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October 29, 2006

Rebuilding hard to swallow at Georgia

Experts' blog
Scenes from Saturday
The College Football Wire

Get the inside scoop on your favorite team:

Florida defense steals the show | Gators smell SEC East title
Florida 21, Georgia 14 | Box score

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. Georgia coach Mark Richt was discouraged, encouraged, upset and proud because his Bulldogs didn't let up after they let down.

Emotions swung as wildly as momentum in the Bulldogs' 21-14 Southeastern Conference football loss to Florida on Saturday at Alltel Stadium.

"I don't feel good about this. I don't enjoy losing to the Gators," Richt said minutes after the Bulldogs' rally from a three touchdown deficit came up a touchdown shy. "But I will say this, when most teams would lie down and die this team didn't. We've got some guys with great character. I'm proud of them."

No doubt, the good folks in Athens, Ga., are similarly contradicted.

It has been an up-and-down year for the Bulldogs. In one stretch they were hoping to notch three consecutive shutouts. In another they were trying to avoid three consecutive losses.

They appeared inept in falling behind Florida, 21-0. Then they appeared inspired in fighting back within a touchdown, but no closer.

"We only had the ball one time while we were down 21-14," freshman quarterback Matthew Stafford said. "And we did not capitalize on it."

That said so much about the Bulldogs' day. They managed just 26 rushing yards in the first half, but rushed for two touchdowns in the second half.

"We couldn't get a whole lot going offensively in the first half," Richt said. "But in the second half we turned it around. (Florida) missed a field goal and we got some points on the board, but we couldn't get it done."

In the second half, the Bulldogs defense allowed only 113 total yards, no points and forced a fumble that led to their second touchdown.

But it could not get the ball back when needing it most.

What does that all mean? Are the 6-3 Bulldogs merely experiencing an inevitable sub-standard year after reaching the Southeastern Conference championship game three of the last four years?

Or is this season, which has included a rare loss to Vanderbilt, a blowout loss to Tennessee and home field escapes from struggling Colorado and Mississippi State, a symptom of more trouble in the future?

Time will tell.

On the positive side, Georgia's 2006 recruiting class was ranked fourth nationally by Rivals.com and its 2007 class is currently ranked third, so the talent level is rising.

Also, Stafford showed signs that he will be the quarterback he was projected to be when rated the nation's top prospect at his position a year ago.

Although Stafford completed only 13 of 33 attempts, he had at least a half dozen dropped. Stafford was under constant pressure by the Florida defensive line, which is unquestionably one of the nation's best.

Georgia running backs Kregg Lumpkin and Danny Ware are capable, but not spectacular. The receivers don't seem to possess the speed necessary to separate from defensive backs.

After this season the Bulldogs will lose three senior starters in the offensive line. Four standouts on a strong defense - end Quentin Moses, linebackers Jarvis Jackson and Tony Taylor and rover Tra Battle also won't be back in 2007.

But why worry about next year?

Games with Kentucky, Auburn and Georgia Tech remain, as well as a trip to a bowl. Realistically, the Bulldogs figure to post eight or nine victories.

For a team obviously in a rebuilding process, that would be a good year - as long as they don't have a bad finish.

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