After months and months of facing the daggers, Georgia head football coach Mark Richt deserves a pat on the back.
Things didn’t look promising a month ago. A lackluster loss to Boise State to open the season and a loss to South Carolina made things look really dark for the Bulldogs. It was easy to be a pessimist then, and the thought of a coaching search in Athens come December was starting to look realistic.
But give Richt and his team a lot of credit. Four straight wins, including a victory Saturday at Tennessee, have put Georgia right back in the mix for a quality bowl game appearance, the SEC East title and a spot in the conference title game.
Wins over Mississippi and Mississippi State were to be expected. Losses there surely would have resulted in the coaching rumor mill being kicked up a notch or two. But Saturday’s win in Knoxville has the potential to serve as a fundamental shift in the Bulldogs’ fortunes.
In recent times, the loss of a key player to suspension -- be it a rules violation or an arrest -- tended to set the stage for a demoralizing, tone-setting loss. The A.J. Green suspension at the start of the 2010 season was a case in point. Had he been available against South Carolina, Georgia likely would have finished the season much better than 6-7.
Last week’s case, however, turned out to be different.
When linebacker Cornelius Washington was arrested on a DUI charge following the game against Mississippi State, it was easy to think that Georgia would fall back into the same vicious cycle that has hurt the team in the past. But, for once, Georgia overcame the adversity, held Tennessee’s offense in check and walked out of Neyland Stadium with a victory.
While dunking Richt at the end of the game might have been a bit much at this point, the win was without a doubt one that can define a season. And, for the moment, the win keeps Georgia tied with South Carolina for first place in the SEC East, although the Gamecocks own the head-to-head tiebreaker.
A month ago, such a simple thing as bowl eligibility was an open question for Georgia. Now, thanks to Georgia’s comeback, a bowl game is just about assured. The Bulldogs need two wins to become bowl eligible, and there are three games remaining that Georgia should win comfortably -- at Vanderbilt on Saturday, home Nov. 5 against New Mexico State and home Nov. 19 against a Kentucky team that has been troublesome in the past but is struggling in a big way this year.
Two more games on the schedule, the Oct. 29 game against Florida and the Nov. 12 home game against Auburn, now appear to be toss-ups or games leaning in Georgia’s direction. Only for the Nov. 26 game at Georgia Tech can Georgia be considered a true underdog, and that’s based on an unbeaten Georgia Tech run that has yet to include the Yellow Jackets’ toughest opponents.
Dare it be said? Might Georgia go undefeated the rest of the way? It didn’t seem possible a month ago, but it’s on the radar screen now. And with South Carolina having to visit Arkansas on Nov. 5, a spot in the SEC title game is definitely not out of the question.
Georgia’s win Saturday might not have been the prettiest ever. But, for once, the Bulldogs got the job done after facing adversity. And that’s enough to start being optimistic again.
Contact Ron Seibel at 744-4222 or email@example.com