Georgia football peaking at the right time

semerson@macon.comNovember 12, 2012 

“Whether you lose by 28 or you lose in overtime, it’s one loss. When it comes to rankings and things like that, you can take a pretty good whipping, a pretty good beating in the polls. But when it comes to SEC play, you’ve got one loss. Does that mean the season’s over for Georgia? No, we still have an opportunity to keep fighting and keep playing better and winning. And, if we’re able to do that, we have a chance to get back to Atlanta. We’re definitely not giving up on that thought.”

-- Mark Richt, Oct. 6, a day after his team’s 35-7 loss to South Carolina

At the time, those words sounded like a defeated man grasping at a faint hope. In a harsher light, they were just delusional.

Except Richt ended up being right.

During the past two seasons, Georgia football seems to be a lesson in an old saying: Things are never as bad as they seem, nor are they as good.

They didn’t turn out to be that bad after the 0-2 start last year. They didn’t turn out to be as great at 10-2, either, as Georgia couldn’t close the deal.

Things weren’t that bad after that debacle in South Carolina. But now, with the Bulldogs having clinched another SEC East title and that championship game seeming a bit more winnable, the now-hardened Georgia fans might be girding themselves for more disappointment.

Caution is good. But so is evidence, which leads to a fairly rosy conclusion: Georgia is peaking as the season nears a close, unlike last year.

It bears noting that Georgia’s division-clinching win in 2011 came in a lackluster, 19-10 win at home over Kentucky.

This time around, Georgia clinched with a 38-point road win. Never mind that Auburn is horrendous. The Bulldogs still did what they were supposed to do, a week after a 27-point rout over a Mississippi team that could be headed for a bowl.

None of this is to say Georgia should now be a favorite against Alabama on Dec. 1. (And yes, we are dispensing with any notion that it won’t be the Crimson Tide, who would have to lose to Auburn.) But based on the past few weeks -- Alabama having to come back at LSU, then losing at home to Texas A&M -- at the moment Georgia and Alabama look like teams perhaps headed in opposite directions.

In all facets, the Bulldogs look like they’re getting better.

The defense, after that self-butt kicking from Shawn Williams, has looked like it did last year. It has yielded just 19 points in the past three games and risen to 23rd nationally in total defense, compared to 49th pre-Shawn Williams rant.

The offensive line, certainly the team’s biggest concern entering and during this season, is even showing signs of improvement. Sophomore center David Andrews, the little man in the middle, was named the SEC offensive lineman of the week Monday, and Georgia is on pace to allow 26 sacks last year -- down from 33 last year.

Quarterback Aaron Murray and his receivers are still rolling, despite the season-ending injuries to Marlon Brown and Michael Bennett. They have two weeks against weaker defenses (Georgia Southern and Georgia Tech) to continue incorporating Chris Conley and Justin Scott-Wesley.

The tailbacks, well, just continue to live up to the hype. Freshman Todd Gurley (973 yards) has the third-most rushing yards ever for a Georgia freshman. Keith Marshall (625) is 13th on that list, with four games to go.

And the special teams, while still not especially good, at least avoided a boneheaded mistake at Auburn. Place-kicker Marshall Morgan even made all his extra points.

In doing all this, Georgia has a change to change the narrative of its season, from “a product of its schedule” to “the team that had one bad game.”

Arthur Lynch, the team’s talkative junior tight end, spoke about the turnaround in the postgame locker room at Auburn.

“I think that team (South Carolina) played as near-perfect as they could be, and they played their best on that day. It was a credit to them, and I think they caught us on not our best day. Not to discredit the win, because when it comes down to it they beat our butts pretty good,” Lynch said. “But it happened so long ago, and I think we’ve grown as a team every time since then. … For us, we’ve just grown every week from that day, that second week in October, and I think we’re gonna continue to go.”

But, in the next breath, Lynch seemed to acknowledge that the true test of his theory will come in Atlanta.

“Our goal wasn’t just to get there. It was to get there and win. And that’s our plan.”

Contact Seth Emerson at semerson@macon.com.

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