It has been more than three weeks since the Georgia Bulldogs last played a football game. When they take the field at Hard Rock Stadium for the Orange Bowl on Friday night, it will have been one day shy of four weeks since their SEC Championship loss to Alabama. Was having all of that time to think a blessing or a curse for Georgia?
The loss in Atlanta was, in itself, very uncharacteristic of this Georgia team. For the entirety of the regular season, the Bulldogs defense had established itself as far and away the best defense in college football. In 12 games, only one team had scored more than 15 points against Georgia, and no team had put up more than 20 all year.
Entering their conference championship game, the Bulldogs defense was giving up an average of 6.9 points per game. That makes this Georgia team one of the best scoring defenses in college football history. Not even the storied 2011 Alabama defense held their opponents to so few points in a season. So when the Crimson Tide rolled to a 41-24 win in the SEC Championship, it was not only a big shock to people watching but also a slap in the face to the Bulldogs’ team identity.
With that in mind, Georgia has had a long time to reflect while preparing for their biggest game of the season. Unlike in any previous game this year, the Bulldogs will be entering Friday’s matchup stewing on a loss, and they’ll have been doing so for several weeks.
On one hand, all of this time off could be affecting the team negatively. So much time to stew and overanalyze mistakes from one game could lead to overthinking and mental lapses on the field in the next. It also didn’t give the team a quick turnaround with another game in the near future. They haven’t been able to immediately prove it was a one-time issue to the viewing public and themselves; all of the wins before don’t matter when the last thing that happened was an embarrassing loss.
On the other hand, these guys are high-level athletes, and in any sport, one of the most important traits to have is a short memory. They’ll remember what went wrong and build off it with plenty of time to reflect and study, but it won’t consume them on the field. If anything, this downtime gave them more of an opportunity to flush the loss and mentally prepare for their future. That’s even easier to do given the context: Friday’s game means more than any other matchup has this season.
For one, Georgia actually needs to win this game to advance. We can’t kid ourselves and pretend like everyone—including the athletes themselves—didn’t know that the Bulldogs would make the CFP even if they lost the SEC Championship Game. As the only undefeated team in the Power 5 conferences, they were in no matter what. It was a game that meant far more to Alabama than it did to their opponent.
For two, a win means not only a chance at winning their first national championship since 1980, but it also means a likely rematch with the Crimson Tide. With so much time to study and reflect on what could have gone differently in Atlanta, those Georgia players—on the defense, especially—are probably itching for the opportunity to redeem themselves.
"We went to the doctor, seen what hurt us, what we didn't do, how we didn't execute," linebacker Nakobe Dean said in a Monday morning press conference. "We worked on that."
What the Bulldogs do have to be careful of is not looking forward to the championship game before taking care of business in the semifinal. They’ll be facing a Michigan Wolverines team that is formidable in their own right. They boast the nation’s best offensive line and a dynamic running back trio of Hassan Haskins, Blake Corum, and Donovan Edwards. The tandem of a very strong offensive line with talented backs behind it will provide a significant test to a Georgia front seven that was practically a non-factor against Alabama.
In all, having so much time off after their first loss of the season will likely be a blessing for this Georgia team. They have had plenty of time to reflect and reset for a new opponent. With all of the practice and film study they’ve done since their single loss of the season, they won’t be overthinking on the field on Friday night. Instead, they’ll go out and take care of business, just like they have all season.