Georgia looks to pull a shocker on top-ranked LSU

Georgia knows just about everyone is looking past this game,

figuring it’s nothing more than a mere inconvenience for top-ranked

LSU on the way to playing for the national championship.

The Bulldogs would love to pull a shocker.

No. 12 Georgia (10-2) is on quite a roll heading into next

Saturday’s Southeastern Conference championship, winning 10

straight since starting the season with losses to Boise State and

South Carolina.

Still, outside of those wearing red and black, no one gives the

Bulldogs much of a chance against the mighty Tigers (12-0).

That’s OK with defensive back (and occasional running back)

Branden Smith.

”We’ve been an underdog ever since those two games we lost,”

he said. ”We’re used to it. We believe in ourselves. Even when no

one else believed, we still believed. Even though we’re an underdog

now, we keep believing.”

A big reason the Bulldogs have yet to garner a lot of national

attention, even while winning week after week, is their schedule.

Georgia played two teams still ranked in The Associated Press Top

25 – and lost to them both. By a quirk of the rotation, they didn’t

have to play any of the top teams in the SEC West and benefitted

from a weak year in the East, especially from traditional power


LSU, on the other hand, has knocked off three of the top eight

teams in The Associated Press rankings – No. 2 Alabama, No. 6

Arkansas and No. 8 Oregon – as well as No. 22 West Virginia.

Tigers coach Les Miles figures that big-game experience should

be a huge help to his team in Atlanta.

”I remember being a little dead getting off the plane in West

Virginia,” Miles said Sunday. ”But we walked into the stadium,

and it was just alive. It was a big-time environment, a wonderful

night. Our guys just come to life. To me, we’re used to playing in

that environment, used to being on the big stages. Our guys

translate the glare of the lights to making plays in the


Georgia coach Mark Richt was on the hot seat early in the

season, especially coming off his program’s first losing record

since 1996. But the Bulldogs have bounced back with their longest

winning streak within a season since 1982.

Quarterback Aaron Murray has put up huge numbers, setting a

school record for touchdowns passes (32). The 3-4 defense blossomed

in its second year under coordinator Todd Granthan, ranking among

the nation’s best against the run.

”It’s been fun to turn it around and see these players and

these coaches enjoy the fruits of all their labor,” Richt said.

”It was probably a whole lot more difficult for the players than

it was for the coaches. We’re not out and about every day like the

players who have to go to class .They probably got to hear it more

than we do, so I’ve got a lot of respect for the players and how

they handled everything. They really held everything together. It

was fun to watch that.”

Freshman Isaiah Crowell, who didn’t play in a 31-17 victory over

Georgia Tech because of an injured left ankle, should be back at

practice Monday, according to Richt. The Bulldogs managed to beat

their state rival by improvising in the backfield, using both Smith

and another defensive back, Brandon Boykin, on the offensive side.

But they expect to have their top rusher against LSU.

Crowell has gained 832 yards in his debut season despite

injuries and a couple of disciplinary issues.

”Unless there’s a setback,” Richt said, ”I think he will play

in the game.”

The Bulldogs also are holding out hope that Crowell’s backup

much of the season, Richard Samuel, will be able to play after

undergoing surgery on his left ankle about a month ago. But he’s

not expected to practice Monday, and his return is more of a


On the defensive side, Georgia will have its work cut out

slowing an LSU team that is loaded at running back and can rip off

points in lightning-quick spurts. Last Friday, the Tigers trailed

Arkansas 14-0 early on but romped to a 41-17 victory.

Georgia counters with playmakers of its own, including outside

linebacker Jarvis Jones (third in the nation with 13.5 sacks),

safety Bacarri Rambo (second nationally with seven interceptions)

and a pair of massive nose tackles, 351-pound John Jenkins and

350-pounder Kwame Geathers. They’ve held up well so far, but this

will be by far their biggest test.

”I know they’re a talented team. I know they’re physical. I

know they’ve got great athletes,” Grantham said. ”I’m excited

about the opportunity. I’m proud of our players.”

So is Richt, who expects his team to approach this game like it

has the last 10.

”When we were 0-2, a lot of people in our (athletic) building

were wanting to say, `Hey, we can go 10 in a row, we can go 10 in a

row,”’ the head coach said. ”You can’t go 10 in a row unless you

get one in a row. That kind of became our war cry.”

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