Georgia vs. Kentucky
When: 12:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Lexington, Ky.
TV, radio: MyATLtv (Charter channel 3); 550-AM, 99.3 FM
Web site: www.georgiadogs.com
ATHENS — Georgia’s 11-2 record in 2007 set up championship hopes for this year that won’t be realized, forcing players to settle on a new goal for another 11-win finish.
“It may not be the way we had drawn it all out, but it can still be a great finish,” senior fullback Brannan Southerland said.
Georgia, No. 1 in the preseason Top 25, has suffered crushing losses to the two teams poised to play for the Southeastern Conference championship. Alabama, now No. 1, beat Georgia 41-30 on Sept. 27, and Florida crushed the Bulldogs 49-10 last week.
Georgia (7-2 overall, 4-2 SEC) will try to recover when it visits Kentucky on Saturday. The Bulldogs will end their regular season with games against Auburn and Georgia Tech.
“We’ve got to talk to the young players and make sure they realize two losses does not end the season,” Southerland said.
“We lost to what right now is the No. 1 team in the country in Alabama and the No. 4 team, Florida. We lost to good teams. It doesn’t mean we’re a bad team. It just means on that day they were better than us. We can still have a great finish to the season.”
Alabama and Florida can clinch the SEC West and East divisions, respectively, on Saturday. Alabama plays at LSU and Florida visits Vanderbilt.
Florida would have to lose to Vanderbilt and South Carolina to give the Bulldogs an opening to win the SEC East.
“That’s not likely,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said.
So championship goals have been pushed aside for another year and new goals accepted for this year.
Players were challenged by Richt and his staff in meetings on Monday.
“(Coaches) were really putting the emphasis on us keeping a good attitude and continuing to try to finish the drill,” linebacker Rennie Curran said.
“They gave us the choice. We could either put our head down and let this game affect the rest of our season and lose out, or we could continue to regroup. We can let leadership step up and just stay positive and finish 11-2, like we did last year, which is nothing to be ashamed of. I feel like it’s a good season.”
Good, yes, but it’s not a championship.
“A lot of the guys were really upset about it, but there’s really nothing we can do now,” said tailback Knowshon Moreno, a redshirt sophomore. “We have to wait ‘til next year for that (Florida) team, but we still have three games left on our season. We are just focused on Kentucky right now, and we want to finish out the season strong.”
The lopsided loss to Florida was a surprise one week after Georgia’s impressive 52-38 win at LSU. Similarly, the loss to Alabama followed a road win at Arizona State.
Georgia hasn’t been able to peak in back-to-back weeks. The new challenge is to avoid losing consecutive games.
The Bulldogs should need no warning about Kentucky (6-3, 2-3) after losing in Lexington in 2006 and falling behind 10-0 before beating the Wildcats 24-13 in Athens last year.
“We’re 100 percent on Kentucky right now,” quarterback Matthew Stafford said. “We’re just trying to win another one.”
Added Stafford, repeating this week’s popular refrain among players: “There’s still an opportunity to win 11 games. That’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
Georgia has won 10 or more games in five of Richt’s first seven seasons. The Bulldogs won SEC championships in 2002, when they were 13-1, and 2005, when they were 10-3, and they also won the SEC East in 2003 before losing in the SEC championship game.
For Stafford and other juniors who weren’t on the 2005 team, it’s no easy task accepting the fact Georgia won’t return to the SEC championship game this year.
When asked how he would respond to critics who say he has fallen short of leading Georgia to another championship, Stafford said “I don’t know. I guess they’re right. We haven’t played for a conference championship since I’ve been here.
“I don’t know if it’s fair, but it’s the way it is.”