The Sugar Bowl, held annually around New Year's Day in New Orleans, will host the national championship game this season, and despite the Bulldogs 17-10 loss to LSU, Coach Mark Richt isn’t counting his team out of it. “There’s always the chance of a team with one loss having a shot at the Sugar Bowl,” he told reporters Sunday.
That was his general message to the team, too, he said. Richt said he saw “an awful lot of hurt feelings” when he entered the team’s locker room Saturday night and immediately went to work on that.
“We tried to paint the big picture for them,” he said. “I think everybody realized all is not lost and there’s an awful lot left to play for.”
The Bulldogs (3-1, 1-1 SEC) still control their destiny and can make a return trip to the SEC Championship by winning the remainder of their league games.
“There’s an awful lot of work to do,” Richt said. “We’re in no different position really than anybody else.”
Georgia, which fell from No. 7 to No. 12 in the USA TODAY coaches’ poll Sunday, will start trying to accomplish that daunting task on Oct. 4 against Alabama. This Saturday is one of the team’s two open dates on the schedule.
“I don’t think it’s good to have an open date after a loss necessarily, it’s just more time to feel bad, but it’s good for us now because it gives us time to heal,” Richt said.
Quarterback David Greene, who hyperextended his right knee against the Tigers, is expected to be back in time for the Alabama game, as is All-America defensive end David Pollack, who suffered a bruised kneecap.
Greene’s knee is “structurally fine,” Richt said. Also, tight end Ben Watson, running back Tony Milton, safety Greg Blue and wide receiver Mario Raley could return.
“There’re an awful lot of guys who have a chance to be back by the time we play Alabama,” Richt said.
After the Alabama game, Georgia will face SEC East foes Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Florida in a four-game span that will go a long way toward determining how their season ends.
“We’ve just got all kinds of fun coming down the road,” Richt said.
THE GOOD: Running back Tyson Browning made an immediate impact Saturday after sitting out the first three games due to a team-imposed suspension. The 160-pound sophomore rushed for 20 yards on three carries and caught two passes for 104 yards, including a 93-yard reception that tied the score at 10-10 late in the fourth quarter. Along with being one of Georgia’s two fastest backs, Browning has excelled catching the ball out of the backfield, a skill that Coach Mark Richt covets. Richt was pleased with Browning’s playmaking but continues to be concerned about his backs’ ability to pass protect. Without starter Tony Milton (leg), Georgia doesn’t have a tailback who has proven himself as a blocker. “We challenged them this week as much as you can challenge a group and after watching the tape, I don’t see much improvement. The bottom line is whoever proves they’re going to block a linebacker is who’s going to play.”
THE BAD: The offense continued to pile up yards but didn’t put points on the board to match this time. Georgia had 411 yards of total offense but scored its only touchdown on a 93-yard screen pass. The reasons for the continued struggles, particularly in the red zone, varied Saturday, Richt said. However, dropped passes had to be near the top of the list, he said, adding their were a minimum of five against LSU. “Our receivers really have caught the ball well all year,” he said, “but we struggled in the big game when it mattered the most.”
THE UGLY: Kicker Billy Bennett’s day. Bennett missed three field goals in the first half, and the Bulldogs lost by seven. Nobody had to do the math for Bennett after the game. “I started laughing after a while, thinking, ‘Can it get any worse?’,” Bennett said. His first miss came after he had made a 43-yard attempt but offsetting penalties forced another kick. Richt said he didn’t think Bennett had the right attitude on his re-kick, and Bennett agreed. “I feel like great kickers come out and make the kick, make two right in a row,” he said. Richt said Sunday, “He’ll bounce back.”
THE INJURIES: Quarterback David Greene (knee), defensive end David Pollack (knee), tight end Ben Watson (ankle), wide receiver Mario Raley (foot), defensive end Marcus Jackson (thumb), safety Greg Blue (knee) and linebacker Tony Taylor (knee) are all expected back by the Alabama game. Safety Kentrell Curry saw his first action of the season Saturday after missing the first three games due to a stress fracture in his leg.
He is expected to be able to play more against Alabama.
NOTABLE: In Baton Rouge, leading up to the game, some Tiger fans were upset that Richt said there was only one Death Valley in college football and it was in Clemson, S.C. LSU, like Clemson’s Tigers, refer to their home field as Death Valley. The only problem is Richt never said that. “I don’t know where that came from, I never said that,” he said. He heard it, though, just before the game while watching ESPN’s College GameDay, where analyst Lee Corso mentioned it, Richt said.
QUOTABLE: “I know I’m not supposed to cry over certain things, but I think some of our players were moved out of their lanes maybe not the way it ought to have been done, but the refs didn’t see it that way.” -- Richt on LSU’s 48-yard kickoff return to set up their game-winning drive.
UP NEXT: Georgia won’t practice today because they don’t play on Saturday. The Bulldogs will have team meetings today and then will return to the practice field Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. After taking the weekend off, they will reconvene Sunday night to begin preparation for Alabama, which comes to Athens on Oct. 4.