Far from perfect, but UGA’s sitting pretty

semerson@macon.comOctober 17, 2011 

ATHENS -- As ugly and nearly disastrous as Georgia’s game at Vanderbilt was Saturday night, on Sunday the following was the case for the Bulldogs:

They are ranked again.

They could be regarded as the favorites for the SEC East after the news that South Carolina has lost star tailback Marcus Lattimore for the season.

And the Bulldogs have a week off to heal their own injuries, which are fairly minor in scope.

Of course with a week off, that could leave the team extra time to hear the inevitable talk about its next game: against Florida in Jacksonville, and the outcome could determine the fate of Georgia’s season.

Head coach Mark Richt laughed Sunday when that was pointed out.

“You’ve got two weeks where everyone’s going to analyze this, that and the other,” Richt said. “But the open week is going to happen at a good time for all of us. We need it.”

That did seem true after Saturday’s scene in Nashville -- a closer-than-expected game ended with Georgia with a 33-28 win over Vanderbilt, whose head coach James Franklin got in a verbal tussle with Bulldogs defensive coordinator Todd Grantham.

Richt said he got a chance to review the tape of the postgame incident and said he also had a chance to speak to “everyone involved” after the game.

“I just think tempers were hot; it was a very heated ballgame, a very close ballgame, a very emotional ballgame for everybody,” Richt said. “I’m sure words were spoken and all that kind of stuff.

“But when you look at the big picture it certainly wasn’t a pretty scene, but it could have been a lot worse. … Coaches and players did a good job of trying to keep peace.”

Richt also said he had not heard from the SEC and hoped not to, about other in-game incidents, such as when nose tackle Kwame Geathers appeared to throw a punch.

Georgia (5-2 overall, 4-1 SEC) will have a chance to eliminate Florida from the SEC East race, but history is against the Bulldogs. They have only defeated the arch-rival Gators three times since 1990, most recently in 2007. But momentum and injuries favor them. Florida has stumbled and doesn’t know if first-team quarterback John Brantley will be healed enough from a leg injury to play in the game.

But the main hurdle remains South Carolina, which has the head-to-head tiebreaker because of its win Sept. 10 in Athens.

The news that Lattimore is out is big. The Gamecocks still have to play at struggling Tennessee, at No. 10 Arkansas and at home against Florida. Georgia’s remaining schedule is Florida, then home games against No. 19 Auburn and woeful Kentucky.

“We’ve absolutely gotta keep winning. I know that,” Richt said. “And somebody’s gotta beat South Carolina. No one’s been able to do that yet. … It’s hard to lose a player such as a quarterback or one like a Lattimore, one of the finest players in America. It’s going to affect your team. But that doesn’t mean you still can’t win.”

In the meantime, the AP poll has Georgia tied for 24th with Arizona State, another two-loss team. It is Georgia’s first appearance in the poll since its 0-2 start.

But the division race is Georgia’s sole focus at this point.

“All we’re trying to do is keep pace,” Richt said. “All we’re trying to do is win and stay in position so if someone can beat South Carolina.”

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