By RYAN BLACK
Special to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
ATHENS — Just because Georgia was off last week didn’t mean its players stayed away from football.
Starting right guard Chris Burnette attended the Florida State-Boston College game in Tallahassee, Fla., with his fiance. Tight end Arthur Lynch woke up and watched some of ESPN’s College GameDay broadcast before he took in a local Pop Warner football game. But both Burnette and Lynch were in the same place Saturday night: glued to the television, watching South Carolina face LSU. With the Tigers beating the Gamecocks 23-21, the Bulldogs’ chance to win the Southeastern Conference’s Eastern Division is a possibility once again.
And Burnette couldn’t be more pleased.
“We definitely feel like our goal is still intact,” he said following Monday’s practice. “We can still keep pushing, and as long as we take care of every game, we can be back in the race. It’s great to see the opportunity arise.”
Lynch didn’t watch the game just to see if the Gamecocks would lose, however. He tuned in because he has stayed in touch with former Bulldogs quarterback Zach Mettenberger, who now starts for the Tigers.
Though he was happy Georgia’s hopes of returning to the SEC Championship aren’t dead, he had no problem putting things into perspective.
“It’s a relief, but it doesn’t substitute for the fact that we didn’t play the game we wanted to play against South Carolina,” Lynch said. “They beat us straight-up, and there’s still work we need to do, and that’s why we’ve been focusing on Kentucky.”
Burnette didn’t dispute that there was more energy during Monday’s practice.
“Seeing that we still have a chance, seeing an opportunity to accomplish our goals, it really keeps you amped up,” Burnette said. “You realize you can’t always focus on what happened in the past. You have to push forward and try to see what we can do in the future.”
Malcolm Mitchell doesn’t like looking into the future. That’s why the sophomore cornerback/receiver doesn’t like playing the “what-if?” game.
If the Bulldogs don’t win the rest of their games, he said, the Gamecocks’ loss means nothing.
“We really just need to be focused on winning every game, honestly,” he said. “If we don’t win every game, it doesn’t matter what happens.”
Phillips more worried about sacks than job security
Joker Phillips cherishes his friendship with Mitch Barnhart. Whatever kinship Kentucky’s coach and its athletic director may share didn’t help Phillips avoid questions about his job security Monday, though.
“We talk a couple times a week. It’s just small talk,” Phillips said during his weekly media conference. “It’s nothing — you know, he’s been very encouraging and nothing what you want to get at.”
When asked whether any of their talks involved his future as coach, Phillips deflected the query. His one-sentence response focused solely on the Wildcats’ next opponent.
“I’m busy trying to get these guys improved and get them prepared to play Georgia,” he said.
Given his team’s 1-6 overall record and 0-4 mark in Southeastern Conference play, Phillips was also forced to defend his team’s resolve. Following last Saturday’s lightning-shortened 49-7 loss to Arkansas, some questioned whether the team quit. Phillips disputed the assertion then, and his stance remained the same Monday.
“Sometimes in a game like that, it might look like [to] the common folk that they are not giving effort, but if you watched the two long touchdown passes, Cody Quinn is straining, busting his tail from the back side,” Phillips said. “I think our guys are giving us great effort. We have to do a better job of executing.”
To Phillips, no part of his team needs to step up more than the defensive line. Though the Wildcats’ defense has tallied 15 sacks this season, which ranks eighth in the SEC, Phillips isn’t satisfied. He wants his players in Aaron Murray’s face early and often Saturday to help the Wildcats’ injury-ravaged and youthful secondary.
“You’ve got to get more pressure on the quarterback. You can’t let him get comfortable back there,” Phillips said. “That’s what happened Saturday. We didn’t get enough pressure on [Razorbacks quarterback Tyler Wilson] and the guy takes advantage of a young secondary. There were some holes, obviously. When you play some young guys, sometimes they’re out of position.”
And if the front four can’t create enough of a push to get to Murray, there are always fall back options.
“You either blitz, and if you can’t get with him with the blitz, you must drop eight [into coverage],” Phillips said.
Five players did not take part in practice, most notably outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, who sat out with an ankle sprain. Two other Bulldog defenders sat out after having surgery: inside linebacker Brandon Burrows (fractured left hand; had surgery last Thursday) and defensive end Sterling Bailey (thumb sprain; had surgery Monday). Wide receiver Michael Bennett (torn right anterior cruciate ligament) and tight end Cole Trolinger (concussion) rounded out Monday’s injured list.