ATHENS, Ga. -- The nine remaining players from Georgia’s 2008 team no doubt experienced similar feelings following their loss to Alabama that season to the ones they encountered after a 35-7 loss to South Carolina in early October.
Like the preseason No. 1 team that fell behind the Crimson Tide 31-0 by halftime, this season’s Bulldogs carried enormous expectations into their game in Columbia only to crash spectacularly. The difference, however, is that they dusted themselves off after the embarrassing loss this time and didn’t allow it to ruin the season like the 41-30 loss to Alabama did four seasons ago.
“When we lost that South Carolina game, I told everybody this will be identical to the ’08 season unless we win that Florida game, unless we grab everything back and go in a different direction,” said Christian Robinson, a senior linebacker who redshirted in 2008. “It really has been different because we could have easily hopped back up in the rankings. We lost to an Alabama team that won every game until they lost to Florida [in the 2008 SEC championship game].
“If our only loss was to Alabama and we won out, we would have been back in the SEC championship game and we would have had a chance to play for a national championship. That’s the difference. That shows how one game, not only that Alabama game, but the Florida game, the Tech game -- if you let losing a game become an issue, it can take you away from everything you want to do.”
Nearly everything the third-ranked Bulldogs (11-1) wanted out of this season is still in play as they prepare to face No. 2 Alabama (11-1) on Saturday for the first time since that devastating 2008 loss.
The flat performance against South Carolina ensured that Georgia couldn’t go undefeated this season, but the Bulldogs still rebounded to win each game leading into Saturday’s SEC championship game. And if they manage to upset the Crimson Tide, they will play Notre Dame (12-0) in Miami for the BCS championship Jan. 7.
“Coaches pushed us and the guys stepped in and putting everybody in our mindset that we still can achieve our goals,” said Bacarri Rambo, a senior safety who also redshirted in 2008. “I’m not trying to put the guys down from back then when we lost in ’08, but just the guys here, we have better chemistry. Everybody goes and fights for the guy beside him no matter what.
“We just have that chemistry and brotherhood and that love for one another. We’re not going to let each other down and we just kept fighting. All the seniors and all the leaders, we just let the guys know that we still can achieve our goals. Because we lost one game, it’s not the end of the world. We’ve just got to keep playing ball.”
In fact, their experiences through the 2008 letdown might have helped the seniors lead the Bulldogs back to the conference championship game for a second straight season. As in the ugly losses to Alabama and Florida four seasons ago, the Bulldogs looked nothing like a championship-caliber team when they lost by four touchdowns to South Carolina.
But they regrouped to win their biggest game of the season to this point -- a 17-9 victory against then-No. 2 Florida three weeks later -- and have slowly climbed in the polls each week since.
“I think I’m kind of closer to center mass and ground zero being a senior this year,” said snapper Ty Frix, another 2008 redshirt. “So I can’t really say that that senior class didn’t care as much as this senior class does, but for me and my group of friends, I can definitely say it’s been our guiding light since that game to make sure that we understand that everything after that’s a playoff game. I think we approached every week like that. In reality, once you lose, when you drop one more, you’re done.”
Just freshmen at the time, Frix said the 2008 Alabama loss didn’t affect him like the defeat against South Carolina this season. But his team’s experiences since that point -- enduring three straight disappointing seasons before winning the division last season for the first time since 2005 -- provided a good lesson for how not to respond to an unexpected loss.
It’s a lesson the nine fifth-year seniors have passed along to their many young teammates as they prepare for another high-stakes game against the Tide.
“The one thing that I guess is different for me as a senior is the South Carolina game hurt me a lot more than the Alabama game did my freshman year,” Frix said. “I hope our freshmen aren’t like me. I hope they took that game as a real serious loss and realize how big this upcoming game is now.
“As you grow and you get older, each game means more and I think looking back on that year, I don’t even know how to put it into words. It was just they just kicked our butts from start to finish.”