November 23, 2012

No looking ahead

So, you think the annual year-end rivalry with Georgia Tech doesn't mean as much to the current generation of Bulldogs as it does to most - if not all - of Georgia's long-time fans?

Try telling that to junior Garrison Smith.

You might say the Atlanta native grew up with the rivalry after older brother Greg Smith lettered with the Yellow Jackets as a backup running back in 2009.

"Oh, most definitely, I don't need to lose this one," Garrison Smith chuckled during an interview earlier this week. "I don't know if he'd let me hear the end of it."

Yes, Saturday's game (noon, ESPN) is a huge deal.

Both Georgia (10-1) and Georgia Tech (6-5) are headed to their respective conference's championship games next weekend, although for the third-ranked Bulldogs there's much more on the line as the No. 3 team in the BCS.

If the Bulldogs can beat Georgia Tech they'll go into next Saturday game at the Georgia Dome against (likely) Alabama with an opportunity to win themselves a spot in the BCS Championship - whether head coach Mark Richt wants to talk about it or not.

This week, anytime a question was posed to Richt this year about the BCS, he turned it right around to his focus on Georgia Tech, a message that from all indications has reached the players, like tight end Arthur Lynch.

"No matter what the records are, or what's happening, nothing changes the fact that if we lose them it's a living hell for the next 365 days," Lynch said. "It's what fuels me and gets me motivated. If you're not motivated for this game, you probably shouldn't have come to Georgia. You always have to beat Tech."

So, will they?

Since their 35-7 lost to South Carolina, the Bulldogs have been on a roll, knocking off rival Florida for the second-straight year, led by a defense that has allowed just 8.5 points per game since a 29-24 win over Kentucky six weeks ago.

Color Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson impressed.

"Defensively, they've probably got six or seven NFL guys, at least, on that defense. The linebacking corps is physical and fast. Jarvis Jones gets a lot of notoriety, and rightfully so; he's an awfully good player," Johnson said. "But Alec Ogletree jumps off the film at you - the things that that guy can do; the way he runs, and makes plays. He's a special player as well. The two safeties are good. They've got a lot of good football players on their team."

It almost wasn't that way.

Back in January, 13 draft-eligible Bulldogs marched up in front of the media at the team meeting room, announcing their intention to return for another year in hopes of having a special year.

"I'm very impressed with this senior bunch. They really wanted to take some ownership of this team. They didn't just want it to be another year where we came up short, so I saw a sense of urgency in the offseason," Richt said. "We have won a lot of games, and I'm very impressed with this senior bunch. They really wanted to take some ownership of this team. Once they all decided to stick around, just the fact that everybody on defense especially checked out the NFL and where they might be drafted, once they all decided to stay I think it created energy immediately for those guys and for the team and the coaching staff too."

Richt said he sensed this had the potential to be a special year.

"They didn't just want it to be another year where we came up short, so I saw a sense of urgency in the offseason," Richt said. "I saw a very organized summer. (Aaron Murray) rallied a bunch of the leaders and asked them to divide the team into subgroups and had a high accountability with those groups to work out and in running, lifting, throwing and all the things you do in the summer.

"They've done a really good job. We didn't start out playing as great as we would hope to, especially on the defensive side of the ball, but we got that thing turned around with Shawn's (Williams) leadership. I think that was the catalyst for our defense to pick it up, and we've been playing pretty well ever since. There's been a lot of player-driven stuff that we always talked about. I saw a lot more of it than we talked about it this year."

NOTE: The 21 seniors to be recognized are: Taylor Bradberry, Winder; Marlon Brown, Memphis, Tenn.; Luis Capella, Augusta; Sanders Commings, Augusta; Scott Eichler, Oakwood; Reuben Faloughi, Martinez; Ty Frix, Calhoun; Michael Gilliard, Valdosta; John Jenkins, Meriden, Conn.; Abry Jones, Warner Robins; Tavarres King, Mount Airy; Jamie Lindley, Savannah; Ricky Lowe, Duluth; Bacarri Rambo, Donalsonville; Ben Reynolds, Bainbridge; Christian Robinson, Norcross; Dustin Royston, Royston; Richard Samuel, Cartersville; Branden Smith, Atlanta; Cornelius Washington, Hephzibah; Shawn Williams, Damascus.