Originally created 10/26/02

Bulldogs know what is at stake



ATHENS, Ga. - His intention to educate and motivate, Mark Richt begins each week by telling his team something it might not already know.

Before preparation for South Carolina, he reminded his players that Georgia had never lost three straight games to the Gamecocks. Before the trip to Alabama, he informed them that the Bulldogs had never won in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

This week, Richt mentioned the No. 5 Bulldogs need to win their next two games to reach the Southeastern Conference title game for the first time.

"A chill went through my body, because I never really looked at it like that," senior receiver Terrence Edwards said. "And I think it went through the whole team as well."

The chill came from the realization that the Bulldogs, 20 years removed from their last SEC title, are so close to something that has eluded them for so long. With a victory today at Kentucky (3:30 p.m., CBS-Ch. 12), Georgia will be one win from its first SEC East crown.

The Bulldogs play Florida next week in Jacksonville, Fla.

"This team is motivated just by that statement - that if we win these next two games, we're representing the East in the Georgia Dome," Edwards said of the SEC title game, played Dec. 7 in Atlanta. "This is what everybody came to Georgia for, to get back to the way coach (Vince) Dooley had it."

Georgia hasn't been this close to SEC glory since its last league title in 1982. Every year since 1983, the Bulldogs (7-0, 4-0 SEC) have had at least one loss this far into the season.

Georgia is undefeated, thanks mostly to its ability to win close games. The Bulldogs have beaten Clemson, South Carolina, Alabama and Tennessee by a combined 16 points, evoking comparisons to their success with nail-biters during the national title run in 1980.

Georgia could be in for more tense moments today in Lexington, Ky., the site of plenty of taut struggles between the Bulldogs and Wildcats. The past four games there have been decided by a total of 17 points.

Georgia has won three of those games and considered itself lucky to do it. Two years ago, the Bulldogs trailed 13-0 early but rallied to win, 34-30.

"It's just the way they play in that stadium," said Edwards, who needs four receptions to break the career record at Georgia. "They just play over their heads."

The Wildcats (5-2, 1-2) are certainly playing that way this season, which began with them knowing a bowl trip is impossible because of NCAA probation.

Kentucky began the season 4-0 before losing narrowly at Florida. An upset loss at home to South Carolina made many believe their dream season was over, but the Wildcats responded with last week's 29-17 upset at Arkansas.

"This is one of the best teams in this league that is not getting the credit they deserve," Edwards said. "Coach (Guy) Morriss has done a great job turning that program around."

Reach Larry Williams at (706) 823-3645 or larry.williams@augustachronicle.com.