Georgia in deep hole as summer turns to fall

These are the dogs days at Georgia.

The offseason was filled with arrests. The star player has yet

to suit up, banished to the sideline after the NCAA found out he

sold his bowl jersey for $1,000. And most troubling to the faithful

outside the hedges: The first 0-2 start in the Southeastern

Conference since 1993, which means any hope of contending for a

title this season is likely gone before the leaves change

colors.

”It’s disappointing, it’s frustrating, whatever adjective you

want to throw at it,” receiver Kris Durham said Tuesday. ”When

you come to a school like the University of Georgia, you come to

win a championship.”

First, the Bulldogs need to win an SEC game. So far, they’ve

been pounded into submission by No. 12 South Carolina’s running

game, and been beaten through the air by No. 10 Arkansas’

high-powered attack.

Georgia (1-2 overall) heads to Mississippi State on Saturday

night, facing an absolute must-win situation if it wants to retain

any hope of salvaging this season. But the Bulldogs will again be

without top receiver A.J. Green, who’s finishing out a four-game

suspension for selling that aforementioned jersey.

”If we lose another game in the SEC, our chances of going to

Atlanta (for the championship game) are very, very, very, very

slim, if they’re possible at all,” quarterback Aaron Murray said.

”I feel like if we win out and go 6-2 in the league, then we still

have a chance. We’ve just got worry about ourselves and make sure

we win every week.”

The Bulldogs did give themselves a glimmer of hope in last

week’s 31-24 loss to Arkansas, rallying from a two-touchdown

deficit in the fourth quarter.

Georgia actually had the ball again at midfield, needing maybe

one more completion to set up an attempt at a game-winning field

goal. But Murray was sacked, Arkansas got it back, and Ryan Mallett

completed three straight passes for the win, the last of them a

40-yard touchdown with 15 seconds remaining.

”I’m extremely proud of the way we fought,” Durham said. ”We

were faced with some adversity and our character showed. We’re

fighters. We’re not going to give up.”

Of course, none of those 92,000-plus who pack Sanford Stadium

week after week is the least bit interested in moral victories.

They expect this program to contend with the Alabamas and the

Floridas of the college football world, but those schools appear to

be pulling farther and farther away.

For Georgia, the turning point is easy to spot. After a

brilliant finish to the 2007 season left the Bulldogs at No. 2 in

the final polls, trailing only national champion LSU, they went

into the next season ranked No. 1.

All the weapons were in place: A quarterback, Matthew Stafford,

who would be the top pick in the NFL draft; a running back,

Knowshon Moreno, who also became a first-round pick; two

pro-quality receivers in Mohamed Massaquoi, who’s in the NFL, and

Green, who figures to be one of the top picks in next year’s

draft.

Then, five weeks into the season, Georgia ran into Nick Saban’s

budding powerhouse from Alabama. Before a stunned home crowd, the

Bulldogs fell behind 31-0 at halftime and needed a couple of

meaningless touchdowns just to make the final score a

not-as-respectable-as-it-looked 41-30.

Before the season was done, there would be a 49-10 blowout at

the hands of eventual national champion Florida and a 45-42 loss to

local rival Georgia Tech, ending a streak of seven straight wins in

that series. The team that started out ranked No. 1 in the country

wasn’t even the best in its own state.

With Stafford, Moreno and Massaquoi off to the pros, Georgia

struggled to an 8-5 mark last season – the worst of Mark Richt’s

nine years as head coach and leading to the first major shake-up on

his staff. Before a consolation trip to the Independence Bowl, he

dumped defensive coordinator Willie Martinez.

Richt is starting to feel some of the expected heat from the

talk shows and in the Internet chat rooms – not only for his recent

record, but for having nine players arrested this year. Still, he

refuses to get dragged into a big-picture look at his program.

Over the last 25 games, the stretch that began with that loss to

Alabama, the Bulldogs are just 15-10 with only one significant

victory, an upset of Atlantic Coast Conference champion Georgia

Tech.

”The state of the program is we’re getting ready for

Mississippi State,” Richt said. ”It’s early in the year. We’re

getting ready to play another SEC game. We’re trying to get a

victory in league play.”

His message to the fans: ”Just keep supporting and keep

fighting, and we will too.”

But the losses, and the irritating little slights, keep on

coming.

Old nemesis Steve Spurrier, who beat the Bulldogs 11 out of 12

times at Florida and relished every moment of it, came into this

season just 1-4 against Georgia at his current school, South

Carolina.

But after the Gamecocks beat up the Bulldogs in a 17-6 win,

piling up 189 yards rushing while throwing only 17 times, Spurrier

delivered a not-so-subtle shot at Georgia’s new defensive

coordinator, Todd Grantham, who had been as assistant in the

NFL.

”That little inside zone play, the NFL doesn’t run that play.

That’s a new scheme, I guess,” Spurrier said.

Ouch.