The Daily Gamecock

Georgia aims to upset LSU in SEC title

Bulldogs face tall task against Tigers in Atlanta

Eighty-three days ago, Georgia’s football program was in crisis.

Today, it’s preparing to play for the Southeastern Conference Championship.

After the Bulldogs lost to South Carolina 45-42 on Sept. 10 — a loss that dropped them to 0-2 and a game behind USC in the SEC East race, as well as made coach Mark Richt’s seat white hot — all hope appeared lost in Athens.

Not anymore.

“We knew, if we kept battling, we had a chance,” Richt said on Sunday during the SEC Championship Game coaches teleconference. “So week by week, we tried to improve. We tried to keep pace. And then we were hoping we’d get some help along the way. Thankfully, we did, and we were able to finish out the rest of the league play undefeated to get us in the game.”

The story is well documented now — Georgia hasn’t lost since, while the Gamecocks dropped contests with Arkansas and Auburn to negate their head-to-head tiebreaker with the Bulldogs. It is a run that couldn’t have come at a better time for Richt and his program.

“It’s been fun to turn it around and see these players and these coaches enjoy the fruits of all their labor,” Richt said. “It’s a battle. It’s a grind whether you win or lose. When you win, it’s a lot more fun. Even last year, as we all know, we were 6-7. That wasn’t a whole lot of fun either. That wasn’t a great experience at all. And then to start 0-2 on top of what happened a year ago, it made it very difficult.”

If there’s anything that can be counted against the Bulldogs, who are now 10-2 and ranked No. 12 in the nation, it’s that they haven’t played any of the SEC’s “Big 3” this season in Alabama, Arkansas and LSU. But that will change in the title game, as UGA will try and hand the top-ranked and undefeated Bayou Bengals their first loss.

Richt said the game will be a test of just how good Georgia is in comparison to a team some think may be the greatest in college football history.

“I really don’t know. We’re going to find out this Saturday,” Richt said. “We’re a team that certainly improved as the season has gone on, and we’ve done — we’ve done a lot of good things since game two. Until you play a team, you really don’t know how you match up against them.”

LSU coach Les Miles said the Bulldogs don’t need to convince him.

“Georgia is a very talented team,” he said. “They had a rough start but continued to improve and play well. They’ve won 10 straight since their opening two losses. The Georgia Tech team — I watched that game (against Georgia) — was a very talented team in itself. Frankly, they were no match for a very quality Georgia team.”

LSU won’t rest: Miles said his team will play to win Saturday. Even if the Tigers were to lose, it is believed they would remain in the BCS top 2 and advance to the national championship game.

“I want you to know something. There was never a thought in our minds what the next game holds,” Miles said. “This was very specifically about this championship and this conference is where we compete year in and year out. We intend to make a great showing for ourself and prepare and play well.”

Crowell should play: Richt said star tailback Isaiah Crowell is probable for the game.

Richt not worried about Mettenberger: Former Georgia quarterback Zach Mettenberger now plays for LSU, but Richt said he isn’t worried about Mettenberger’s knowledge working against the Bulldogs.

“There is so much that you can get on film now days, I don’t know how much more he could add to it,” Richt said. “We have also gone to a no-huddle since Zach has gone, and we have code names and hand singles that he has no idea about. I don’t think it will be a factor, but it could be.”