Setting the tone
Georgia's defense will have to match physical play in next week's SEC title game
ATHENS, Ga. -- If Alec Ogletree played his last home game on Saturday, Georgia's star junior linebacker provided the fans at Sanford Stadium with a memorable final image.
His third-ranked team had long since taken control in its eventual 42-10 win against Georgia Tech -- the Bulldogs' 11th win against the Yellow Jackets in 12 tries under coach Mark Richt -- when Ogletree's second-quarter body slam of Tech A-back Robert Godhigh explained the state of this rivalry in one quick show of physical domination.
That huge hit was just one example of the brutal mentality that helped Ogletree & Co. limit the Yellow Jackets to a season-low 10 points -- a physicality that will be necessary next week when they face No. 2 Alabama in the SEC championship game.
"We're doing well, but we're not satisfied," said senior linebacker Christian Robinson, whose 13 tackles were two short of Ogletree's team-high 15 stops. "We haven't been satisfied since last season when we didn't play the way we wanted to play in the SEC championship game and it's kind of been lingering."
Georgia led No. 1 LSU 10-7 at halftime of last season's SEC title game before being blown out 42-10. Robinson and the rest of the Bulldogs remember and are well aware of the stakes next Saturday.
"We all know [what happened last season] and we've all been fueled by it," Robinson said. "We want to play better and we want to show up at the right time."
There is no bigger time than next week, as the Georgia-Alabama winner will almost certainly advance to the BCS Championship Game. The intensity shown by Ogletree, Jones, Robinson and safety Bacarri Rambo seems to indicate the Bulldogs' defense is prepared for the physical challenge that the defending BCS champion Crimson Tide will present.
"It's a physical game out there," Ogletree said. "That's what we pride ourself on is being physical and playing with effort. Coach told us when we get to the ball, we need to wrap up, so when that happens, [a tackle like the one against Godhigh] just happens."
The play itself is fairly nondescript over the course of a full game. But Ogletree's tackle -- and many of the other 14 stops that he had a hand in -- set the tone for the Bulldogs' best performance against a Paul Johnson-led Tech offense.
After Rambo snatched the ball from Godhigh at the goal line to halt Tech's opening drive, the Yellow Jackets failed to reach the end zone until midway through the fourth quarter once all of Georgia's starters except Robinson were watching from the sideline.
Projected as likely NFL first-round draft picks should they leave after the season, Jones and Ogletree might have joined Georgia's seniors in playing their final home games on Saturday. They have greater concerns than the draft right now, however, as Ogletree pointed out after the game.
"I know the seniors wanted to go off in the right way and I think it was pretty much a candle on the cake or something like that. It's exciting for the seniors and I'm happy for them," Ogletree said before addressing his own future. "I'm not even thinking about that right now. We've still got another game to play next weekend and that's our main focus."
It was indeed a candle on the cake for a senior like Robinson, who earned his first two starts of the season in the past two weeks because of his ability to read the option offenses the Bulldogs would face against Georgia Southern and Georgia Tech.
He was still in the lineup on Georgia's final defensive play Saturday, and he cocked his helmet atop his head and lingered on the field for just a moment as he looked into the stands once the defense held on fourth down with 1:09 to play.
"I realized that I wasn't going back out there again. I kind of stopped and didn't want to come off," Robinson said. "We practice so hard just to be able to get out there and I've had ups and downs personally, playing and not playing and I cherish every moment out there and I'll never be on that field again as a player. I wish I could go back and do it again."
Robinson and the other seniors endured two disappointing seasons as underclassmen. Now they are part of back-to-back division championships, with a chance to play for a national title within their grasp. And all of that flooded into the senior linebacker's consciousness as he left the playing field for the final time.
"Everything we've dreamed of," he said, "has come down to this one game."
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