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Bulldogs looking to reverse losing trend in Jacksonville

POSTED: October 28, 2007 5:07 a.m.
ATHENSA couple of weeks ago, coming off a dismal loss at Tennessee, the Georgia Bulldogs put a moratorium on any title talk.

Coach Mark Richt said it wouldn’t do his team any good to keep discussing what it would take to win another Southeastern Conference championship, especially when they had lost two of their first four league games.

Well, after another crazy Saturday in the SEC, the Bulldogs found themselves right back in the race without even taking a snap.

While Georgia was getting in some R&R during an off week, South Carolina, Kentucky and Tennessee all took their second conference losses. Suddenly, the Bulldogs (5-2, 3-2 SEC) find themselves in a three-way tie for first in the Eastern Division.

"There’s not too many years where a team from the East goes to the championship game having two losses," tight end Tripp Chandler said. "We’re definitely fortunate."

Actually, Georgia played for the title twice in the last four years despite losing two conference games. But that’s definitely against the norm — since the SEC went to a title game in 1992, only one other Eastern team has made it with two losses in the league (that was Florida, in the very first year of divisional play).

But this is shaping up as a season like no other. Heck, it’s not unrealistic to envision an Eastern champ with three SEC losses.

"You just never know," Georgia fullback Brannan Southerland said. "Honestly, it’s hard to tell with the SEC, with all the talent and the fact that any team can beat anybody. You can’t depend on one team to win and another team lose. You’ve got to try to do your part every day, because you never know what can happen to the other teams in the SEC."

Richt was still reticent to resume any discussion of the big picture. He knows Georgia still has a brutal stretch remaining, beginning with Saturday’s annual albatross of a game against No. 9 Florida.

The defending national champion Gators have defeated their rivals to the north 15 times in the last 17 years. Even in 2002 and 2005, when the Bulldogs claimed SEC titles, they failed to win in Jacksonville.

"There’s no doubt it’s huge," Richt said. "We’re fortunate to be in position to have a big swing game. At one time, we felt we already had that swing game and it was over. But this is a big one."

The Bulldogs looked done when they fell behind 28-0 in the first half and lost 35-14 at Tennessee on Oct. 6. They didn’t perform much better the following week, beating last-place Vanderbilt on a last-second field goal.

But that victory looked a whole lot more impressive after the Commodores pulled off a shocking 17-6 upset at South Carolina last week. Throw in Tennessee’s blowout loss at Alabama, Florida’s high-scoring win at Kentucky and — voila — it’s a horse race again, with the Bulldogs right in the thick of things heading down the home stretch.

"I guess I could say that I expected South Carolina to beat Vanderbilt," Southerland said. "For the race to be so open again just like that, in just one day, it’s funny. It’s crazy to see how the SEC can work."

But Georgia is far from a sure bet to make it to Atlanta for the fourth time in six years. After Florida, the Bulldogs close out their SEC schedule by hosting No. 23 Auburn and 14th-ranked Kentucky.

"Personally, I think this gives us a good shot," safety Kelin Johnson said. "But we’ve still got to take care of Florida. If we don’t take care of Florida, all that’s in vain. If we get so caught up in, ‘Oh, they won or they won,’ and we don’t take care of our business, then it’s pointless."

But, at least the Bulldogs have a fighting chance. That’s more than they had just two short weeks ago.

"We know we’re not all the way in control of what we do," receiver Mohamed Massaquoi said. "But if we handle our business from here on out, we’ll be in a great situation at the end of the year."



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