Georgia enters the new week no longer unbeaten. It’s a new reality the Bulldogs must deal with after winning the first nine games of the 2017 season.
In the post-game interview area, the dejection was apparent on each of the players. Running back Nick Chubb summed up the feelings for everyone after Saturday’s 40-17 loss to Auburn, especially considering this was the best start for a Georgia program since 1982.
“It’s just hard, coming in here 9-0 and undefeated and it’s taken away from you,” Chubb said.
Not all is lost, however, and not even by a close margin.
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Georgia is now 9-1 with three games remaining on its schedule. Up Saturday is Kentucky, a team coming off a 44-21 win over Vanderbilt. The following week, Georgia will take on Georgia Tech before facing either Alabama or Auburn in the SEC Championship Dec. 2.
If Georgia wins its next three games, it will — barring the unforeseen — be in the College Football Playoff. So while the Bulldogs felt the sting from a 23-point loss to Auburn Saturday evening, everything it set out to do before the season started is still on the table.
Head coach Kirby Smart’s message to the team after the game was to make sure it bounced back from the Auburn loss appropriately.
“This team will be defined by how they respond, not by what they did (Saturday),” Smart said. “They’ll be defined by how they respond. We got a lot of leaders in that room and we get to go play a really good Kentucky team this week. Our whole deal is how are you going to respond to some adversity? Things didn’t go your way, you got your butt kicked. How are you going to respond? It happens all across college football. You’ve got to respond the right way.”
Being 9-1 and still in the top 10 — at least in the AP and coaches polls — is still a great position for Georgia to be in. If the Bulldogs win the next two games before the SEC Championship, it will jump either Alabama or Auburn based on their meeting in the Iron Bowl.
Miami and Clemson, both ranked ahead of Georgia, are scheduled to play in the ACC Championship. And it goes without saying that a one-loss Georgia team, which was ranked No. 1 for two weeks of the year, that wins the SEC Championship is likely a lock for the four-team playoff.
“It’s just how we’re going to get better,” inside linebacker Roquan Smith said. “We didn’t play our brand of football (against Auburn). We plan to get in the lab and actually go from there, get better.
“We can’t hang our head or anything like that. We just have to keep our head down and keep going.”
With a playoff berth still up for grabs, receiver Mecole Hardman said the Bulldogs need to learn from the loss and prevent the same sort of mistakes and mental errors from happening again.
“It’s definitely a lesson for us,” Hardman said. “This loss teaches us a lot about our team, what we need to do and improve on, get more disciplined and things like that, and get better as the days go on.”
Jason Butt: @JasonHButt