs just want to get their offense in gear, and that means getting a consistent game from quarterback Joe Cox, who has decent numbers (104-of-178, 1,355 yards and 11 touchdowns) but has eight interceptions, at least one in every game.

It also means finding some semblance of a running game.

The Bulldogs have failed to rush for at least 100 yards in three straight contests, and Richt hopes some combination of Caleb King, Richard Samuel, Washaun Ealey and Carlton Thomas will be able to change that.

Defensively, Georgia still ranks last in the SEC, giving up 30.7 points per game.

"Obviously, there's a lot that we have to improve," Richt said. "It's not just the defense, but different parts of our team. We've just got to keep fighting to get this turned around."

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