A soggy salute to the Georgia Bulldogs, SEC East champs

Branden Smith after a first-half interception. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

Branden Smith returns a first-half interception Saturday. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

Athens — On the dark night Georgia lost to South Carolina to slide to 0-2, the Bulldogs’ offensive coordinator went looking for spirits to lift. To his surprise, Mike Bobo found that spirits were unbowed.

“I’d tell them, ‘If we hang together and keep working, we’ve got a chance to be very good,’” Bobo said Saturday. “And every one of them said, ‘Coach, we’ve got a chance to be great.’”

As he spoke, Bobo sat in a chair in a locker room, the floor of which had been covered in plastic and doused with water. A nondescript game had ended with the Georgia Bulldogs champions of the SEC East for the first time since the distant year 2005.

“We grabbed water bottles and threw them around the room,” said wide receiver Marlon Brown, scorer of Georgia’s only touchdown this day, and even the 51-year-old head coach got in the soggy swing of things. Seeking to slide across the wet surface, Mark Richt made it only halfway.

“I thought it was going to be fun,” Richt said of his maneuver. “I can’t say it was fun.”

For Richt, the day’s overriding emotion seemed more relief than exultation. He arrived from Florida State in 2001, won the SEC in 2002 and took his Bulldogs to the SEC championship game three times in four years. Then, having set the bar high, Richt went five years without a return to the title game, and when this season began there was no assurance this coach would have this job come 2012. And then the 2011 Bulldogs started 0-2.

“When we lost to South Carolina [the second of the two losses], a lot of things go through your mind as a coach,” Richt said. “Sometimes you’ve got to make something up — you don’t want to lose your team. But [that night] I could stand there with a straight face; it was very easy to believe in them. And I said, ‘If we don’t spit the bit … if we keep grinding, we can do it.’ ”

On Saturday, his Bulldogs finished this latest drill. Yes, they were aided by a schedule that eased after the back-to-back whammy of Boise State and South Carolina, but it isn’t as if Georgia backed into anything. It has won nine consecutive games, beating Tennessee and Florida and Auburn en route, and it finished 7-1 in SEC play. (Let’s note that South Carolina took the East with a 5-3 record last season.)

Richt: “It’s hard to win nine in a row. We’ve done something special.”

The details of a forgettable Victory No. 9 — Georgia trailed Kentucky, which had lost by 30 points to Vanderbilt last week, after 29 minutes and led only 12-10 after three quarters — will soon be forgotten. The ramifications will linger long. Said cornerback Brandon Boykin: “I’ll definitely remember this game for clinching a championship on Senior Day. Everyone had so much riding on this game.”

Richt again: “I told the players this [East title] was the most meaningful to me. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it felt like it today.”

Here he laughed, but there was no comedic content in the job Richt and his staff did to keep this team buoyant after a start that might have sunk another bunch. “It wasn’t just 0-2,” Richt said, “but 0-2 coming off 6-7 [of last season] and with everything swirling around. We did a really good job handling all the noise.”

Said linebacker Jarvis Jones, the sudden star of a ravenous defense that held Kentucky to 13 yards and one first down after halftime: “It’s not how you drive; it’s how you arrive. We kept fighting, and look at us now.”

Said cornerback Branden Smith: “All [the 0-2 start] did was bring us together as one family.”

Said Brown: “We kept grinding.”

Even after 11 games and nine victories, it’s hard to know just how good Georgia is. The Auburn victory was the only time the Bulldogs thrashed an SEC opponent, and for long stretches Saturday they flailed against the worst Kentucky team of the new millennium. But they won. Since the night of Sept. 10, they’ve done nothing except win.

Said Richt: “I don’t know if we’re a great team, but we’re SEC East champs.”

In the grand scheme, that’s all that matters. Georgia headed back to the big game in the big city, back where it once belonged. Full credit to this team and this coach for taking it there.

By Mark Bradley

710 comments Add your comment

SouthJaxBeach Bulldawg Fan

November 19th, 2011
6:12 pm

Among the first, ugly but we’ll take it

hj

November 19th, 2011
6:12 pm

teewest

November 19th, 2011
6:13 pm

Well said Markus! Well said indeed! am I first???

laugh

November 19th, 2011
6:13 pm

two if not three losses over next three games. o is horrible and bobo still sucks

todd grantham

November 19th, 2011
6:14 pm

Mark, do you think Aaron Murray threw a water bottle more accurately than he did any pass today?

