SEC Odds Are Against Georgia

ATHENS, Ga. — With two Southeastern Conference losses before November, there's no need for Georgia to be thinking about its fading championship hopes.

Barring some big surprises the next month, Georgia is going to enter the 2002 season with a 20-year hangover since its last SEC championship in 1982.

Florida, which beat Georgia 24-10 last Saturday, and Tennessee are the only teams left in the SEC East with just one loss. Florida and Tennessee will meet on Dec. 1, and for Georgia to still to have chance it must hope for such improbabilities as Vanderbilt beating Florida and either Vanderbilt or Kentucky beating Tennessee, followed by a Vols' win over the Gators.

It makes far more sense for No. 18 Georgia (5-2 overall, 4-2 in the SEC) to focus on what it can still make of this season. Off this week, Georgia will play host to Auburn on Nov. 10 at 3:30 p.m.

"Our goal now is to win the rest of our games, not to think so much about the conference championship but not to count it out, either,'' said Coach Mark Richt.

Georgia's remaining schedule looks more difficult than ever, thanks to the surge of Mississippi (6-1 overall, 3-1 SEC), which has been led by quarterback Eli Manning to wins over Alabama and Louisiana State in its last two conference games.

Before visiting Ole Miss on Nov. 17, however, Georgia must play host to Auburn, which despite its loss to Arkansas last week is one of only four teams left with just one conference loss.

After completing his review of the Bulldogs' loss to Florida, Richt was more upset about breakdowns by his players. He called a special team meeting Monday and pointed out specific mistakes that he knew had been covered in practice.

"That was very bothersome to me,'' Richt said Tuesday. "I had to get it off my chest. ... I told them they have to do what we want them to do if we're going to be a championship team. They made some mistakes that just should not have been made.''

Richt said the purpose of the meeting was "not to break down the morale of the team, but to show them what could have been. ... We could have won that (Florida) game.''

Richt wants to use the off week to get several key players back to full health, but Richt also worked his team hard Tuesday.

With the time change, Richt moved the team under lights on the artificial turf field — which he has said he would rather not use — so he could continue to practice after it was too dark to see on the regular fields.

"That might be our schedule the rest of the year now,'' he said.

There are ongoing concerns about the offense's lack of scoring inside the opponent's 20, but that lack of red-zone production is not as troubling as the huge yardage allowed by the defense.

In the last four games, Georgia has allowed an average of 526 yards per game, and it ranks 86th in the nation in total defense. Georgia fares better in scoring defense — tied with Alabama for 31st with its average of 20.7 points allowed.

Georgia gave up 584 yards to Florida, but still Richt maintained that the bottom line — 24 points allowed — was good enough to win the game.

NOTES: X-rays on defensive tackle Ken Veal's sprained neck were negative. He also suffered a concussion against Florida. Linebacker Tony Gilbert also suffered a concussion in the game. Also held out were running back Musa Smith (groin), offensive tackle Jon Stinchcomb (groin), defensive tackle Johnathan Sullivan (knee) and linebacker Will Witherspoon (knee). Those players may be held out the rest of the week. "They've got to mend,'' Richt said.

Charles Odum can be reached at CEOdum@aol.com.


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