ATHENS, Ga. -- Disappointment was etched on the faces of Georgia's players as they filtered out of the team locker room after Saturday's embarrassing 35-7 loss to South Carolina, but the Bulldogs were not willing to concede that their season goals are out of reach.
And why would they? Just a season ago, they were in an even more desperate position after a loss to South Carolina made them 0-2 and created rampant speculation over coach Mark Richt's job security. All that team did was win the next 10 games and claim the Bulldogs' first SEC East title since 2005.
So when asked whether his team's plans for winning a conference title and playing in the BCS championship game in Miami had gone up in smoke after the third-ranked Gamecocks (6-0, 4-0 SEC) handed the 14th-ranked Bulldogs (5-1, 3-1) their first loss of the season, senior cornerback Sanders Commings was not willing to give up the dream just yet.
"It'll be tough," Commings admitted. "But there's still a lot of football to play and I don't think Miami's impossible for us to reach. The first thing would be getting back to the SEC championship and if we win that, usually the winner of that game plays for the national championship, so I don't think Miami's out of the question right now. We've just got to keep playing."
That will be the key, according to several Bulldogs veterans who spoke with reporters after the game.
Without question, the ease with which South Carolina jumped out to a three-touchdown lead will sting the Bulldogs' collective pride for some time. This had been Georgia's opportunity to change the national perception of its program and the Bulldogs wilted in the national spotlight yet again. But the veterans realize that if they have any hope of playing for another conference championship, they can't allow what happened on the field in Columbia to affect them in upcoming games -- particularly when they face No. 4 Florida on Oct. 27.
"This is one of the key moments that can make or break a year that the seniors really have to bring everybody together," senior defensive end Abry Jones said. "Most teams can't take this shellshock and throw the rest down the drain, but there's still more for us that we have to keep working to."
They realize they also need a bit of luck in the form of a couple of losses by the Gamecocks. South Carolina didn't look like a team that will lose anytime soon on Saturday, but Steve Spurrier's club has a fairly unappealing schedule in the month of October. They cleared the first hurdle -- Georgia -- with ease, but now travel to LSU and Florida on back-to-back weekends and host Tennessee on the final weekend of the month.
After its bye this weekend, Georgia will play Kentucky next week and Florida on the Saturday after the Gators' showdown with South Carolina.
"I think if we just focus and do our job to win the rest of these games, I definitely think we'll get some help around the league from other teams and make it to Atlanta," Commings said.
The Bulldogs employed that attitude last season and got some help from Auburn and Arkansas when both defeated South Carolina, enabling Georgia to play LSU for the conference title. Richt said on his Sunday teleconference that he believes this team will show similar resolve after enduring such disappointment the night before.
"When teams panic, they tend to fall apart and Georgia's not going to fall apart. We're going to go ahead and get to work and just get better at what we do, and if we've got to make some changes, we'll do that. But the main thing is just like I said, a year ago we were 0-2 and everybody wants to decide that the sky has fallen and it's over for Georgia. But we stayed firm, we believed in each other, we kept banging away and we began to win and before you know it, we won the Eastern Division.
"So it's one day, it's one game. It's unfortunate it came out the way it did with so much at stake, but there's still a lot at stake as the season rolls on. The sun did come up and now we've got to get back to work."