SouthJaxBeach Bulldawg Fan

November 19th, 2011
6:14 pm

Mark, the thing that bothers me the most is that we never really know what Bulldog team is going to show up from week to week

Joe

November 19th, 2011
6:15 pm

First. What’s up with Carlton thomas?

teewest

November 19th, 2011
6:15 pm

Dagnabit just missed Markus!!!

Haters be gone!

November 19th, 2011
6:15 pm

On a weekend when it seemed that many favored teams came out flat, UGA found a way to rally and put the game away to clinch a spot in the SEC Championship game. That is what truly great teams do. Check out Okie State and Clemson. Id take 12 of these type of wins, just win baby! Im so proud to be a Bulldog!!!

todd grantham

November 19th, 2011
6:15 pm

today was a struggle, just like the 1976 game in Athens against Tech when Allen Leavett won it with a late, late field goal.

Poopdawg

November 19th, 2011
6:16 pm

Congrats, now go get Tech.

Mark Bradley

November 19th, 2011
6:16 pm

Carlton Thomas WAS apparently suspended for a violation of team rules, Joe. Richt announced as much after the game.

birddawg92

November 19th, 2011
6:16 pm

After being a very vocal critic for the last 5 years (at least), I feel confident in saying the Junkyard Dawgs are back. I just hope we can find somebody to run the ball next week. It would be a big downer after this accomplishment today to lose to the NATS next week. Get you head right, Thomas! Crowell, suck it up!

Congrats Dawgs! GATA.

Lowcountry Bulldawg

November 19th, 2011
6:16 pm

Crap, started listening to Red Solo cup and missed the chance to be first?

Paul in NH

November 19th, 2011
6:17 pm

Congrats to UGA – a win is a win and a division title is a division title

Dawgdad (The Original)

November 19th, 2011
6:17 pm

Roll on Dawgs, beat GT and LSU!

Lowcountry Bulldawg

November 19th, 2011
6:17 pm

Man I had this up with no comments! I blame Toby Keith!

slydog

November 19th, 2011
6:17 pm

Congrads, Dawgs. No matter what the naysayers have to say. They wish they were in your shoes right now…. And whining about the schedule can begin…1,2,3,4….

browndog

November 19th, 2011
6:17 pm

Nothing at all wrong with winning ugly! Congrats to the team and the coaches.

Mark Bradley

November 19th, 2011
6:17 pm

Kudos to SouthJax. And I understand the concern about the inconsistency, but after 11 games we pretty much have to say the only consistency in Georgia will be found on defense.

Joe

November 19th, 2011
6:18 pm

Gotta have Thomas back. Crowell is made of glass.

Matthew

November 19th, 2011
6:18 pm

Mark, great column as always. If Crowell is healthy on Dec. 3, which is a huge ‘if’, can the Dawgs win the SEC over LSU or Bama? What are your thoughts on who would be a better match-up? Thanks

todd grantham

November 19th, 2011
6:18 pm

Timing, work and luck. Timing : been a while since Georgia’s been to the title game; Work: obviously, the team and coaches worked very hard to overcome 0-2: Luck: the SEC east was down this year.

richmondDawg

November 19th, 2011
6:19 pm

Richt said in the post game that Harton was suspended again….not good news….wonder if he will still be on the team with three suspensions in one season. The lack of depth at RB is troublesome, but hey, they got it done, and in the end that is what matters…

J Clay

November 19th, 2011
6:19 pm

Hope they play better next week at the joke

richmondDawg

November 19th, 2011
6:19 pm

meant Thomas, not Harton.

slydog

November 19th, 2011
6:20 pm

People seem to forget that Crowell is a freshman. Not every freshman RB is sturdy like Herschel or Adrian Peterson (even he was injury prone). Heck, most true freshman RB’s are riding the bench.

todd grantham

November 19th, 2011
6:20 pm

Crowell concerns me. He may have had a broken ankle today for all I know but he sure doesn’t seem to have any toughness or fire in his belly.

todd grantham

November 19th, 2011
6:21 pm

I wonder if Crowell can get a permit for legal marajuana usage to combat pain.

