ATHENS, Ga. — Step one is out of the way. Georgia’s win over Auburn last week made the Bulldogs bowl eligible, which helped alleviate a bit of the stress that might have crept in to these final two games of the regular season.
But step two remains – getting to the best bowl game possible. And for Georgia, that could mean a trip to Tampa for the Outback Bowl, which head coach Mark Richt is banking on as motivation.
“Coach said if we win this game (against Kentucky), hopefully we’ll be in Tampa. If we lose this game, we’ll be in Shreveport,” receiver Michael Moore said. “Obviously we want to go to Florida. That’d be nice.”
The possibilities are seemingly endless, however. If Georgia finishes strong by winning its final two games, it would end the year with eight wins and second place in the SEC East. That’s usually enough to earn a spot in the Outback Bowl. If they were to lose one or both, the Bulldogs could end up anywhere from Atlanta for the Chick-fil-A Bowl to Shreveport, La., Nashville, Tenn., Dallas or Memphis.
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“It seems like there is a big wad,” Richt said of the SEC standings. “You have two guys over here, one kind of over here and then there is a big wad. We’re in the middle of that wad, and I’d like to separate from that group if we could and convince the bowl people that we’ve done that. It’s going to be interesting.”
Of course, by season’s end, factors from money to fan interest can play as big a role as the standings, so the final result is still out of Georgia’s hands. The plan then is to simply worry about finishing up strong and let the chips fall where they may.
“Just going out 9-4 and having a chance to go to one of these Outback Bowls, Cotton Bowls, something on that kind of a level, that’s what we’re looking forward to now,” safety Bryan Evans said.
Grades are in
The annual NCAA graduate success rates were released Wednesday, and the results for Georgia’s football team showed marked improvement.
The report tracks four-year graduation rates, but the latest data tracks freshmen and transfers enrolling from 1999 through 2002. Georgia’s overall graduation rate increased from 70 to 75 percent from last year’s report, and the football program saw its graduation rate rise from 41 percent in 2007’s report to now.
“Certainly we are encouraged by the overall report and especially the improvement in many sports including a significant one in football,” said athletics director Damon Evans.
“But while we continue to improve, we are not where we want to be. I want to also remember the Academic Progress Rate (APR) since it is usually regarded as a more accurate indicator of what our varsity teams are doing at present rather than six or seven years back.”
Better on the block
It took Washaun Ealey five games to get on the field, but by Week 6 he was starting. The starting job didn’t last, however, as Richt moved him to a backup role as a way of teaching Ealey a lesson about the importance of pass blocking.
“I want to obviously say that he is progressing in that area, but I also want to make a strong point how important that job is,” Richt said. “Some young guys want to fancy themselves as a running specialist and the passing is not quite as important or the route-running is not quite as important, but it really is important.”
Richt said Ealey has stepped up his efforts at blocking in practice and has made strides in the blocking game. Against Auburn last week, he was in on many passing downs.
“Every time we have blitz pickup on Tuesday and Wednesday we get our scout teamers to go as hard as they can go and we make sure Washaun is getting a good bit of that action. He’s definitely getting better.”