ATHENS, Ga. - After tough losses against Florida and Auburn, Georgia coach Jim Donnan was adamant that his team would not give up on the rest of the year.
He was right, at least for one game.
The Bulldogs recovered from a 14-0 deficit to defeat Mississippi 32-14 on Saturday night, thanks in large part to an effective running game. Freshman Musa Smith carried the load, rushing for 144 yards and a touchdown, before leaving the game with a shoulder injury.
"I was pleased with blocking at the point of attack," Donnan said Sunday. "We felt we could run on them."
Smith became the first Georgia rusher to top the 100-yard mark this year. After he left midway through the third period, Jasper Sanks and Brett Millican picked up where he left off. The Bulldogs exploited their size over the Rebels, who were ranked next-to-last in the conference in rushing defense.
"I was pleased with the way Sanks and Millican ran, too," Donnan said.
The fans who turned out on a miserable night - temperature in the 30s with a steady rain - must have been dismayed when Georgia found itself in an early hole. But with the running game working and the defense contributing points on a safety and an interception return, Georgia was able to pull out the victory.
The Bulldogs still have plenty to play for, even though their preseason goal of a conference championship has been gone for some time. Saturday's opponent, Georgia Tech, should offer plenty of motivation since the Yellow Jackets hold a two-game winning streak in the rivalry that dates back to 1893.
Throw in a chance for Georgia to improve its bowl position and keep its record at Sanford Stadium unblemished and you have additional motivation.
"We had two very emotional losses, and we laid it on the line," Donnan said. "I'm proud of the way our team came back (Saturday) night ... They showed a lot of mettle."
With losses Saturday by Mississippi State and South Carolina, Georgia's bowl position is steadily improving. A win over Georgia Tech could propel the Bulldogs into a New Year's Day bowl.
"Who knows?" Donnan asked. "That's hard for me to speculate on. We'll just have to take what we get."
If the Bulldogs don't get a Jan. 1 date, the Music City Bowl in Nashville, Tenn., seems to be the best bet. The Dec. 28 game pits an SEC team against an opponent from the Big East.
But the focus this week clearly will be on the Yellow Jackets, who have won six straight and are 8-2 on the year.
"The last three have been nip and tuck and could have gone either way," said Donnan, whose team lost 51-48 last year in Atlanta.
With Thanksgiving Day this week, Donnan said the Bulldogs are on a holiday practice schedule. The team had a short workout Sunday and will have its next heavy workout Tuesday.
Smith's status is day-to-day, and quarterback Quincy Carter's right thumb will be re-evaluated today. Both probably will be itching to play against the Yellow Jackets.
"It's a year-round game for the players and coaches," Donnan said. "We know the implications of it."
Reach John Boyette at (706) 823-3337 or firstname.lastname@example.org.