Dawgs bite Bama, point to UT

So much for the emotional hangover.<p> Georgia, defeated for the first time in a key Southeastern Conference battle at LSU on Sept. 20, took advantage of an off week and then returned in style with a 37-23 win over Alabama last Saturday, once again establishing itself as a definite contender for the SEC East title.

The Bulldogs (4-1, 2-1 in the SEC) were sharp on offense, rolling out to a 30-3 lead against the Crimson Tide (2-4, 1-2). The Georgia defense, which allowed a mini rally by Alabama in the second half, didn't alow a first down until it was ahead by 27 points.

After the loss at LSU, this was a confidence builder for the Bulldogs, who face Tennessee on Saturday. The Vols will be trying to recover from a their own first loss at Auburn.

The defeat at LSU was difficult to absorb initially, but the Bulldogs soon began to move forward with the knowledge that the season was far from over.

''At first everybody was everything from mad to hurt about the loss,'' Georgia coach Mark Richt said. ''In the lockerroom, you had guys with their heads in their hands. The response was very emotional. Now the guys realize their is a lot to play for. "It can be very difficult to practice with a whole lot of intensity when the next opponent is so far away, but we did just that. I left the field with a good feeling about this team and the way they will bounce back and enjoy playing football.''

The Bulldogs are aware of how difficult it is to go unbeaten in conference play, and were hopeful other top East Division teams would falter at some point. They got their wish when the Vols couldn't contain Auburn's rushing attack and dropped their first game of the season.

''All we have to do is keep working hard,'' Georgia running back Tyson Browning said. ''We can still do the same thing we came here to do. In the SEC, you can lose any week. Everybody is capable of losing. It is so tough this year. We have to come back strong every week.''

And come back strong they did. The No. 11 Bulldogs scored 37 points before halftime in racing to a huge edge against a team that had lost by a combined 13 points against ranked teams in its first three games.

The 37 points scored by Georgia was the most in a half against Alabama since 1933.

Georgia wasn't without its problems against Alabama. In the second half, Charles Jones returned his second interception 30 yards for a touchdown, and Juwan Garth ran 10 yards for a score after recovering a loose ball after a botched punt attempt.

''Our defense shut down Alabama just about the entire game,'' Richt said. ''It (allowing points due to offensive mistakes) is a shame for the defense.''

Still, Richt and the Bulldogs can't complain too much heading into the showdown with Tennessee.

Linebacker Odell Thurman says the Bulldogs are fully confident, but they do respect each SEC opponent, including the Vols.

''In the SEC, each week you have to come to play hard,'' he said. ''We are hungry and they are hungry. You have to play the whole 60 minutes. They have some good players, but we have to overcome that.''

All-American defensive end David Pollack, whose motor never shuts off on the field, said the key for the Bulldogs is to just keep playing their game and remain focused on the prize - an SEC title. ''We just have to keep working and not get frustrated,'' he said. ''Our goal is to win and make plays ... every game. I think we lost the focus that we have to take one game at a time. That's how we have to do it.''

Still, Georgia is aware it can't slip up any more if it wants to ensure itself a championship. Getting past the Vols would be a first big hurdle toward that goal.

''You never plan on losing,'' Georgia quarterback David Greene said. ''Our backs are against the wall as far as winning out. We haven't been in this position in a while.''

Georgia's success or failure from here out will hinge largely on the play of Greene, who has been impressive for the most part. He threw for 252 yards against Alabama but also fired two interceptions. Through five games, Greene has passed for 1,294 yards and is completing 60 percent of his passes.

''If David is calm and playing well, then the offense has a chance to be successful,'' Richt said. ''David's decision making is very good. He makes good decisions on when to run, when to pass, going through his progressions and deciding when to throw it away. He is very solid and can handle the pressure.''

The Georgia offensive line is improving weekly.

''Those guys are playing well and getting better,'' Richt said. ''That's a credit to Neil Calloway (assistant coach). He has done a great job of getting them together and preparing them. That group really likes each other, and overall, we're staying relatively healthy, which helps tremendously.''

Reggie Brown, Fred Gibson and Damien Gary give the Bulldogs a fine receiving corps. Gibson, a big-time playmaker, has been at less than full speed in recent weeks due to injury, but is expected to be at top form Saturday.

''Fred is an integral part of our offense,'' Brown said. ''There's no doubt about that. But we have a lot of capable receivers who can get the job done. I think any of us can go down and make a big play. We are deep at that position.''

Though the Bulldogs don't feature the talent at running back that they have displayed in past years, Michael Cooper is expected to make further strides this season. He was averaging 72 yards per game through four games.

''He's done well in every test so far,'' Richt said. ''Hopefully he is ready to take it to another level. He has a whole lot of football to play.''

Defensively, the Bulldogs have allowed 268 yards per game. Alabama is the only Georgia opponent that has scored more than 20 points.


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