Georgia players look to move on after emotional loss

More than a week and a half later, not all Georgia players have moved past the punch-to-the-gut loss to Alabama in the Southeastern Conference championship game.

“I literally replay the entire game pretty much every night before I go to bed,” quarterback Aaron Murray said Wednesday. “It’s stressful. It’s a game that will probably haunt me the rest of my life, honestly.”

Georgia’s national title hopes died when Murray’s back-shoulder fade intended for Malcolm Mitchell was tipped at the line of scrimmage and caught by Chris Conley, who slipped at the 5-yard line. Time ran out on the Bulldogs as Alabama escaped with a 32-28 win

Coach Mark Richt’s Capital One Bowl news conference on Wednesday was filled with questions about the game 11 days earlier, not the one against Nebraska on Jan. 1 in Orlando.

Among the questions was one about the emotional state of his team.

“You know what? I think most of them know that you can’t turn the clock back,” Richt said. “We fought hard, we had a great plan, we did what we could do that day, we just couldn’t get it done.”

Richt reiterated that he would not have done anything differently in the final 15 seconds. Georgia had Alabama’s defense on its heels on the final drive and did not spike the ball after a completion to Arthur Lynch brought the Bulldogs to the Alabama 8-yard line.

“If we had clocked the ball, we would have called the same play,” Richt said. “It was the play that we wanted to call. The problem was the ball got tipped and it landed in play.”

Conley said there was a “short grieving process” for the team. He didn’t sleep well the night after the game but said he was ready to move on the next day.

Linebacker Christian Robinson said it took “a while” to get over the loss. He didn’t watch the game film until earlier this week.

“The positive I’ll take out of it is we made people believe again,” Robinson said. “The fact that people believed we could do that and we could have been in Miami (for the BCS title game). It stinks we’re not there. It was a dream to be down there, but I think people believe in Georgia again.”

The SEC championship game loss may have seemed to be the end of the 2012 season because of the Bulldogs’ long-time focus on getting to Miami.

“We’re thinking we’re at the top of the mountain right now when it comes to college football,” Murray said. “I think we earned a lot of respect this season. Obviously we’ve got to finish strong in the bowl game. I definitely think Georgia’s back.”

“Not many people were in a game like that,” Richt said. “There are three teams left. We were one of them. We played a great football team and played a great game.”

He added later of the tipped pass: “You’re probably talking about one or two digits of a finger. That’s how close games are sometimes.”

There’s still bowl practices and a game to play amid the backdrop of looming NFL decisions for underclassmen and the biggest of Richt’s 13 recruiting classes — currently at 30 commitments — about to change the look of the program.

As many as 16 early enrollees will be in the fold next month. Inside Linebacker Ryne Rankin from East River High in Orlando is set to join the team for bowl practices starting on Friday,

Georgia is favored by 10 points over Nebraska.

“As an SEC team, if you don’t make a BCS game, this is the No. 1 game you want to go to, obviously,” Murray said. “I think everyone’s excited to go to Disney World and go to Best Buy with our little gift cards. It’s just a little chance to finish the season off strong.”

The Bulldogs held the first of 10 consecutive days of bowl practices on campus on Wednesday evening before breaking on Dec. 21 and reconvening in Orlando on Dec. 26.

“Yeah, I’ve still got a bitter taste in my mouth,” receiver Tavarres King said a few hours before the first practice. “Once we get out there, get back on that field competing with each other, just playing football again, I think it will soon wear out.”

Conley said Georgia fans have sent him messages of support.

“Thank you to the Bulldog Nation for that,” he said. “I’m ready to move forward.”

“People are already saying it was probably the best SEC championship game ever,” Murray said. “If we somehow pulled it off at the end, gosh, oh, man, I don’t even want to think about the state of Georgia at that point.”

Tight end Jay Rome said the outpouring of positive messages he got on Twitter and through text messages lifted his spirits.

“At the end of the day, I feel like everybody put their hearts on the line and played with everything they had,” Rome said. “We left it out on the field and our fans recognized that and we’re still proud of us despite coming up a little bit short.”

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Georgia still committed to NIT Season Tip-Off, waiting on format http://t.co/EauuWBgyvz #UGA

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