Bill Clinton

November 19th, 2011
6:22 pm

It’s great that the Bulldogs are back in the cat-bird seat But man, I hate to watch the way they play. I want the SEC East champ to dominate someone, like they did Auburn. Kentucky was just a good high school team this year and we couldn’t stomp them like Vanderbilt did. Oh. well. Go Dawgs. But next year, I want to see a polished team. A smash-mouth team. A team that starts and finishes games with authority. Is that asking too much?

slydog

November 19th, 2011
6:22 pm

I would not ask an 18 year old to tough out anything. He is playing for free, #1. #2, you have to think about the future. Anyways, if UGA signs 2 RB’s, C. Thomas might just go bye bye

todd grantham

November 19th, 2011
6:24 pm

Dogs need to sign a blue chip tailback that can stay on the field and out of jail.

slydog

November 19th, 2011
6:24 pm

todd grantham

November 19th, 2011
6:21 pm

I wonder if Crowell can get a permit for legal marajuana usage to combat pain.

Only in the PAC-12

Mark Bradley

November 19th, 2011
6:25 pm

I think Georgia can, on a given night, beat either LSU or Alabama. That’s not a prediction, though.

Barf

November 19th, 2011
6:25 pm

There will be 10 other SEC teams that wish they had won as ugly as UGA did in two weeks.
Winning today is hard just ask OSU or Clemson and hey did Alabanana look sharp against Georgia Southern? Must beat that butter colored team next week.

todd grantham

November 19th, 2011
6:25 pm

i dont think anybody’s asked Crowell to “tough out anything”. They know what the answer would be.

REAL DAWG'S N FALCONS FAN

November 19th, 2011
6:25 pm

CONGRATULATION’S TO THE 2011 GEORGIA BULLDAWG’S,TO THE COACHES EVERY ONE OF YOU HAVE DONE A GREAT JOB WITH THIS YOUNG AND TALENTED TEAM ! PRAISE AND GLORY BE TO GOD . I’M PROUD AS ALWAY’S TO BE A DAWG FAN.

Mark Bradley

November 19th, 2011
6:26 pm

And after this weekend, where Oklahoma State lost and Florida trailed Furman 22-7 and Georgia Southern scored 21 points in Tuscaloosa, I’m not sure anybody’s all that great.

todd grantham

November 19th, 2011
6:26 pm

I do too Mark. Just depends if the team that clobbered Auburn shows up or the one that struggled today.

Joe

November 19th, 2011
6:26 pm

I’ll take an ugly win over a pretty loss any day. Murray was off today, but the lack of a viable running threat probably had a lot to do with it. Harton and Malcome need to find the handle. Defense can win the next two games, but not if we keep putting it on the ground on our own end. I’d feel totally comfortable having Thomas back. He runs harder and is much more durable than #1.

todd grantham

November 19th, 2011
6:27 pm

has college football reached that “utopia” called parity?

Toe meets Leather

November 19th, 2011
6:27 pm

Bulldogs will lose on consecutive Saturdays. Once on the flats and the following week at the Dome.

TampaGator

November 19th, 2011
6:29 pm

Mark……

That given night will not be in December in Atlanta this year….maybe next year (but LSU has to get by Arkansas first…and that is certainly not a given on any given night this year).

oh brother!

November 19th, 2011
6:29 pm

everyone get off of Crowell…all people say latimore is fantastic, awesome, durabale..where is he? Just as I thought. It is tough to run in the SEC.

gabugman

November 19th, 2011
6:29 pm

Have to give props where props are due:

Congrats dawgs and the coaching staff!

TampaGator

November 19th, 2011
6:29 pm

That given night will not be this year. Maybe next.

todd grantham

November 19th, 2011
6:30 pm

Georgia’s defense has come so far this season. Actually not scared of a big play given up everytime they take the field. and actually believe they can stop an opponent on 3erd and short (or long).

oh brother!

November 19th, 2011
6:30 pm

GT is the biggest joke of a program and their signature win…ROFL…yep….those tigers are awesome. Line is currently 26 and climibing over GT.

TampaGator

November 19th, 2011
6:31 pm

Mark…

What was the final score of the Florida-Furman game?

ddawg

November 19th, 2011
6:31 pm

Clemson is losing by 30…please tell me who Tech has beaten who is better than Kentucky? Dawgs should be favored by double digits next week.