Must win for Georgia?

ATHENS - Mark Richt refuses to get backed into the 'must-win' corner this week.

No. 11 Georgia already has one mark in the SEC loss column, and it's been 11 years since the Eastern Division champion has had two conference losses. Still, Mark Richt - knowing his team has six conference games remaining - is unwilling to say his Bulldogs (3-1, 1-1) must win the rest of their games in order to make a second straight trip to the SEC Championship Game.

"I'd like to keep (the loss total) at one just to keep it at one," he said, "but we really do want to think just about Alabama right now."

The Crimson Tide (2-3, 1-1) plays Georgia today at 3:30 p.m. in Sanford Stadium. The Bulldogs are a 12-point favorite.

Alabama sophomore quarterback Brodie Croyle is questionable for today's game due to a shoulder injury on his non-throwing arm. If he can't play, sophomore Spencer Pennington will take his place.

Georgia is coming off its first open date of the season, which followed their first defeat, a 17-10 loss at LSU on Sept. 20. The Bulldogs are 4-1 after a loss in Richt's two-plus seasons.

"I think (the loss) will be good for us," defensive end Quentin Moses said. "I don't think we're going to have any more, though."

Obviously, Moses and several other Georgia players are more willing than their coach to go out on a limb about the importance of today's game.

"Every week from now on out is a must-win game for us," running back Tyson Browning said. "That's how we try to take it."

Alabama fans certainly feel like today is a must-win game for their program as the Crimson Tide tries to avoid its first three-game losing streak since midway through the 2001 season. Alabama is coming off a 34-31 double-overtime loss to No. 8 Arkansas. Its other two losses were to No. 1 Oklahoma by seven points and to No. 17 Northern Illinois by three points.

"The thing that I think we've all got to remember is we're just a few plays here and there from being 4-1, or even 5-0," Alabama coach Mike Shula said. "And I think that's the mind-set that we've got to have - we're a pretty good football team now. Our record doesn't show that, but we can easily get that turned around just by getting the things corrected and building on the good things we've done." Richt agrees with Shula's assesment of the Tide.

"They're not far off from being a 5-0 ballclub," he said. "When you look at the tape, they look every bit as good as the people they've played."

Alabama will face a new challenge this week: Its first road game of the season. Crimson Tide coach Mike Shula, who was hired just 115 days prior to the team's season-opener, quarterbacked Alabama to one of its 11 wins in Sanford Stadium, a 20-16 victory in 1985.

"The thing I remember is the crowd, right from the start, and the stadium was huge," Shula said. "It was electric. I'm sure it's going to be even louder and even bigger than what I remember. Those are all the things we've got to get our team prepared for."

Georgia has to prepare itself for the first of a long run of make-or-break games, quarterback David Greene said.

"You never think about losing," he said. "But I think our backs are against the wall as far as having to win out."

No. 11 Georgia (3-1, 1-1 SEC) vs. Alabama (2-3, 1-1 SEC)
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m.
Stadium: Sanford Stadium (92,100), Athens
Tickets: Sold out
Kickoff weather: High of 77, low of 60; partly cloudy, 20 percent
chance of rain
Series: Alabama leads 35-23-4
Odds: Georgia favored by 12
Injuries: Georgia -- Probable: S Greg Blue (knee), RB Michael Cooper
(knee), WR Fred Gibson (hamstring), DE Marcus Jackson (thumb), RB Tony
Milton (leg) LB Tony Taylor (ankle), TE Ben Watson (ankle);
Questionable: DE Marquis Elmore (ankle); Doubtful: WR Mario Raley
(foot); Out: DT Darrell Holmes (shoulder), DE Preston Pannell
(shoulder). Alabama -- Probable: OL Justin Smiley (foot), OL Dennis
Alexander (ankle), OL Atlas Herrion (ankle); Questionable: QB Brodie
Croyle (shoulder), DE Antwan Odom (ankle), LB Derrick Pope (ankle), DT
Jeremy Clark (ankle), DT Ahmad Childress (shoulder), FB Le'Ron McClain
(foot); Out: WR Antonio Carter (leg), LB Cornelius Wortham (elbow).
Up next: Georgia at Tennessee, Oct. 11, 7:45 p.m.; Southern Miss at
Alabama, Oct. 11, 2 p.m.

Georgia rush offense vs. Alabama rush defense
The Crimson Tide has given up more than 150 rushing yards to each of
the last two featured backs they've faced. The problem for Georgia is
they don't have a featured back. The last Bulldog to rush for more than
150 yards was Verron Haynes against Georgia Tech in 2001 (207). Watch
out for linebacker DeMeco Ryans, who had a school-record 25 tackles last

Alabama rush offense vs. Georgia rush defense
Tide running back Shaud Williams is second in the league in rushing
(118.8 ypg), but the Bulldogs held him to just 44 yards on 10 carries
last year. Georgia has yet to allow a team as many yards as Williams is
averaging in a game and ranks third in the SEC and 11th in the nation in
rush defense (79.5).

Georgia pass offense vs. Alabama pass defense
Today will be the first time Georgia has had a healthy Fred Gibson
since fellow receiver Reggie Brown emerged as a legitimate top-flight
receiver. The combination will make it very difficult to do what LSU did
to the Bulldogs -- play man coverage and blitz heavy. The Tide is giving
up more than 200 yards per game through the air.

Alabama pass offense vs. Georgia pass defense
The Tide's pass offense rests largely on the shoulders, or shoulder,
of starting quarterback Brodie Croyle. Croyle, the No. 4 passer in the
SEC, was limited all week due to an injury to his non-throwing shoulder.
Even if he plays today, he'll be going up against an already fearsome
Georgia secondary that gets back one of its biggest hitters -- safety
Greg Blue.

Special teams
The Bulldogs' kickoff coverage team has been a weak spot all year, but
Alabama doesn't appear poised to take advantage of that. Main return man
Ray Hudson is just eighth in the league in kickoff returns (18.8 ypr).
If the game comes down to field goals, the game's a toss-up. Georgia's
Billy Bennett is 8 of 12 this year but is coming off a three-miss game.
Alabama's Brian Bostick is 8 of 11 and has missed two PATs.

The 12-point line on this game seems high. All three of Alabama's
losses are to teams that are now ranked, including an overtime loss to
No. 9 Arkansas last week. The Bulldogs are 2-6 in the last eight games
of this series and those two wins have come by a total of three points.
Georgia makes it 3-6 by winning this one but doesn't cover. Georgia 27,
Alabama 20.

Key to the Game
Georgia's offense has to find its stride at some point this season.
The Bulldogs have fewer touchdowns (11) than any team in the SEC this
year, and despite leading the league in turnover margin (plus-5), they
are seventh in points off turnovers (27). If the offense keeps scuffling
around, the defense could quickly run out of motivation to maintain its
high level of play.

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