ATHENS – Let’s put aside for a moment the acknowledged asterisk of a soft schedule, that even the head coach has been underwhelmed by some of the wins, and certainly that Steve Spurrier and Stephen Garcia have provided everybody outside of Columbia with some wonderful comic relief.
Georgia has won seven consecutive games. That’s impressive at any level.
It’s a monumental achievement for an SEC team – even in a season when the SEC East doesn’t project as SEC-like.
The first two games against Boise State and South Carolina had been projected by at least one player as “our season.” The Bulldogs lost them both. The fact those losses haven’t defined their season says something about this team.
It doesn’t mean the word “great” should be stamped on the team. Nor does it guarantee anything for the Auburn game Saturday or the final few weeks on the schedule. But when a team goes from 0-2 to 7-0, it says something about maturity and resolve. It says the players did not quit on the season or on Mark Richt.
“The truth of the matter is, when you lose the first two games it reveals whether you have a close-knit team or not,” Richt said Tuesday. “It’s rare that you have a team that’s not unified, you lose two and then all of a sudden you get unified. When you hit adversity, then you find out what you have.”
When asked if that reaction is by chance or it’s something a coach can teach, Richt responded: “You try to build a team. You try to build togetherness. You try to build trust. But like you say, you never know for sure until it hits you in the mouth.”
The Dogs got hit. They got up. That’s improvement, even if the five SEC wins have come over teams with a combined conference record of 5-24 (Richt on the opponents: “We didn’t feel there was any team on our [remaining] schedule we couldn’t beat. There wasn’t a whole lot of ‘woe-is-me.’”)
Georgia can be SEC East champions as soon as Saturday with a win over Auburn and a South Carolina loss to Florida. They suddenly have been cast as the Great Destructors. They are 12½-point favorites over Auburn.
When is the last time the Dogs were double-digit favorites for a conference game? For that matter, how strange is it that Georgia be an overwhelming favorite to beat a ranked team — albeit Auburn is only No. 24 by the Associated Press — when it has lost five consecutive and 10 of 12 to ranked teams?
But the mood clearly has lightened in Athens. When somebody referenced the turnaround in his news conference, Richt responded: “Well, you never know what tomorrow is going to bring.”
He waxed philosophic about his career and his life.
“Quite frankly, I love the game of football. I love my job. I love Georgia. But what I do is not who I am. I’ve said before that I think sometimes if we become what we do and then all of a things aren’t going just right, suddenly your world falls apart.”
He quoted scripture.
“God loves me and he’s going to take care of me. When all the games are done, and all the life is lived, I know where I’ll be for eternity. Not to say I don’t care about what happens in this world because that’s not true. Colossians 3:23 says, ‘Whatever you do, do your work heartily as unto the Lord.’ So that’s what I was doing on a daily basis.”
Most would view that as a healthy perspective. Others want him to appear more obsessed. They want smoke coming off the top of his head and sparks to fly off his words.
It doesn’t really matter which camp you’re in because it’s all about about winning. Everything else is window dressing.
Two months after that loss to South Carolina, Georgia leads the East. Richt was asked if he felt any sense of relief.
“Not really,” he said. “We’re in control of our own destiny now, so really all of this is on us.”
No, the pressure hasn’t gone away. But something is on the line this week, and things did not project that way after two games.
By Jeff Schultz