ATHENS — Just back from an Outback Bowl luncheon over in Athens. The local franchise on Atlanta Highway hosted the entire football team and support staff to a late lunch of Bloomin’ Onions, salad, ribs, shrimp, steak, chicken and lobster tail. It really is quite a sight to observe the likes of John Jenkins and Cordy Glenn sit down for an all-you-can-eat, meat-fest. Rumors that the event put the restaurant out of business proved unfounded.
Meanwhile, with final exams now behind them, the Bulldogs returned to practice on Thursday for their first of a dozen or so workouts before their Jan. 2 Outback Bowl date with Michigan State. It has been nearly two weeks since Georgia’s humbling 42-10 loss to No. 1 LSU in the SEC Championship Game, so it took a while for the Dogs to get back in the swing of things.
“Being out of the element for a week and a half, I kind of felt sluggish and out of it a little bit,” senior cornerback Brandon Boykin said. “I know I made a few mistakes today. But, like Coach Richt said, that’s typical when you’ve been off a little while. So we’re just trying to get back in the groove of things. We’ll definitely be a lot smoother and a lot cleaner as the week goes on.”
Coach Mark Richt actually hit the road for some in-home recruiting visits and was not in attendance for Thursday’s festivities. Otherwise, it appeared most everybody else was present, though a certain beleaguered tailback could not be spotted among the dozens of players (don’t read too much into that because it may not mean anything).
It was an informal affair so there weren’t any in-depth media opportunities. But I did catch up with a couple of players for some quick, casual interviews.
In general, the Bulldogs claimed to be fully engaged and motivated for this year’s bowl game, their 15th in a row.
“There’s a lot of incentive,” Boykin said. “We want to top the season off. We lost our bowl game last year, so that’s something to definitely be motivated about. We’re coming off a loss in our last game, so we definitely want to win again and finish our season 11-3 rather than 10-4. And we want to play well to carry over to next season. So there’s all that.”
Said junior wide receiver Tavarres King: “We’d be one of seven or eight teams to have an 11-win season here. That’s motivation enough for me, to be up there among the great teams that have come through Georgia. And [losing a bowl game] is something I personally don’t want to experience again. Looking back, that was rough. We don’t want to have to do that this year.”
The uninspired Bulldogs lost to Central Florida 10-6 in the Liberty Bowl last year. It was only the third bowl loss under Richt and first one in five years.
Georgia is expected to have its hands full with the Spartans (10-3), who like the Bulldogs lost in their conference championship game. Michigan State lost to Wisconsin 42-39 in the first Big Ten title game. Its other losses were to Notre Dame (31-13) and Nebraska (24-3).
“We’re starting to watch a lot of film now,” Boykin said. “I know they’ve got a great quarterback, an excellent offense and they have one of the best defenses in the nation as well. So they’re very similar to us in the way they finished the season and their record and everything as well. They’ve got our attention.”
Said King: “They’re a game away from playing in the BCS, so they’re a tough bunch. They play extremely hard, they’re very fundamentally sound and they’re not going to beat themselves. We we’ve got to be ready to take care of business.”
There’s a media day function on Friday and practice every day through Tuesday, so much check back for more updates.
NOTES: Freshman outside linebacker Sterling Bailey will undergo foot surgery on Friday, according to his father, Kevin Bailey. Bailey tore metatarsal ligaments in practice this past Saturday. The recovery will force Bailey to miss spring practice but, barring setbacks, he’ll be back in time for camp next summer. Bailey (6-5, 275) was redshirted this season due to shoulder surgery last spring. . . . Punter Drew Butler was on crutches and had his left foot in a walking boot for what he said was a minor ankle injury. “It’s no big deal,” he said. . . . Defensive end Derrick Lott was also on crutches for an unknown leg injury.