ATHENS — The best 1-4 team in the land was so excited to be 1-4 no more that it did a victory dance in the locker room. Chief among the celebrants was the head Bulldog.
“Coach [Mark] Richt was the main one,” said Demarcus Dobbs, the defensive end. “He loves to get crazy after games.”
The past four Saturdays had yielded only a crazy sorrow. Indeed, as tailback Caleb King noted, the Bulldogs reacted with such fervor to Saturday’s thrashing of woebegone Tennessee team because their dancing had been so long deferred.
“It’s a silly dance,” King said. “But we hadn’t been able to do it for a while.”
Dobbs again: “It’s a lot different when you win. When you lose, everybody’s hanging his head and people are asking what went wrong. Today everybody’s vibrant.”
Not since Sept. 4 had the Georgia Bulldogs won a game. Not since Nov. 21 had they taken a lead against an SEC opponent. And the worst part of being 1-4 (and 0-3 against conference brethren) was that these Bulldogs knew, just knew, they were way better than that.
Here’s the redshirt freshman quarterback Aaron Murray, who was as good Saturday as most redshirt seniors ever get: “We feel like we can definitely run the table these last six games.”
Got that? From 1-4 to 2-4 … clear to 8-4? (Which would mean beating Florida, Auburn and Georgia Tech.) As presumptuous as it might sound, there’s nonetheless something tangible backstopping that belief. That something is talent.
It took a lot of (mis)doing for a team this gifted to get to 1-4, and it took some effort for Richt to keep it from going totally south after the egregious losses in Starkville and Boulder. To his credit, the coach of 10 years’ standing changed some things.
The Bulldogs practiced in full pads Monday. (Richt admitted Saturday his light-contact approach to summer camp “backfired.”) The team dressed at the Butts-Mehre complex, doing the pregame Dawg Walk in full gear. Prompted by a caller to his radio show, Richt even led his Bulldogs onto the field.
And the result? Said Richt, speaking of his men: “They played beautifully.”
He also recalled what he had told his team after the full-contact Monday session: “If you guys will play like you just did, we’re going to be all right.”
Whatever has ailed Georgia — and when you’re 1-4, you’ve ailed — can be fixed. We saw Saturday the difference between a team with a bad record and good players and one with a bad record and bad players. This game was over after a quarter. Tennessee kept handing the Bulldogs the ball, and the Bulldogs kept taking it and scoring. And the best player on the field was the player Georgia hadn’t had for four games.
“We’re not going to give up,” said A.J. Green, the great receiver. “We’re all we’ve got.”
At peak capacity, Georgia has a lot. That was the message Richt sought to send with his Monday-in-pads decree, a message seconded on Friday by the former UGA linebacker Boss Bailey, who served as honorary captain for this game. Said Richt: “He felt like he needed to tell them that they weren’t playing ball the way ball should be played here at Georgia.”
On Saturday they did. They beat Tennessee by 27 points and spent the fourth quarter coasting. It would have been unseemly to embarrass Derek Dooley, the Vols’ coach and the son of Georgia’s greatest coach. (For the record, Vince Dooley watched the game from his home on Milledge Circle. His wife, Barbara, was in attendance wearing red slacks and an orange sweater, a look even the stylish Mrs. D. couldn’t quite pull off.)
By then, Richt’s team had long since proved its point: Georgia may have a bad record, but it isn’t a bad team. And now six games remain, time enough to do some damage.
Said Richt: “I never lost hope. I never lost faith. I never thought we had a significant amount of problems.”
Except for the losing. The losing was an issue. On this Saturday, as opposed to the past four, Georgia did not lose. It won and did its silly dance. It will dance some more before this season is done.