Dawgs and Purdue use bowl practice differently

ORLANDO, Fla. -- The weather here in central Florida is close to what Georgia will feel during its March and April practices back home, but, for the Bulldogs, that's the only similarity between bowl preparations and spring practice.

At many schools around the country, parts of the month leading up to the bowl are treated like spring practice and used to get redshirting freshmen and young players real work for the first time in months. Not at Georgia, though.

"We gear all our practices toward Purdue," Coach Mark Richt said. "We haven't had any sort of spring. We're concentrating on this game the whole time through."

The No. 11 Bulldogs (10-3) play the No. 12 Boilermakers (9-3) here at 1 p.m. on New Year's Day in the Capital One Bowl.

Purdue's coaches, like Georgia's previous staff, use some of their bowl practices to work with young players who haven't gotten much practice since August. It's a particularly long season for those players, who work alongside the rest of team early in the fall and then are banished to the scout team, where they labor in obscurity and don't receive any real coaching.

For some, the bowl season is the first taste of their team's system. The beginning of fall practice is spent working on fundamentals, and, by the time the game plan is being installed, they are on the scout team, spending all their time trying to mimic another team's scheme.

"They don't get much attention until the next spring unless you choose to give them attention in December, which we do," Purdue coach Joe Tiller said.

The Boilermakers have held several scrimmages exclusively for seldom-used players in the last two weeks.

"In a bowl game, first and foremost you want to win, but next you want your young guys to get some experience," Tiller said. "It's perfect if you can get both things accomplished."

The Bulldogs are focused on just one of those goals, the winning. It's not that Georgia doesn't have time to work in its young players. The Bulldogs don't even use all 15 bowl practices allowed by the NCAA.

Instead, it's the reinforcement of an attitude Richt has tried to instill throughout his tenure in Athens -- nothing is more important than the upcoming game.

"We put a lot of emphasis on this game," safety Thomas Davis said. "We feel like it could be a tremendous boost for us."

Richt's tenure at Florida State, where most bowl games had national significance, is a factor in his current approach but not the most important one, he said. This week's game won't affect the final BCS rankings in any significant way or even be remembered by anyone other than the participants for very long, but there are some tangible milestones at stake for the Bulldogs.

With a victory, they would have 24 wins in the last two years, more than in any back-to-back seasons in school history. Also, a win probably would vault Georgia into the top 10 of the final rankings. It would be the first time since 1982 and 1983 the Bulldogs finished in the Top 10 in back-to-back years.

There's also an ego issue. Most of Georgia's players still remember vividly their most recent game, a 34-13 whipping at the hands of LSU in the SEC Championship Game. "It leaves a bad taste in your mouth," defensive end David Pollack said. "You can still taste it."

"I don't think we'll be over it until we get another win," safety Sean Jones said.

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