Hard work, focus pay off for Dogs
By David Hale
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — It wasn’t so much desperation or necessity, although Georgia’s players readily admit they needed this win as badly as any in recent memory. Instead, Saturday’s 34-10 dominance of Vanderbilt was really just a reminder.
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It was a reminder of how good Georgia could be when everything clicked and the pieces fell into place.
It was a reminder that hard work and focus during the week can translate to results on Saturday.
Most important, however, it was a reminder that success can erase a lot of heartache, and a win is best celebrated together.
“We realized we could have easily thrown in the towel and started doubting each other, doubting the coaches, believing what the critics were saying,” linebacker Rennie Curran said. “But we continued to encouraged each other and remember how hard we worked and how much we love each other. That’s what makes the difference. Things weren’t going to change unless it started with us as players, and this (game) was a product of that.”
In the first five games, the outcome wasn’t decided until late in the fourth quarter.
A week ago, Georgia spent the fourth quarter stunned following a dominant perfomance by Tennessee.
Saturday, the Bulldogs finally got to enjoy an easy win — on the field at least. It was what came before kickoff that was tough.
Following the loss to Tennessee last week, head coach Mark Richt didn’t get much sleep. The images from one of the worst losses of his career were hard to forget. The criticism that followed would be intense.
“You know when you get a bunch of text messages and you get a bunch of people just swarming to support you, you know it’s kind of rough out there,” Richt said.
As Richt fought sleep that night, he devised a plan. There would be no more talk about the big picture. Georgia’s season would be reduced to the next game.
“I was convinced that the only thing we could do at this point was to put the blinders on and prepare,” he said. “The most positive thing that could happen for Georgia football was to have a good performance (against Vanderbilt), and we were able to do that.”
It was the game the Bulldogs had been waiting for, the game they needed.
A.J. Green, one of the few bright spots amid a season of chaos, opened the scoring with a 65-yard touchdown reception — the longest of his career. He took a quick pass from quarterback Joe Cox at the line of scrimmage, then dashed through defenders like a pinball the rest of the way to give the Bulldogs a 7-0 lead late in the first quarter.
Caleb King followed with the first of his two touchdowns midway through the second, and Blair Walsh booted two field goals to give Georgia a 20-10 lead to start the fourth quarter.
A 30-yard drive ended with King’s second score and a dominant 10-play, 68-yard touchdown drive – all running plays — took nearly seven minutes off the clock and sealed the win for Georgia.
“This week, we clicked,” King said. “The coaches were calling the right plays at the right time, and you saw what happened.”
There have been times this season when Georgia scored at will. There were games when the defense appeared dominant. There were games when the special teams turned in a series of big plays. But until Saturday, the Bulldogs have never put it all together.
Against Vanderbilt, however, everything fell into place. The defense held the Commodores to just 296 yards of offense and only 10 points — the best mark of the season for defensive coordinator Willie Martinez’s much-maligned unit. Georgia had three sacks from its defensive line and the secondary — ranked last in the SEC in passing defense — stifled Vandy quarterback Larry Smith.
“It’s good to see guys bounce back, play loose and make plays,” Martinez said. “That’s the thing I saw today.”
Tuesday, Georgia’s veterans called a players-only meeting. The message wasn’t much different than the one Richt had given his assistants. All wasn’t lost. There may not have been a lot of faith outside the locker room, but inside, the resolve had to stay strong.
“We don’t buy into the newspapers and the sports talk shows,” cornerback Prince Miller said. “We don’t listen to that stuff. We know the guys in the locker room are the most important, so we just wanted to come out and get a win, and we took care of business.”
The result was not just the best performance of the season for Georgia on the scoreboard, but also its high water mark for emotion.
“It feels like a weight has been lifted,” Curran said. “To work hard in practice and have those team meetings and things like that – to see some results, see some positives, some things we can build on.”