Mississippi offers Georgia a self-test

semerson@macon.comNovember 2, 2012 

ATHENS -- Georgia head coach Mark Richt smiled this week when he was asked if he felt his defense had turned a corner and was back to its old form.

“That’s a good question. You ought to write a story about that, maybe make everybody mad,” Richt said. “That would be nice.”

Nobody wrote anything bad. So the Bulldogs have to get their own motivation as they seek to avoid a letdown Saturday.

Georgia, spurred by negative comments from its own players and outside analysts, vaulted back into the SEC and BCS race with last week’s win over Florida. Now the Bulldogs return home for the first time in a month to take on Mississippi.

This game sets up as a test for Georgia, which is competing against itself as much as it is Ole Miss. The Rebels are 5-3 and capable of the upset, but the Bulldogs are still 16-point favorites at home and all things being equal should be good enough to win convincingly.

But the Bulldogs have not had a complete game most of the time this year. They had some flat performances against the likes of Florida Atlantic and Buffalo, and defensive struggles allowed Tennessee to stay in the game until the end.

There was a different energy last week against the Gators, especially on defense. The trick this week, the players acknowledged, was carrying that over.

“That’s definitely gonna be one of the things people are saying, ‘OK, you’re able to get up for this game against the No. 2 team in the nation. Can you match that intensity with a team that’s not as highly ranked and hasn’t played in tons of big games like this?’ ” senior linebacker Christian Robinson said. “And so, you just have to continue to do the things that you do well and eliminate errors.”

Senior safety Bacarri Rambo added, “Leaders have to step up and have our mindset be the way our mindset was against Florida.”

And to that end, Rambo mentioned some of that motivation.

“I feel like a lot people still don’t respect us,” he said. “So we’ve just gotta go out there and continue to get better. Like I said, that game last week is water under the bridge. We can’t keep thinking of that game.”

If Georgia does play a complete game, it bodes well going forward. It will be the favorite in its remaining games, and winning out not only means a trip back to the Georgia Dome for the SEC championship game but keeping hopes alive for a BCS berth -- or even a trip to the national championship game.

And that’s what serves as the motivation now, according to several players.

“Now that we have these big games in November, that’s when the games mean more each week,” Robinson said. “When you go on a streak, I think it’s easier to get up for those games. Especially when you add in SEC, especially when you add in (a 3:30 p.m. start time). It’s easier to get up for those games because the games mean more. This game is just as big as last week, and if you don’t win it, you don’t go to the Dome. ... It’s another big game.”

But Richt still sounded, at best, cautiously hopeful.

“I’m serious, I don’t know. I don’t know what they are going to do this week,” he said, speaking about the defense, but perhaps the team as a whole. “I hope they play like they did this past week. I hope we continue to get after it with that kind of emotion and heartbeat.”

Richt said that Tuesday. By Friday he was still wondering.

“No. 1 question all week: Can we be as passionate this game as last week,” Richt posted on his Twitter account. “Fair question.”

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