Georgia vs. Alabama
When: 3:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Sanford Stadium, Athens
On TV: CBS
Mark Richt had to acknowledge this week is a little different for Georgia.
“A lot of people are excited,” the coach said Tuesday, breaking into the subtlest of smiles. “At least that’s what I hear.”
Indeed, the No. 8 Bulldogs have a chance to take a step toward a truly special season when they host No. 13 Alabama on Saturday.
Of course, they’ve been in this position before against Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide.
It hasn’t worked out so well.
Georgia started the 2008 season ranked No. 1 in the country, only to have its hopes crushed when Alabama raced out to a 31-0 halftime lead between the hedges.
In 2012, the teams met again in the Southeastern Conference championship game, which went down to a final play — a deflected pass that left the Bulldogs 5 yards short of the winning touchdown as time ran out.
The Tide went on to rout Notre Dame in the BCS championship game.
Georgia could only wonder what might have been.
“That season would’ve ended very well if we had won that game,” said receiver Malcolm Mitchell, among a handful of Georgia players still around from three years ago. “But we didn’t, so this is where we’re at today.”
A victory over their longtime nemesis, one of only three Southeastern Conference teams that Georgia has a losing record against, would go a long way toward erasing the sting of those defeats.
“Wins always make you forget losses,” Mitchell said.
More significantly, it would leave the Bulldogs (4-0, 2-0 SEC) with a much clearer path toward their first conference title in a decade, and possibly a spot in the College Football Playoff. Georgia has only one other ranked opponent after Saturday’s game: No. 25 Florida.
During his weekly media session, Richt was very measured in his responses. Clearly, he didn’t want to do anything to rile up Alabama (3-1, 0-1 SEC), which put itself in a must-win situation by losing at home to Mississippi.
When asked about the Tide being an underdog for the first time since 2009, Richt wouldn’t bite.
“I don’t really have a reaction to that,” the coach said.
He certainly wouldn’t buy into the premise that Alabama’s long run of SEC dominance is on the verge of ending.
“Alabama is a great football team,” Richt said. “I don’t know what the talk might be out there. But they’re as good or better than anyone in our league, and they’re as good or better as anyone in the country.”
Like Mitchell, linebacker Jordan Jenkins played against Alabama in that 2012 classic. The lead changed hands five times before Alabama scored the winning touchdown with just over 3 minutes remaining on a 44-yard pass from A.J. McCarron to Amari Cooper.
Georgia drove down the field and — with a likely spot in the BCS title game hanging in the balance — reached the 8-yard line with 9 seconds remaining. Aaron Murray looked toward Mitchell in the end zone, but the pass was deflected and wound up being caught unexpectedly by Chris Conley. He slipped down at the 5 and time expired.
The Bulldogs were stunned.
“That’s definitely something I’ve been thinking about over the last several years or so,” Jenkins conceded. “Leading up to this game, it might be something I think about.”
Georgia’s confidence is buoyed by the play of quarterback Greyson Lambert, who transferred to Georgia at the beginning of the summer and didn’t earn the starting job until the week before the opener.
Two weeks ago, Lambert set an NCAA record by completing all but one of his 25 passes in a 52-20 rout of South Carolina. Last week, he was 9 of 10 with two touchdowns in limited time against FCS opponent Southern University.
Richt is also counting on the crowd of more than 91,000 to give the Bulldogs a huge emotional lift, though there are no plans to bring back a motivational ploy that backfired the last time Alabama visited Sanford Stadium.
Georgia wore black jerseys for the so-called “blackout” game, only to get wiped out by Alabama is a performance that signaled a changing of the guard in the SEC. Saban’s teams are 82-12 since then, with three national titles and four SEC crowns.
Rest assured, the Bulldogs will be wearing red on Saturday.
“One of the young guys said, ‘Hey, man, do you think we’re going to wear the black jerseys?’” Mitchell related. “I said, ‘Did you hear about the last game?’”