Georgia coach Mark Richt said he hates to be the one to break up the party his players started after Saturday’s 45-7 rout of Auburn at Sanford Stadium.
“I never want to squelch a celebration,” Richt said Sunday. “We worked too hard and we put them through so much, and so if there’s ever a time worthy of celebrating, I like them to celebrate in the right way, of course.”
But the coach said No. 13 Georgia’s players have to switch focuses today as preparations begin for Saturday’s game against Kentucky in which the Bulldogs have an opportunity to clinch the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division title with a victory. If Georgia loses to Kentucky, the division title goes to No. 14 South Carolina.
With Kentucky (4-6, 1-5) — which leads only Tennessee in the SEC Eastern Division and whose lone conference win came against a two-win Ole Miss team — on deck, Richt said the Bulldogs (8-2, 6-1) will not change their practice routine or look past the Wildcats and ahead to potential SEC West opponents, which include No. 1 LSU, No. 3 Alabama or No. 6 Arkansas.
“We’re just going to keep grinding,” Richt said. “We want to get the best plan possible, and we want to get after these guys like we have been doing lately. We want to keep playing hard and keep playing disciplined and keep winning that turnover ratio.”
Motivation should not be an issue for Georgia players, who know a trip to the SEC championship game is just a win away. That will make the Bulldogs that much more difficult to face, Kentucky coach Joker Phillips said.
“It’s definitely a huge challenge with Georgia playing for the Eastern championship,” Phillips said. “We’re banged up and taking an even younger team on the road, so we’ve got to accept the challenge and get ourselves ready to prepare the right way and go down there and give it our all.”
Phillips said he would begin preparing with footage from last season’s 44-31 loss to Georgia, but said he expected to find few similarities to what he will see Saturday.
“We know personnel has changed,” Phillips said. “(Georgia) has lost some guys and added some really good players, especially (linebacker Jarvis Jones). I haven’t had a chance to look at them as closely as I would like. Although, we did get a chance to see them on our return from Nashville (Saturday). We got to see a little bit of them and how physical they were up front on both sides of the ball.”
Phillips singled out the matchups along the offensive and defensive lines as the ones that present the most difficulty for the Wildcats.
“It always is going to be up front on both sides of the ball, especially the way they ran the ball and the way they, at least in the little I saw, stopped Auburn’s run (Saturday),” Phillips said.
Now ranked fourth in the nation in total defense, allowing 273.4 yards of offense per game and trailing Alabama (181.4), LSU (253.2) and Michigan State (259.4), Georgia has been on a roll. The Bulldogs have allowed 106 points — or 13.25 per game — on their eight-game winning streak.
Richt said he expects the defense’s performance to continue being a major factor as the Bulldogs look to reach the SEC title game for the first time since 2005.
“We are doing things that good defenses do, and that’s stop the run most of the time. We’re big up front, we’re very physical, we play hard, and we’ve been causing a lot of fumbles,” Richt said. “We’re getting sacks, we’re getting quarterbacks to hurry their throws, we’re getting interceptions, and we’re just believing right now.”
NOTES: Nose guard Kwame Geathers suffered an ankle sprain against Auburn on Saturday, Richt said. The coach did not yet have details on the extent of the injury, but said he believed it was not severe enough to keep him from playing against Kentucky. “I don’t know if he has a situation where he won’t play,” Richt said. “My guess is he’ll be able to play.” … Richt said he had no update on receiver Rantavious Wooten, who suffered a concussion in a car accident and last played on Sept. 10 against South Carolina. Richt said he did not expect Wooten to return this season, including for a bowl game, but had not yet ruled him out, either. “At this point, I would not imagine him playing the rest of the year,” Richt said. “That’s just my guess.”