ATHENS, Ga. -- When Georgia's players reflect on their depressing loss at South Carolina on Sept. 9, they regard the defeat as more of an aberration than an accurate indicator of their potential.
"The biggest thing is for us to just bring it all together," said offensive tackle Jonas Jennings. "It's definitely time for that. Offense, defense, bring it all together to make one team. Once we make one team, it's hard for us to be beat."
Whether the No. 25 Bulldogs' bite meshes with their bark likely will be determined in the next two weeks, when they will travel to Arkansas and play host to Tennessee.
Of course, coach Jim Donnan and his team are reluctant to publicly place monumental importance on the two games. But it is clear that, taken as one, Saturday's tilt in Fayetteville, Ark., and the following week's showdown in Athens will lend a sense of stability or chaos to a season that began with forecasts of the Bulldogs' first Southeastern Conference title since 1982.
On the field, last week's 37-0 win over New Mexico State demonstrated little, other than having shown the Bulldogs (2-1, 0-1 SEC) are capable of manhandling an inferior opponent. But Donnan said his team cleared a significant emotional obstacle in the victory.
"I feel good about my team right now and the fact that we handled the adversity pretty well, handled the scrutiny we went through," he said, referring to the two weeks of criticism that followed the 21-10 loss to South Carolina. "You can't base it on a win over New Mexico State ... but I thought our guys did pretty good taking the blame and saying we didn't do what we needed to."
The shocker at South Carolina is still an issue -- "We're still trying to come back from that," defensive end Bruce Adrine said -- but victories in the next two games would significantly diminish the ramifications of that dark day in Columbia. The Bulldogs' confidence would be bolstered, not shaken, and they wouldn't have to answer any more questions regarding unfulfilled potential.
"It's time for this team to come together, just to click on all cylinders," Jennings said. "Once we're at that point, it's really not hard for us to go out and execute."
As for what would happen if Georgia happens to lose one or both of the games -- well, the Bulldogs don't wish to ponder the consequences.
They already have been through months of adversity three games in, having suffered the suspension of seven players for illegal use of a phone card; the five-game suspension of senior receiver Michael Greer for an unspecified violation of a team rule; and the loss of strong-side linebacker Boss Bailey, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the opener against Georgia Southern.
And, of course, South Carolina. But no amount of adversity would compare to that which would be incurred if the Bulldogs happen to lose Saturday.
"Every game is a must-win for us now," Donnan said. "We created that situation."
Reach Larry Williams at (706) 823-3645.
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