Bulldogs come full circle in title game

semerson@macon.comDecember 3, 2011 

ATLANTA -- It had been Georgia’s goal all season to return to the scene of its worst loss. The Bulldogs did so Friday, walking through the tunnel at the Georgia Dome and wandering around the field. There was no practice. Some players took pictures. Twin brothers Alec and Zander Ogletree sat alone on a bench. Head coach Mark Richt hung out with John Jenkins and other defensive linemen.

Perhaps it was a cleansing experience for the Bulldogs, who left this field Sept. 3 after being defeated soundly by Boise State in a game they had pointed to all offseason.

Against a backdrop of negative noise from fans, Georgia’s coaches and players maintained they could still get back to the Georgia Dome for the SEC championship. Four months to the day, Georgia will indeed face off against LSU for the conference title.

“We have a chance to play in the biggest game of my career I’ve ever played in,” linebacker Christian Robinson said earlier in the week. “And everybody that’s here right now. So it’s our national championship.”

No. 12 Georgia (10-2) enters riding a 10-game winning streak, but it is a double-digit underdog to No. 1 LSU (12-0). The Tigers have had one of the best regular seasons in recent college football history and have everything going for them.

What the Bulldogs hope they have going for them is not being in awe of their surroundings. Being close to home didn’t help against Boise State. But the experience of going through it four months ago could help.

“We might have put too much stock into one game,” guard Chris Burnette said of the loss to Boise State. “I said earlier that it’s just another football game, and it really is. When you start over-analyzing it a lot of times, that’s when you get really nervous and make a lot of mistakes you wouldn’t normally make. So we’re just trying to be calm and realize, ‘Hey this may be the best team in the country, but if we play our game that we should be fine.’ ”

To that point, players and coaches said they were trying to approach this week like they had the previous 10. The week-to-week approach, and not emphasizing rivalries, had worked to this point.

“When you think about it, you realize that it’s a big game on a big stage,” freshman receiver Chris Conley said. “But honestly when we came in and just the way things have been going, it’s just another week for us. It’s just another week that we’re gonna work and focus on what we can control and go play another game on Saturday.”

Richt put it this way Friday during an SEC pregame news conference.

“I don’t think we’re trying to prove anything other than trying to win the next game,” he said. “It gets kind of boring to hear that answer, I know, but that’s kind of how we operated all year.”

Another thing that seemingly hasn’t changed is that there is uncertainty at tailback. Richt remained coy about the situation on Friday.

Freshman star Isaiah Crowell missed the game at Georgia Tech with an ankle injury, and after being upbeat about Crowell’s status earlier in the week, Richt switched to declining to address it Wednesday.

“I’m not telling,” Richt said again Friday. “I haven’t really talked about the tailbacks as much this game. I don’t even know why, I just got tired of talking about it.”

Pressed slightly, Richt added, “Game-day decision, how about that.”

Crowell was with the team as it went through its walk-through Friday at the Georgia Dome. The session lasted only about 15 minutes, at which time Richt shouted for everyone to return to the locker room. And with that, the 80 or so players shuffled back off the field, the one that has bookended their season so far.

“I don’t feel like we have to play a perfect game,” Burnette said. “But we have to play probably the best game that we’ve played all season.”

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