Georgia's season hedges on two key games

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Georgia's season looks like it will come down to two games. Neither of those games will be played here Saturday in Vanderbilt Stadium.

The No. 4 Bulldogs (5-1, 3-1 SEC) face Florida on Nov. 1 and Auburn on Nov. 15. Those games probably will determine whether Georgia returns to the SEC Championship Game and could have an impact on the national championship race.

But Saturday afternoon the Bulldogs face Vanderbilt (1-6, 0-3 SEC), which is struggling even by Commodore standards, at 2 p.m. ET. Vandy hasn't beaten a Division 1-A team since Oct. 26, 2002 when it topped Connecticut. It is 1-29 in its last 30 conference games, including its current 20-game SEC losing streak.

Coach Mark Richt and his team have insisted all week they won't overlook Vanderbilt, but even Richt knows that's a hard sell to the general public.

"Really and truly, it's the only thing we can control right now and that's what the focus has to be on," he said. "We just have such a routine in place that we are just going about our business. We don't have time to do much of anything else."

Richt also went through his routine of talking up the opponent, no matter who it is, at his weekly Tuesday news conference.

"Vandy's got some weapons," he said. "Their quarterback (Jay) Cutler can throw it very well. They've got some outstanding running backs and some other dangerous weapons as well. We're trying to get a grip on how to slow them down right down."

Richt didn't mention at that point, or at any time this week, that Navy found a way to slow down the Commodores last week, beating them 37-27.

Athletic director and former football coach Vince Dooley sat in the back of the room during Richt's news conference. He must have been proud. Dooley made an art form of talking up an inferior team, particularly Vanderbilt, which beat him once in his 25-year career.

"I didn't do that as any kind of art," Dooley said. "I did it because it was the way I felt. We struggled many times, even some of the great teams we had."

Richt's message has gotten through to the players. Georgia's coaches made sure of that during Monday night's practice when they put the team through a shortened version of their offseason conditioning program, or "mat drills."

"We realize if we don't come ready to play we can be beaten by anybody," quarterback David Greene said. "Vandy is no exception."

"We prepare for each week the same, one game at a time," freshman linebacker Danny Verdun Wheeler said. "We haven't talked about anyone but Vandy."

Still, those two games sit out their on the horizon, just begging to draw Georgia's attention away from the next two weeks. (The Bulldogs plays UAB at home on Oct. 25.) Georgia leads the SEC East by one game over both Tennessee and Florida and already owns a tiebreaker advantage over the Vols thanks to last week's 41-14 win. That game also moved Georgia back into the national title picture.

"I can't say I haven't thought about (the national possibilities)," Richt said. "We see it, and we know where we are. If the guys are mature enough to handle it, they'll play even harder.

"Whatever cushion we have can evaporate in a very short time."

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