ATHENS, Ga. | No matter how many times they called it just one game, the Georgia Bulldogs can't deny that something feels a little strange.
They're not used to having a losing record in these parts.
For the first time in Mark Richt's nine years as coach, No. 21 Georgia finds itself on the wrong side of .500. OK, so it's just 0-1, hardly a reason for panic, but it will be interesting to see how the Bulldogs bounce back in the Southeastern Conference opener against South Carolina.
"I'd be lying if I said it doesn't feel different," defensive end Roderick Battle conceded Tuesday. "It feels different going into week two trying to get our first W. But that's the situation we're in. We've got to do it now."
Georgia hasn't had a losing record at any point in a season since 1996, when the Bulldogs finished 5-6 in Jim Donnan's first year as coach. They had won 12 straight season openers — all but one of them at Sanford Stadium — before a 24-10 loss at No. 5 Oklahoma State last weekend.
The defeat cost Georgia six spots in the latest Associated Press rankings.
Richt stressed the importance of, well, not placing too much importance on one game. The Bulldogs lost to a highly ranked opponent on the road. Let's move on, he said.
"I'm not worried about perception," Richt said. "I'm worried about winning right now. We played a top 10 team and we lost. Now, we've got to play game two. I'm focused on what it takes to win the next game. I'm not focused on what people say about us. You can't do that. It's counterproductive."
Still, there's little doubt that Saturday night's traditional conference opener against the Gamecocks (1-0) takes on even more significance than usual. The Bulldogs don't want to be facing an early deficit in the SEC race, and they certainly don't want to deal with all the scrutiny an 0-2 record would bring — especially since they are breaking in a new starting quarterback, senior Joe Cox.
In fact, Cox seemed mindful of the criticism he would receive for a lackluster performance against Oklahoma State as soon as the game was over. He talked about it in the locker room with star receiver A.J. Green.
"I was like, 'Joe, don't worry about that. You're going to be fine. Don't worry about what people say about you,'" Green said.
Cox, who waited four years for his chance to start, completed just 15 of 30 for 162 yards. He threw an interception and lost a fumble, leading to 10 crucial points for the Cowboys. He also had several passes batted down at the line, raising more questions about his height — listed at 6-foot-1 but probably a couple of inches shorter.
"I didn't do good enough to win. That's the main thing," he said. "I think there were some things I did well, but there's a lot of things I need to do better to put my team in a position to win the game."
Cox insisted that he doesn't pay attention to what anyone outside the program is saying or writing, even though he did seem a bit sensitive to the microscope he's now under.
"Half the people who have things to say after games have never played the game of football before in their entire lives," he said. "I wouldn't want to criticize somebody for something I've never played before or ever done before. Some people feel it's their place to say how somebody's doing when they've never done it before. That's just something I've never understood."
Battle stressed that all of Georgia's goals are within reach — even a national title. No one is likely to make it through an entire season without a loss.
"I think our mindset is the same as it was when we started," Battle said. "All the goals we had in the preseason are still unattainable. We're going into our first SEC game. We still have the whole SEC ahead of us. If we can win the SEC, you set yourself up to play for the national championship. We still have everything to play for."