ATHENS -- It wasn’t exactly an intense return to practice Thursday for the Georgia football team. After all, it’s bowl season -- as it was reminded when practice was followed by a trip to a local Outback Steakhouse.
The restaurant chain, sponsor of the Outback Bowl, treated the players and staff members to a mid-afternoon lunch. Some players limped around, shaking the rust off after a mostly football-less two weeks. Others scarfed down steak, and many left with doggie bags.
“Any time you get a free Outback I try to make it last as long as I can,” senior cornerback Brandon Boykin said. “Maybe a little breakfast, too. I’ll save some.”
There might be an air of relief to Georgia as it prepares to take on Michigan State on Jan. 2. This has been a season of seemingly must-win games, with speculation about the job status of their head coach hanging over players.
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Now, that is settled, with Mark Richt set to receive an extension. Richt skipped the Outback luncheon to go recruit.
So it could be argued that the bowl will be Georgia’s first game without much pressure in more than a year.
“A little bit, I think so,” Boykin said. “To have a 10-win season, to go to the SEC championship for the first time in five or six years, it’s kind of relieving as a player to know that you contributed to something and did a good job. Once the season is over you can kind of relax. But still with this one game left we definitely want to finish it the way we want to.”
Boykin and other players did emphasize that the game matters, if for no other reason than to not end this season the way the Bulldogs ended the previous one.
Last year’s 10-6 loss to Central Florida in the Liberty Bowl, on a cold and rain-soaked afternoon, set the tone -- in a bad way -- for the offseason.
Georgia doesn’t want a repeat of that. Junior receiver Tavarres King answered “absolutely” when asked if the memory of the Liberty Bowl could be motivation for the upcoming bowl.
“That’s something I never personally want to experience again,” King said. “And looking back, God, it’s rough. But hopefully we won’t have to do that this year. If we take care of business day in and day out until the game, things should be fine.”
Senior punter Drew Butler has an ankle sprain, and his status is day-to-day, according to athletic trainer Ron Courson. The injury is to Butler’s non-kicking left foot.
Inside linebacker Mike Gilliard, the team’s second-leading tackler, was still in a walking boot, having injured his foot in the SEC championship game two weeks ago.
Tailbacks Isaiah Crowell and Richard Samuel, each dealing with ankle injuries, were not seen at the luncheon. It’s common for injured players to receive treatment after practice.