Georgia must climb out of another early-season hole

Georgia's Michael Bennett is tripped up by Clemson's Quandon Christian during Saturday's game. The Bulldogs suffered another early-season defeat, but they have had a history of bouncing back to reach the SEC title game.

ATHENS, Ga. — The Georgia Bulldogs have made a habit of bouncing back from defeat.


Well, here they are again, facing the same predicament.

Georgia opened the season with a 38-35 loss at Clemson in a top-10 matchup, leaving coach Mark Richt’s team with very little wiggle room as it prepares for No. 6 South Carolina this week, not to mention No. 9 Louisiana State University coming up later this month.

Georgia started 0-2 two years ago, losing to Boise State and South Carolina, then ripped off 10 consecutive wins and claimed the Southeastern Conference East Division title.

Last year, the Bulldogs were blown out by the Gamecocks 35-7 in early October, yet again came back to reach the SEC title game and nearly pulled off an upset of Alabama that would have sent them to the national championship game.

“We would prefer not to be sitting like we were a couple of years ago,” Richt said. “We’re going to do our best not to be in that position.”

Indeed, the chances of bouncing back from another 0-2 hole seem remote, which puts even more emphasis on Saturday’s SEC opener against South Carolina (1-0).

The schedule, to be sure, is not on Georgia’s side like it was the past two years.

In 2011, its West Division opponents were perennial back-markers Mississippi and Mississippi State, along with an Auburn program that quickly went into decline after winning the national title. South Carolina squandered its early edge in the division race, getting upset at home by Auburn and falling on the road to Arkansas, a team riding high at the time under soon-to-be-disgraced coach Bobby Petrino.

Last year, after getting crushed by South Carolina, the Bulldogs’ only major challenge the rest of the regular season was Florida. The Gamecocks, on the other hand, got a brutal back-to-back gauntlet against LSU and Florida.

After South Carolina went down twice, Georgia beat the Gators and sneaked by to claim its second consecutive division title.

This time around, the Gamecocks have now-in-rebuilding-mode Arkansas and Mississippi State as their interdivisional foes, while the Bulldogs’ rotating opponent from the West is powerhouse LSU, which visits Athens on Sept. 28.

“We did have an easy schedule last year compared to this year,” Georgia linebacker Jordan Jenkins conceded.

The Bulldogs can take solace in having plenty of time to get back in position for their ultimate goal – a national title. By winning out, they would earn another trip to the SEC title game, which in the past seven years has essentially become a play-in game for the BCS championship.

The defense is young and rebuilding, but should get a boost with safety Josh Harvey-Clemons coming back from a suspension.

and another safety, Corey Moore, expected to play after sitting out the opener with a sprained knee.

“We have a tough team. We’ve got a close team,” said Connor Norman, a former walk-on who started at safety last week in place of the missing. “We don’t give up on each other.”



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