Ability to compete in SEC race at stake

semerson@macon.comSeptember 18, 2011 

ATHENS — Mark Richt thinks his Georgia football team is one “on the rise.” Houston Nutt feels his Mississippi players “believe in this team” and will bounce back.

The two head coaches have to speak confidently. But this much is obvious as their teams prepare to meet Saturday: Each desperately needs a win. The victor will leave with a jolt of optimism, while the loser will be in bad shape.

Here’s how bad it’s been lately for each program:

Georgia last won an SEC game Oct. 23 at Kentucky. That capped a three-game winning streak, and since then the Bulldogs are 3-5, with two of the wins coming against FCS teams.

Mississippi’s last SEC win was even longer ago, also against Kentucky. It came on Oct. 2, a 42-35 win in Oxford. Since then the Rebels are 2-8, with the wins coming against Louisiana-Lafayette and Southern Illinois.

The Rebels would seem to be in worse shape, coming off a 30-3 loss at Vanderbilt, the perennial last-place team in the SEC East.

“I know a lot of (our players) are down,” Nutt said. “They still have a tremendous amount of hope. They believe in this team. They’ll bounce back.

“What I’ve done is the past is really just hunker down with your coaches, your players. You hang on the rope together. You tie a knot on the rope together and hang on it together and believe in it that there will be some good things to happen to us. We have had some misfortune with injuries and a lot of young guys.

Nutt’s positive spin: The defense and special teams are in good shape, and they’re going to try to fix the offense by cutting down the playbook.

“I think it’s fixable,” he said. “I just hope we keep everybody healthy, the ones that we have. I still feel like good things are going to happen.”

Richt’s team is at least coming off a win, albeit over one of those FCS teams. But Georgia did demolish Coastal Carolina 59-0 and came out feeling a bit better than it had after opening the season with losses to Boise State and South Carolina.

“Just overall I think we’re a team that is on the rise,” Richt said Sunday. “We’ll see. We’re going to go play that first SEC game away from home and get a better feel for what kind of progress we’ve really made.”

Georgia is entering a stretch that could dictate its season. It plays four straight SEC games before its open date, which then leads into the all-important matchup with Florida.

The Bulldogs will need more than a few wins during those five games to maintain their top remaining preseason goal: to win the SEC East.

“There’s a sense of urgency in that if we want to stay in this Eastern Division race we’ve gotta win. That’s just the way it is,” Richt said. “It’s a mathematical equation right now. The bottom line is, we’ve gotta have the best record in the East, and if you tie you better have the tiebreaker on your side. We’ve lost control of our destiny. … Our goal is just to win our first Southeastern Conference game, period.”

Injury updates

Richt said he was hopeful that receiver Marlon Brown (ankle) and guard Kenarious Gates (leg) would be ready for the game after sitting out the Coastal Carolina game. He was also optimistic about end DeAngelo Tyson, who missed the game with a back strain.

“I don’t think those things are super-significant injuries,” Richt said.

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