ORLANDO, Fla. — Take a good look at Georgia’s defense today in the Capital One Bowl.
A group that helped lead the Bulldogs to 10 wins last season and seeks its 12th to close out this season against Nebraska will undergo quite an overhaul in the months ahead before Georgia plays at Clemson to open its 2013 campaign on Aug. 31.
As many as a dozen players will be departing. They would like nothing better than to make this a farewell party today when the No. 6 Bulldogs go up against the No. 23 Cornhuskers at 1 p.m. in the Capital One Bowl.
“We want to enjoy every last minute of it,” said junior outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, projected by some as a top-five 2013 NFL draft pick. “Every opportunity we get, we’ve been together this whole week outside of practice. … They know what’s at stake. Our seniors are doing a great job of keeping us focused. We’re loving it. We’re going to enjoy it.”
Eight players who started for Georgia in the SEC championship game could be departing: defensive end Cornelius Washington, safeties Shawn Williams and Bacarri Rambo, cornerbacks Sanders Commings and Branden Smith, linebackers Jones and Alec Ogletree and nose guard John Jenkins.
Jenkins is academically ineligible to play in the bowl. Ogletree, a junior inside linebacker who leads the Bulldogs in tackles, is a projected first-round NFL draft choice. Junior nose guard Kwame Geathers also could be playing his last game at Georgia.
“We’ve all got to go our different paths later on this week,” Washington said. “It’s been good kind of hanging out with them, spend some time with the guys, get this last little bit of fellowship in and just enjoy the week. I’ve had a fun time.”
That includes not only the wide range of theme park visits but “see what a little bit of the nightlife is about here in Orlando,” Washington said.
Seniors Mike Gilliard, Christian Robinson and Abry Jones — who started a combined 61 games — also will close out their college careers.
“The seniors that are getting ready to leave are a special group,” defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. “Just watching those guys transition into being mentally and physically tough players and kind of the way they approach the game now, it’s really fun and really it’s been the funnest part of the job watching those guys, you know, take a system, believe in it, go out and try to execute it and play the game the way you need to play it. I think it’s an important game for us to finish it out right, send those guys out the the way they need to be sent out.”
Richt said that he was “pretty pleased” with how the players balanced the bowl practices with the bowl fun this week.
“I just think there’s enough veteran guys that just know this is their last moment wearing the red and black,” Richt said. “I just can’t imagine them not really playing with great effort. Will we play a great game? I don’t know, but I think they’ll play with great effort.”
Nebraska also has a bunch of seniors, Richt said, and he figures they are sick of hearing about that 70-31 drubbing they took in the Big Ten title game to Wisconsin.
“No matter what happens, you’re not going to wipe the taste — you don’t ever wipe that taste out of your mouth,” Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said.
Richt didn’t get to spend time helping to honor the seniors at the team’s annual gala because he was home with the flu “worse than I ever thought you could have the flu.”
He talked of the final scene after each bowl game when the entire team — including the departing seniors — gathers.
“You want that last memory to be a good one,” Richt said. “That’s a big motivating factor for me, and I think it is probably is for those seniors or anybody else thinking that, hey, this might be my last ball game.”
Inside linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti is likely to only return Amarlo Herrera from his top four players.
“This group of guys likes football,” Olivadotti said. “They’ve been fun to work with and even this entire week they had their fun with the bowl things but at the end of the day, I think their favorite part of the day is meeting about football and doing football stuff.”
This is expected to be the last game in a Georgia uniform for Jones. The outside linebacker has 12½ sacks and needs two more to break Georgia’s single-season sack record currently held by David Pollack.
“Me and these guys have so much fun together I can’t even think of just being away from them,” Jones said. “Even if I did come back, a lot of these guys are going to be gone. You’ve got to enjoy these moments right here because once they’re gone you can’t get them back.”