Georgia coach Marc Richt had not yet started to analyze video of Michigan State when he spoke with reporters Monday morning, but he already knew what to expect when the teams meet in the Outback Bowl on Jan. 2 in Tampa, Fla.
It’s a team that is almost a mirror image of the one he coaches, Richt said.
The Bulldogs and Spartans feature run defenses ranked in the top five nationally, each is 10-3 and both teams will be looking to close the season on a positive note after falling in their respective conference championship games.
“There are a lot of things alike in terms of what we’ve been through and what we want to accomplish, and then living through the pain of not winning your conference championship,” Richt said. “Both teams certainly want to finish with a strong game to end this season.”
Each team also has some closure on the line. Georgia aims to notch an 11th win after seeing its 10-game streak snapped by top-ranked LSU in the Southeastern Conference Championship game while Michigan State’s senior class hopes to finish with a victory to cap the winningest four-year run in school history, Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said.
“Your last step out onto the football field, you want to go out a winner,” Dantonio said. “I don’t think there is anything more disappointing, including last week, that would be more disappointing than walking off the field (with a loss) in your last game as a Spartan.”
While the two teams look largely alike in many areas, each of their previous two meetings have come in bowl games in Florida.
Georgia won 34-7 in the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville at the end of the 1988 season and 24-12 in the Capital One Bowl in Orlando at the end of the 2008 season.
Several players on both teams participated in the game with Georgia tight end Aron White scoring a touchdown and kicker Blair Walsh accounting for six points. Dantonio said he would look to several of his seniors who played in the game — receiver B.J. Cunningham and quarterback Kirk Cousons among them — to build on the experience as they prepare for the Bulldogs.
Richt said he hopes to squeeze in 12-15 practices leading up to the game even if it means doing several two-a-day sessions and that the emphasis will be on winning the Outback Bowl rather than getting a head start on developing players for next season.
“There will be some times when we’ll let some young guys get some extra work, but the main goal is to be prepared for the ball game,” Richt said. “We’ve got to take care of school, take final exams and all that kind of thing, and I want these guy to enjoy their time with their families during Christmas. But we also want to make sure when we get to Tampa we’ll be ready to play because it’s going to be a heck of a ball game.”
The Bulldogs also expect to have some added depth at tailback as Richt said junior Richard Samuel, who had ankle surgery shortly after the Florida game, is likely to return and Carlton Thomas should return in time from a knee injury suffered Saturday against LSU.