Georgia still feeling bullish about its season

semerson@ledger-enquirer.comSeptember 3, 2013 


Tailback Todd Gurley and the Georgia Bulldogs open SEC play Saturday against South Carolina.


ATHENS, Ga. -- Aaron Murray watched the game twice on the bus ride home from Clemson. He watched it twice more on Sunday. Then once more on Monday, and one final time on Tuesday morning.

Then that was it for Georgia's senior quarterback, who vowed to move on to the chance for his football team to get instant redemption this Saturday against South Carolina.

"All of our dreams are still there," Murray said. "I mean we've yet to play an SEC game. We played a heck of a game against a top team. Like I said, our first goal of getting to Atlanta is still there."

That was the mantra around the Georgia football team this week. It's a necessary one, as over-correcting could border on panic. After all, the Bulldogs did just lose by three points on the road to a top-10 team, and did so without one of their key defensive players, and lost an offensive star on the game's fourth play.

There's also an element of fresh history. The Bulldogs have been in this position before.

"Two years ago we lost, and still went to the SEC championship," junior linebacker Amarlo Herrera said. "Last year we lost, went to the SEC championship. We've just gotta keep winning, like we always do."

But lately they haven't always beaten South Carolina. In fact, the Gamecocks enter this game on a three-game winning streak, and head coach Mark Richt pointed out Tuesday that only a redshirt senior would have memories of a win over South Carolina.

Entering the game after an opening-week loss may not engender much confidence. The 38-35 loss at Clemson exposed Georgia's offensive line as once again a big concern, and showed the young and inexperienced defense to be just that.

But again, the panic element is being readily avoided.

On offense, the self-criticism was over the penalties (nine for 84 yards). In fact Richt had some rather pointed comments on that.

"The offensive side of the ball is supposed to be the mature side of the ball for us, but most of the penalties were on offense," Richt said.

But other than the penalties, among the offensive players there was almost incredulity that anybody would be too concerned.

"If you look at it, we had 545 yards of offense, 320-and-something passing, and whatever, 200-something rushing. I mean, that's a heck of a ball game offensively," said Murray, adding that the offense averaged seven yards a play. "It really was the penalties that killed us all night long. Six drives of penalties, I mean those are wasted drives right there. We really just hurt ourselves all night. It definitely wasn't the play-calling that changed at all (with Mitchell out), it was just us not doing our own responsibility right."

The defense, meanwhile, gave up eight scores to Clemson. But that was seven new starters, three of them true freshmen, going against a high-powered offense.

The main concern that emerged for the defense was poor tackling. Richt said that would be the focus of practice this week. But otherwise, everyone actually seemed encouraged.

"I feel like we played well," sophomore linebacker Jordan Jenkins said. "We just had a few minor mistakes that comes with playing younger guys. And we didn't have an easier opener to start off like we had last year."

The outcome of Saturday's showdown will very likely dictate the course of Georgia's season: Another loss not only means an 0-2 start, but needing huge breaks to win a third straight SEC East title. South Carolina's schedule after Saturday makes that prospect difficult.

But a victory would put Georgia back on track, certainly for its division hopes, and perhaps even for its national hopes.

Senior tight end Arthur Lynch - one of the few players to have been around when Georgia last beat South Carolina - summed up the prevailing feeling around the team.

"We're in a lot better frame of mind than most people think," Lynch said.

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