October 7, 2011

Opportunity at hand



The phone calls and text messages were flying amongst member of the Georgia football team last Saturday night as the final seconds ticked off the clock of Auburn's win at South Carolina.

With the Gamecocks' loss, the Bulldogs (3-2, 2-1) find themselves back in the race for the top spot in the SEC East.

Although Georgia still needs South Carolina to lose another conference game to have the opportunity to control its own destiny, being one step closer to doing just that is a fact not lost on the Bulldogs as they get ready for Saturday night's game at Tennessee (3-1, 0-1).

"The fact that South Carolina and Florida lost is definitely a motivating factor for everybody. That's why we have the plaques on the wall. We're shooting for the Eastern Division title. That's our goal. It helps us and gives us a better chance of doing that if we continue to win. I haven't talked about it a lot other than mentioning and reminding everybody what happened," head coach Mark Richt said. "But they know it. As it was happening, guys are texting each other, coaches are texting each other. Everybody certainly got excited about how the standings are sitting right now compared to how it was a week ago. We all know it's so crucial to take care of our business, because if we don't it's not going to be that much fun anymore. We just need to keep winning."

Obviously, so do the Vols.

Tennessee dropped a 33-23 decision to Florida two weeks ago and technically still have the same opportunity as the Bulldogs to claim the East Division crown.

However, even if the Vols manage to get past Georgia in Saturday's contest (7 p.m., ESPN2), Tennessee's next three games are against LSU, Alabama and South Carolina, not exactly an easy road.

That's why Vols coach Derek Dooley isn't even considering the possibilities.

"The last thing we need to talk about is Atlanta," Dooley said. "We need to first win a conference game. It's not Title Town right now. Maybe down the stretch, but right now it's week to week. They whipped us good last year so right now the only thing we're worried about is Georgia. The other stuff will take care of itself down the stretch."

Georgia's schedule certainly sets up better than the Vols.

Following Saturday night's showdown at Neyland Stadium, the Bulldogs travel to Vanderbilt before taking a week off to prepare for what shapes up to be another huge contest in Jacksonville against Florida.

The Bulldogs' wrap up the SEC portion of their schedule with home games against Auburn and Kentucky - games which at least on paper - appear to be winnable.

But first things first: Georgia needs to keep winning and hope the Gamecocks lose one more conference game. South Carolina hosts Kentucky Saturday, but then has three consecutive road contests at Mississippi State, Arkansas and Tennessee before closing out the SEC portion of their schedule with a Homecoming tilt against the Gators.

"It's definitely a boost, but I don't think we were desperate for a boost if that makes any sense. I think we have been a team, that's been very close knit, very good chemistry, very hard working," Richt said. "I think we've believed that we are a very good football team. I think we've truly believing that we very capable of winning the East. I don't think anybody has ever lost any kind of faith in that. But when the standings changed like they did it certainly gives you a boost."

The Bulldogs have another couple of reasons for playing well in Saturday's game.

One more victory will be the 100th win of Richt's career, but an even bigger motivator should be the fact that Tennessee routed the Bulldogs in their last two trips to Neyland Stadium, 35-14 in 2007 and 45-19 in 2009.

Georgia returned the favor last year in Athens, beating the Vols 41-14.
"I played against Tennessee (in Knoxville) my freshman year and it was a pretty hostile crowd. I was kind of upset because I felt like we just fizzled out in the second quarter; the score was pretty even and then we just fizzled out," Charles said. "The crowd got even louder because they felt like we gave up. I'm excited on going back in that stadium and showing them that this is a different Georgia team."

Just seeing his team bounce back from its 0-2 start is all the satisfaction Richt needs. Now, they just need to win one more.

"It's hard to start 0-1. It's hard to lose control of your destiny after the first game of the year in league play, but I think everybody left that game like you know what we got a chance to be a really good football team and let's keep getting better and keep fighting," Richt said. "It's a long season and if you look at history in the East, especially lately, there hasn't been many teams go through it undefeated or one loss. So let's just keep fighting and get back in the race and we are there now."

Anthony Dasher is the managing editor for UGASports
and he can be reached via email at dash@ugasports.com.