LEXINGTON, KY. — As pregame warmups commenced, Georgia wide receivers Mecole Hardman and Ahkil Crumpton were displaying their best dance moves to a montage of rap songs.
When the final buzzer sounded, it was all the same on the Georgia sideline. Although, the celebrations were more emphatic and the dance moves were increasingly free-flowing and less rhythmic.
That’s because the Bulldogs (8-1, 6-1 SEC) are headed back to their second-straight SEC Championship game on Dec. 1. Georgia’s 34-17 rout of Kentucky punched the ticket in Saturday’s winner-take-all contest for the SEC East division crown.
“It’s huge, and it has not been easy,” said Georgia head coach Kirby Smart in reference to a different dynamic this season than in 2017, whether it be the closer games or heightened amount of concern and criticism. “I think sometimes people get spoiled when you win. Give these kids credit, because our backs were against the wall two weeks in a row. They came out fighting.”
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As Smart jogged into the locker room, echoing chants could be heard through closed doors.
“WOO!,” one Georgia player chanted one-after-another, sometimes in unison.
Then, defensive end Jonathan Ledbetter hoisted a sign in the air that said “SEC EAST CHAMPS.” He wasn’t sure who the sign came from, but it was given by a Bulldog fan as players walked through the tunnel.
But the celebration was limited because Georgia has more games to play.
“It’s important to us because we know this is a stepping stone,” Ledbetter said. “But this isn’t where we put our pads up. You revel in the moment and keep working. Nobody cares that we’re the SEC East champs — except the SEC East. It’s over with … now it’s the championship.”
Georgia’s 34-point offensive output was the highest allowed by the Wildcats this season. The Bulldogs were able to pull away in the third quarter with back-to-back touchdown drives.
The play that sealed it? An 83-yard touchdown run by sophomore D’Andre Swift to put Georgia’s lead at 28-3. It was a career-long run for Swift, topping a 64-yard touchdown run in last season’s SEC Championship.
Georgia will face either top-ranked Alabama or No. 3 LSU (who the Bulldogs lost to on Oct. 13) at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Georgia has won consecutive games against top-10 teams since its loss to the Tigers.
Alabama and LSU are set to play in Baton Rouge, La. on Saturday night, and the Crimson Tide can clinch a title-game berth with a road victory.
“I mean, absolutely (I want a rematch with Alabama), but we just want to get to Atlanta,” Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm said. “Whoever shows up, shows up. We’re going to do our best.”
It marks the second time in the game’s history that Georgia has gone to consecutive conference championship games — 2002 and 2003, along with 2011 and 2012. In each instance, Georgia didn’t win back-to-back games. However, Kirby Smart has a history of success as Alabama appeared in six and won two straight (2014-15) when he was a defensive coordinator.
“You have to be thankful to be able to have the opportunity to go to Atlanta and basically control your own destiny,” Fromm said. “We’re excited about it and just ready to play next week.”
Georgia has three games remaining in the regular season — all of which are at Sanford Stadium. The first is against Auburn, a rematch of Georgia’s last SEC Championship in which the Bulldogs won 28-7.
“We know, when it comes to Auburn, they don’t like us,” Smart said. It’ll be back at home and our guys will be ready to go. It’ll be another big game.”