ATHENS -- The cringe in Aron White’s voice comes out when he recalls that game. The “pitiful scene” in the locker room. The taunting fans, ringing their cowbells as White and his Georgia teammates walked to the buses.
On Tuesday, those memories led White, the senior tight end at Georgia, to utter a sentence perhaps never heard outside of Mississippi.
“Gosh, man I really want to beat Mississippi State,” White said.
Yes, he was talking about the same Mississippi State program located in another division, which Georgia doesn’t play every year, and with which it has no particular rivalry.
“But after that game last year and the way that we played, we really have something to prove this week,” White said.
On Saturday, Georgia gets a chance to avenge last year’s 24-12 loss in Starkville, which arguably was the tipping point in a hugely disappointing season. This year, it could have the same effect in either direction.
A win would put Georgia above .500 and continue the team’s upward turn. But a loss, particularly at home, would reignite talk about the program’s slide -- just like last year, when Georgia was stunned in Starkville.
Afterwards, head coach Mark Richt admitted it was the most adversity he had faced at Georgia, and then-senior defensive end Demarcus Dobbs said the loss was “like death.”
That’s what it felt in the locker room, according to White.
“The locker room after the game was probably the most pitiful scene that you could think of,” White said. “Everyone was just down on ourselves. People bickering. Nobody hopefully points fingers, but you get on the bus and guys start talking. We were just in a bad place.
“That really was something that might’ve been a turning point in our season, and that’s not something that we want to have happen again. We definitely were in a rut last year, and that game really could define our season.”
Georgia never led in the game, but it outgained Mississippi State 387-314.
Two plays stuck out to players from the game: Washaun Ealey fumbling on the 1-yard line and a long touchdown pass to Kris Durham being called back for holding.
“On a holding (call) that was kind of questionable,” White recalled Tuesday.
Georgia also couldn’t convert in the red zone, settling for Blair Walsh field goals from 25 and 35 yards. It took a late touchdown pass to Tavarres King for Georgia to get its point total into double digits.
Mississippi State was on its way to a resurgent season under head coach Dan Mullen, and it finished 9-4 and ranked No. 15 in the Associated Press poll. But it has been a disappointing start this season for MSU (2-2, 0-1 SEC), which needed overtime to beat Louisiana Tech, which itself needed overtime for its only win of the season, over Central Arkansas, an FCS school.
This year, Georgia believes it is in better shape.
That critical fumble at the 1 by Ealey? He has since left the program, with freshman tailback Isaiah Crowell now leading the way.
“We had a couple of fumbles that we didn’t show early this year, and I’m very happy with that,” tight end Orson Charles said. “We have a mature running back like Isaiah who can touch the ball 30 times last year and not fumble.”
Several players also said they were stunned at how they were beaten physically by Mississippi State in that game last year.
“I know I came here to Georgia because I knew they were a physical team and we had lots of tradition. But then Mississippi State definitely showed us we were not as physical as we should have been,” linebacker Chase Vasser said. “So I feel like this year we concentrate on being physical and play every play. Because last year there were some games that we just took off and they gashed us.”
For Georgia, last year’s loss was its first in Starkville since the Truman Administration, and it was the first loss to Mississippi State since 1974, when the teams met in Jackson, Miss.
A loss Saturday would be the first at home to Mississippi State since 1956, a fact White already knew.
“To go out and lose to Mississippi State, no knock to them, but that’s not something that we’re accustomed at Georgia,” White said. “That’s not something we want to get accustomed to.”