For the first time in 13 years, the Bulldogs sport a .500 record six games into the year. Questions about the coaching staff have been the hottest topic of debate following a blowout loss to Tennessee. The future seems bleak.
It was a similar story in 2007 when Georgia arrived in Nashville, Tenn. following a devastating loss to the Volunteers with little hope for a turnaround. The result was a lackadaisical effort through three quarters, capped by a late rally and a last-second field goal to secure a win. It was a turning point.
Georgia followed the game with a bye week, a dominant win over Florida two weeks later and an undefeated run through the remainder of its schedule en route to a Sugar Bowl victory and a No. 2 ranking at season’s end.
No one is predicting a repeat performance this season as the battered Bulldogs get set for another showdown with Vandy, but regardless of what follows, Georgia’s players know their season could still be defined by what happens today.
“It’s crucial to get things back on track, not just for the win, but just mentally,” linebacker Rennie Curran said. “Everybody is just exhausted. This season has been a huge emotional rollercoaster, having good week, bad week, guys not playing on the same page. But we’ve got to go into this week using those bad experiences to turn it into something positive for this team that can get us back on track and build some momentum for the rest of the season.”
If Georgia were to lose to the Commodores today, it would enter its annual showdown against rival Florida on Oct. 31 having not earned a victory in more than a month.
If the Bulldogs can muster a victory – and more importantly, an emphatic win – they might finally begin parting the dark clouds that have hung over the program for much of this season.
With Vandy 0-3 in SEC play and fresh off a loss to Army, Georgia won’t face its toughest test of the year, but there’s little doubt this week could be a watershed moment for a team still struggling to find its identity.
“The only reason we want to win this week is because that’s our only goal,” quarterback Joe Cox said. “We do want to go into the bye week with a win, not because we’re thinking about Florida, but because we don’t want to sit around for a whole week with a loss on your mind and three in a row. We know Vanderbilt is a good team, and we need this win more than anything right now.”
The task won’t be a simple one, despite Vandy’s less-than-stellar record.
Georgia’s offense is at rock bottom, mustering just three points in last week’s loss. Vandy’s defense, meanwhile, has made a habit of stifling teams long before they reach the end zone.
“You’d like to say we are going to line up and methodically move it down the field, but I haven’t seen anybody do it yet,” head coach Mark Richt said. “Guys are going to have to make plays, guys are going to have to get in situations and do something to kind of break the dam.”
Georgia is rattled, no doubt. And Vanderbilt will surely look to take advantage. But there is more left to play for, Cox said, and that’s the perspective the team is trying to take this week.
The big picture isn’t as clear as it was three weeks ago, but Georgia’s leaders have struggled to ensure the team stays focused on the task at hand. That point was emphasized during a players-only meeting held this week in which the team’s veterans spoke about keeping composure, keeping focus and keeping confidence.
“Once you lose your confidence, that can start a whole new world of troubles,” Cox said. “I still have confidence in myself, and as long as the coaches and my teammates have confidence in me, I feel fine. We’ve just got to find a way to rebound and win this week. That’s all we’re trying to worry about is beating Vanderbilt.”
For years, Florida has enjoyed an off week prior to its date with Georgia, and the Gators have dominated the series.
This year, Georgia has the off-week advantage, but it won’t mean much if the Bulldogs are forced to spend the week away thinking about yet another loss, Curran said.
This week has been difficult, with criticism coming from all corners. That makes the date with Vanderbilt a tougher test than normal, but also far more important.
“There’s a lot more pressure put on everybody,” Curran said. “The players feel it. The coaches feel it. It’s not as relaxed. So we want to go out and get a win, and at the same time remember what we’re here for and go out and have fun playing this game that we love.”
Prior to the blowout loss to Tennessee, Georgia had played five straight games that weren’t decided until well into the final quarter. Last week, receiver Michael Moore said, was the exception.
“We’re fighters, and we’ve shown that this season,” Moore said. “Hopefully if we keep doing that, we’ll get the ball rolling.”
It’s not just a hope this week. It’s a necessity.
Richt has steered his team away from oblivion with the promise of brighter days ahead. Those days need to begin this week, however, or the mountain of controversy may soon become too vast to overcome.
“No one is happy. No one is excited about what happened by any means, but these guys are resilient,” Richt said. “They are pretty tough guys, and it’s never easy to get it going again after a tough loss like that, especially one where you end up losing control of your destiny in the league. Those things are not easy to deal with, but they lifted hard, they ran hard. I think they’ll be able to focus on what’s important and start moving this thing in the right direction again.”