ATLANTA -- It’s kind of hard to play a game that means so much and yet know there’s a bigger game on the horizon. That’s what Georgia had to deal with Saturday.
This was the first of two straight trips to Atlanta for the Bulldogs, who will play the beasts from the Bayou this week for the SEC championship. But it wasn’t like they were playing New Mexico State on Saturday. It was the state rival.
So there was no way they could afford to look ahead. Sure, winning the conference title means everything, but so does having bragging rights in your own back yard by beating Georgia Tech.
“This was too big of a game to overlook. It’s one of the biggest games of the year for us,” Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray said. “It’s a good feeling to know you won’t have to deal with Tech fans all year now ... for another 365 days of trash talking.”
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Like last week, Georgia really didn’t have a running game Saturday. Isaiah Crowell didn’t play, and it seemed as if Carlton Thomas was still being punished. Until late in the game, Georgia had a quarterback, a cornerback and a receiver leading the team in rushing.
But that didn’t seem to bother this bunch. Yes, the Bulldogs have won 10 games in a row, but it has been a roller coaster of a season. There’s an intangible that’s hard to put your finger on. There’s no doubt they have talent, but there seems to be something else that’s making this season special.
“Unity,” linebacker Jarvis Jones said. “We’re just so tight. Even when we’re not doing football, we’re always together. We’re passionate about the game. We want to be great. Our coaches are just as passionate. We’re just having fun, making plays.”
The Georgia defense made plenty of plays against the Yellow Jackets. This was a Georgia Tech offense that had scored 36.5 points per game entering the contest -- more than any other team Georgia had played all season. But the Bulldogs’ defense shut down the Yellow Jackets.
Georgia Tech had the No. 2 rushing offense in the country, averaging 323.5 yards per game. Georgia had the second best rushing defense in the country. And the Georgia defense, as it has for 10 straight games, won. The Yellow Jackets had only 243 yards on the ground.
When some people said Georgia would bounce back after the 0-2 start and run the table, I thought they were nuts. Sure, the schedule was weak, but Georgia did not look good against Boise State and South Carolina. There was reason for skepticism.
But this was not last year’s Georgia team. The Bulldogs didn’t fold after the 0-2 start for the same reason they didn’t overlook Georgia Tech on Saturday: There is chemistry on this team.
“This team never flinched,” center Ben Jones said. “The guys on this team got stronger as the year went along. I’ve never seen a team like this. We let no distractions come in between us. We’ve had suspensions. We’ve had injuries. We didn’t let that bother us at all. We came out and took care of business one week at a time.”
Sometimes people scoff at the notion that chemistry can help a team win. Again, the personnel, the talent is better this season than the 6-7 team from last season. But teams have to have more than that to win 10 games in a row. Georgia pulled together and saved the season, and for that matter, the head coach’s job with this winning streak.
“It’s hard to beat a team,” Ben Jones said. “You can beat some individuals, but it’s hard to beat a team.”
This week will be the real test. Georgia will have a chance to prove it is better than a team that just played a weak schedule. The Bulldogs have a chance to prove they belong on the same level as the two teams that look better than anyone else in the country.
They’ve had to prove people wrong all season. We’ll see if they can do it again against LSU in Atlanta.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com.