AUBURN, Ala. – Georgia’s football team heartily celebrated its SEC East-clinching victory over Auburn late Saturday night, first by rushing to a corner of the end zone to share the moment with a large contingent of joyous UGA fans and then by “going crazy” — quarterback Aaron Murray’s description — in the locker room.
“It’s huge to win the East in back-to-back years,” Murray said. “It’s not an easy thing to do.”
Even so, Georgia players and coaches said their celebration was accompanied, if not subdued, by thoughts of larger goals still within reach: winning the SEC Championship game in Atlanta and, if a lot of things fall their way, playing in the BCS title game in Miami.
“We had fun celebrating the victory, winning the East,” UGA coach Mark Richt said. “But I think there is a little different feeling in everybody’s spirit that Atlanta is not the end of the road, we hope.”
Winning the East “is not as satisfying this time because I feel like last year our destiny was to get to the SEC Championship game. This time, it’s to win it,” Georgia wide receiver Tavarres King said. “We don’t want to just be there. We want to win the whole thing.”
Said safety Bacarri Rambo: “This is just a ticket to the Dome. Now we’ve got to go there and handle business.”
The 38-0 win over Auburn completed Georgia’s SEC schedule with a 7-1 league record, matching Florida for the best mark in the East and earning the division’s berth in the Georgia Dome on Dec. 1 because of a victory over the Gators. Georgia won’t know its opponent for sure until Nov. 24, when previously No. 1-ranked Alabama, which lost to Texas A&M on Saturday, can clinch the SEC West by beating Auburn (2-8, 0-7 SEC).
Georgia annihilated Auburn, which is having its worst season in 60 years just two years after winning the national championship. The Bulldogs scored touchdowns the first four times they had the ball and shut out the Tigers for the first time since 1976.
The win was Georgia’s 19th in its past 22 games, including 19-1 in regular-season games — a run that began after an 0-2 start last season followed a 6-7 record in 2010.
“It’s crazy how far we’ve come as a team over the course of these last three years,” King said.
Beating Auburn to clinch the East put the Bulldogs back where they were at this point a year ago, but they hope the scripts will diverge in the Dome. Last year, Georgia lost to LSU 42-10 in the SEC title game.
That outcome fed into the Bulldogs’ reaction to repeating as division champion. Yes, it’s nice, they said. But not enough, they added.
“We are excited about it, and I don’t want to belittle in any way, shape or form winning the East, because it’s a big deal,” Richt said. “There are six other teams that would love to have done it. I just think we really feel like since we were there last year and didn’t do very well — we played well for a half and didn’t do much the second half — that we want to play better, have a better performance.”
Said linebacker Jarvis Jones:”We’re going to keep working until we get to Atlanta, and hopefully we can play some big-time ball.”
The back-to-back berths in the SEC title game certainly would have seemed unlikely to most observers amid the Richt-on-the-hot-seat chatter of 2010 and early last season.
“There’s going to be some hard days, and you’ve got to be tough enough to battle through it,” Richt said. “We have done a good job of weathering a little bit of a storm. A couple of years ago, and even at the beginning of last season, there were a lot of doubters. And we just kept it together.”
Georgia has two regular-season non-conference opponents remaining — Georgia Southern and Georgia Tech, both in Athens. Then the SEC title game and who-knows-what beyond that.
“These next two weeks can put us in position to meet more goals than what we’ve got already,” UGA defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. “What we’ve got to do is continue to work and develop and improve and let the chips fall as we move forward.”
– Tim Tucker, AJC
MORE GEORGIA COVERAGE