ATHENS, Ga. -- It was only minutes after his team's 21-10 vanquishing of Tennessee, so Georgia coach Jim Donnan could have been forgiven for reveling in the moment.
But in Donnan's mind, the moment already had passed.
"We've got to show we can handle the highs," Donnan said Saturday in the splendid chaos of perhaps the most important victory of his five-year tenure at Georgia.
Translation: If the No. 14 Bulldogs (4-1, 2-1 SEC) plan to greet the main course of their schedule against Florida on Oct. 28 with championship dreams intact, they need to make quick work of side dishes in the next two weeks against Vanderbilt and Kentucky.
"I think our players understand what's at stake now, and we're right back where we need to be as far as having an opportunity to get to our goals," said Donnan, whose team plays host to Vanderbilt on Saturday at 1 p.m. "We've had a couple of situations happen to us before where we sat around patting ourselves on the back. Our players understand that, and we worked hard Sunday to alleviate that and get rid of the idea that everything is hunky dory."
If you're a Bulldogs fan, you probably know the story of the past few years: Georgia lays down the law with what appears a monumental win, only to lay an egg in the following game.
In 1996, the Bulldogs earned an exhilarating 56-49 overtime win at Auburn that sparked hope of a winning season. They unearthed a dud the next week, losing at home to a mediocre Ole Miss team and later finished 5-6.
In 1997, Georgia administered a 37-17 thumping of heavily-favored Florida in what until last week was considered the most impressive win of the Donnan era. But two weeks later, Auburn stuck a pin in those ballooning hopes and won, 45-34.
In 1998, Georgia went to No. 6 Louisiana State and pulled off a 28-27 upset, vaulting the Bulldogs to No. 7 in the polls and sparking talk of a national title. Tennessee came to Athens the next week and spoiled the party with a 22-3 win.
Entering the season, Donnan was determined that, win or lose, his team would accept the results each week and move on. After a shocking loss at South Carolina on Sept. 9 that provoked doubt concerning the program's direction, the Bulldogs have absolved themselves quite well, winning their past three games against New Mexico State, Arkansas and Tennessee by a combined score of 96-17.
The defense, statistically the worst in the SEC last season, is among the nation's best in 2000, embracing the conservative approach of defensive coordinator Gary Gibbs and giving fits to opposing offenses.
"I thought our defense was spectacular," Donnan said of last week's effort that applied consistent pressure on Tennessee quarterbacks and held the Volunteers to 248 total yards.
Given the quality of their next two opponents, a loss to Vanderbilt or Kentucky would be disastrous. Two teams that entered the season with bowl aspirations now find their seasons on the rocks with identical 2-4 records, 0-3 in the SEC.
Damien Gary said he doesn't think the Bulldogs will have trouble focusing on their next two opponents before their Oct. 28 showdown with the Gators in Jacksonville, Fla.
"We've just got to put that win behind us," the redshirt freshman flanker said. "Even though it was a big victory, we've got to move on. Less than 24 hours after the game, we were already talking about Vanderbilt and trying to get focused on that."
Reach Larry Williams at (706) 823-3645.