Josh Kendall

Georgia’s Week 2 showdown with USC in ‘crazy stadium’ is early battle for SEC East

Everybody in Atlanta on Tuesday wanted to ask Georgia’s football coach and players to look back, back to their last snap of football in which Alabama scored a 41-yard overtime touchdown that ended the Bulldogs season in the national title game.

Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart started his day with an appearance on ESPN’s “Get Up” television show and that highlight was used during his introduction.

“I thought they might open with the SEC championship, but of course not,” Smart said Tuesday on the second day of SEC Media Days at the College Football Hall of Fame. “That’s part of it. I think we embrace that as coaches. I think that’s something that you guys think about a lot, but not really us. We’re on to the next year. I think how players will use that experience to grow. I think that’s big for our program and understanding that if you do things a certain way, that you can get to certain places. We just have to be able to finish it when we get there.”

He and his players were asked about the game in some form or fashion dozens more times throughout a morning full of interviews. The Bulldogs finished 13-2 and won the SEC championship a year ago, but the season has come to be defined by that one play.

“When you win the SEC championship and the Rose Bowl and don’t win the natty, it doesn’t mean a thing,” defensive back J.R. Reed said.

Georgia’s representatives seemed perfectly willing to look back on the moment and where their program might go from it. What they didn’t want to do was look ahead to, for instance, the second week of the season.

Georgia wide receiver Terry Godwin speaks with the media during the NCAA college football Southeastern Conference media days, Tuesday, July 17, 2018, in Atlanta. Joshua L. Jones Athens Banner-Herald via AP

“We are always thinking about Austin Peay because they’re the next game,” Bulldogs wide receiver Terry Godwin said. “We never look past anybody. We are always thinking about who’s the next opponent.”

Georgia will travel to Williams-Brice Stadium on Sept. 8 as the Bulldogs and South Carolina open their SEC season in a 3:30 p.m. CBS game. Both teams have a nonconference tune-up to open the season — Coastal Carolina for the Gamecocks and the aforementioned Austin Peay for the Bulldogs.

“The first game is the most important so I’m just focused on Austin Peay right now,” defensive end Jonathan Ledbetter said. “Of course, when you look at the schedule,you see it for what it is, but every game you are really playing yourselves. If we can beat ourselves, we can beat anybody on our schedule. I look at every game the same, no matter who we are playing.”

With Florida and Tennessee trying to re-establish themselves under first-year coaches, the winner of South Carolina-Georgia game will become the front-runner in the SEC’s Eastern Division. The Bulldogs are expected to be heavy favorites, but Godwin will be wary of South Carolina, he said.

“Just over the years me playing them, they have always been a great team,” he said. “We know every chance we get to play them, they are going to give us their best. That’s the same thing we have to do.”

After a three-game winning streak from 2010-2012, the Gamecocks have fallen on hard times in the rivalry. The Bulldogs enter 2018 having won three in a row and four out of the past five and in 2016, they snapped a three-game losing streak in Williams-Brice Stadium.

“They have a crazy stadium. It gets loud in there,” Ledbetter said. “I love those games. Some people get kind of frazzled and uneasy when they play in an environment like that in hostile territory, but I like the competition, I like the challenge. We are going to come out and play our brand of football, Georgia football. We have to set the standard in the first quarter, and they’re going to play a great game as well because they have a great football team. They prove it year in and year out. I’m just excited to get there.”