ATHENS – This is new ground. Or, more accurately, new air.
Georgia had never reached this elevation before under Mark Richt — not in BCS ranking at this point of the season, not in perception of championship potential.
It didn’t feel like this even during those two SEC titles early in Richt’s tenure, when Georgia already had been cropped out of the national pictured. It wasn’t this real when a Sugar Bowl win left the Bulldogs with a postseason ranking of No. 2, after they already had been leapfrogged in the BCS and left out of the national title game.
Never before in late November under Richt could we look at Georgia and legitimately think: That team can win it all.
Now we can.
Georgia didn’t just beat Georgia Tech on Saturday. It humiliated the Jackets 42-10. The tilt on the scoreboard would have been even greater if Richt hadn’t pulled starters with more than 10 minutes left in the game.
The Dogs led 7-0 after one minute, 14-0 after six minutes, 28-3 at halftime. They made touchdown drives look like wind sprints, ranging in elapsed time from 29 seconds to 2:42. They dominated the game physically. When is the last time Georgia played with that level of urgency?
This team is playing with an edge it hasn’t for years. It has beaten its last four opponents (Ole Miss, Auburn, Georgia Southern, Tech) by scores of 37-10, 38-0, 45-14 and 42-10. That’s a composite dismembering of 162-34, give or take a limb.
Please, don’t come back with: “But look who they’re playing?”
Georgia has seldom stepped on opponents like this, certainly not in November when everybody, fans and pollsters, are watching.
With the score 42-3 Saturday, offensive coordinator Mike Bobo still could be seen and heard screaming in the coach’s box when things didn’t go well, at one point yelling into his headset, “Get your [bleep] off the field!” after the offense went three-and-out and players walked (not ran) to the sideline.
“Yeah, my dad texted me,” Bobo said later, somewhat sheepishly. “I guess he heard it on radio or TV. But you’re playing in Sanford Stadium. You should at least run off the field.”
Does this seem like the same Georgia team to you?
It was apparent after the win over Auburn: The Dogs are good enough to beat Alabama for the SEC championship. They are good enough to win its first national championship since 1980. They can pass: Aaron Murray has 14 touchdown passes, zero interceptions since the fourth quarter against Florida. They can run: Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall combined for 163 yards, four touchdowns and no carries for losses against Tech, and continue to look more like veterans than freshmen.
Most important, the defense, which had been expected to carry the Dogs all season, only to struggle early with suspensions and injuries and maybe a little bit of day-dreaming about the NFL, now is playing up to expectations.
This isn’t the same team that suffered so many hiccups in the first eight games. It’s certainly not the same team that lost at South Carolina 35-7, which prompted an egg assault on the home of some players and attacks via social media.
“At the end of the season, we might say that game helped us,” Marshall said.
“It was definitely an eye-opener,” linebacker Jarvis Jones said.
“This team is different. This team has something to it,” linebacker Christian Robinson said.
And then this: “I’m just glad my house is safe right now.”
This is the not same defense that was called out as being “soft” by senior strong safety Shawn Williams. Most agree he was on target with his comments, even if he was wrong to throw selected teammates (like Robinson) under the bus.
Richt said his team’s defensive leaders, most of whom passed up the chance to enter the NFL after last season “had a vested interest in his this season went.” He then added, “When Shawn Williams saw it slipping away, he felt he had to say something about it. He challenged everybody. He couldn’t stand what he was seeing. But I think everybody respected him for what he did. They may have not liked what he did but I think they agreed with it.”
Last year, Georgia reached the SEC championship game against No. 1 LSU. They led 10-0 after the first quarter, then gave up the next 42 points.
“We’re a different team,” Jones said. “We feel like we can beat anybody.”
They certainly look the part.
By Jeff Schultz
Post-Thanksgiving blog blowout sale