Saturday, September 28, 2013
The SEC East is now Georgia's to lose
By Edward Aschoff
ATHENS, Ga. -- Minutes after Georgia players sprinted into their locker room following a triumphant 44-41 back-and-forth win over LSU, offensive coordinator Mike Bobo instructed them to get right back on the playing field.
Drenched in sweat and oozing that sweaty odor of victory, the Bulldogs rushed the field for a curtain call in front of a nearly filled stadium with fans too elated to leave. Players threw fists in the air, high-fived fans over the hedges lining the field and smiled boyish smiles as they gave Sanford Stadium half of a victory lap.
It was a gutty win at the end of a bloody month of September, but it moved the Bulldogs, who now sit at 2-0 in SEC play, even closer to their third straight SEC championship appearance in Atlanta.
"I'm just happy for everyone -- players, the coaching staff," said quarterback Aaron Murray, who threw for 298 yards and four touchdowns with an interception Saturday. "It was a special moment being in this locker room afterwards with the guys celebrating, and then being on the field afterwards with the fans was awesome."
Georgia wide receiver Michael Bennett celebrates his touchdown during the first half.
With the way the players, fans and coaches reacted after LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger's final pass of the night fell incomplete, you would have thought the Bulldogs had clinched the SEC Eastern Division title. Well, with the way Georgia is rolling and with the shape of the East right now, maybe they did.
The Bulldogs aren't perfect. They won't be beating their chests later thinking they're invincible, but they have to feel pretty good about their odds of making it back to Atlanta. South Carolina needs Georgia to lose two conference games if it wants a chance at the East. Florida is banged up and sporting another struggling offense. Vanderbilt has two SEC losses, while Tennessee and Kentucky have new coaches and the same old problems.
Unless there's a real shocker, and Missouri -- which is the only East team yet to play a conference game -- flies through SEC play this year, the East is Georgia's to lose.
We know the Bulldogs are going to give up points (lots of them), we know they're going to give up yards (tons of them) and we know they're going to miss tackles (way too many of them), but we also know that the offense is going to bail them out. The offense is going to score and move a lot each week.
The Bulldogs are averaging 554 yards and more than 41 points per game. Against South Carolina and LSU, the Bulldogs piled up 1,030 yards and 85 points. The toughest remaining test for this offense waits in Jacksonville, Fla., when Georgia takes on rival Florida. The Gators own one of the nation's best defenses, and it's the only SEC defense remaining for the Dawgs giving up fewer than 360 yards of offense per game.
But it's not like Florida's offense is blowing anyone away, while Georgia proved once again that it can line up and score when it needs to.
"We're ready. We're here, man," wide receiver Justin Scott-Wesley said. "We can take on anybody, anytime.
"We'll take anybody, anywhere."
The offense showed exactly that when it didn't miss a beat when Keith Marshall filled in for Todd Gurley after Gurley sustained an ankle injury before the half. It showed it again after LSU took a 41-37 lead with 4:14 remaining in the fourth quarter. The Bulldogs just marched 75 yards on just six plays, including a dagger of a 25-yard touchdown catch by Scott-Wesley.
"It was pretty cool, man," Scott-Wesley said of his touchdown. "I just wanted to put the nail in the coffin for my team and move on to the next one."
And the next one is Tennessee, then Vanderbilt and then Florida. After that, a Nov. 16 trip to Auburn will stand as the Bulldogs' final real test for a shot at the East. After a brutal first month of football that featured three top-10 matchups -- Clemson, South Carolina and LSU -- the Bulldogs get a bit of a breather.
"I'm glad we got that over with," linebacker Jordan Jenkins said. "Our future is only going to get brighter.
"It's a race to get the East now. We're just paving our road to success."
Again, the East is officially Georgia's to lose, but the Dawgs are being cautious. They were rowdy immediately after the win, but they know a slip-up with a shaky defense could be costly.
"Next week, if we think it's going to be any easier, we're crazy," coach Mark Richt said. "We're going to Knoxville, Tennessee, man. They're going to be fired up. Their fans are going to be ready to go. If we think it's going to be anything less than what we've been living through, we're nuts."
It's still a long season, but Georgia's 2-0 SEC start feels like a chokehold on the rest of the East. With the caliber of teams the Bulldogs have already played, Georgia has shown it has matured and developed. That's a recipe for success, and a bad combination for the rest of the division.
"We've been through a lot so far these first four games," Murray said. "We've grown was a team, we've matured a lot and we're a lot better off right now than we were a month ago."