Georgia trying to bounce back from rare loss

Updated: October 3, 2003, 3:28 PM ET

ATHENS, Ga. -- The reaction was understandable. Some guys were sad. Others were angry. Everyone was stunned.

Defeat? That wasn't a part of Georgia's routine, not anymore. No wonder the Bulldogs were feeling all sorts of strange emotions after losing to LSU on a touchdown pass with less than two minutes to go.

"In the locker room, you had guys with their head in their hands. The response was very emotional," coach Mark Richt said. "Now, I think the guys realize that there's still an awful lot to play for."

The No. 11 Bulldogs (3-1, 1-1 SEC) head into Saturday's game against Alabama (2-3, 1-1) knowing that a second straight league title is still possible. Who knows? There's a chance Georgia could get back into the national championship race without another slip-up.

"You never plan on losing," quarterback David Greene said. "Our backs are up against the wall as far as winning out. We haven't been in this position in a while."

While Georgia has lost only two games in the past two seasons, Alabama finds itself in a different mode.

The Crimson Tide are saddled with NCAA sanctions and are on their third coach in less than a year. Still, Mike Shula's team has been highly competitive in its three losses -- all against ranked teams by a total of 13 points.

Last week, Alabama squandered a 21-point lead in the second half, missed a potential winning field goal in overtime and fell to No. 8 Arkansas 34-31. The Tide's other defeats were to top-ranked Oklahoma and No. 17 Northern Illinois.

"They look every bit as good as their opponents. They just haven't been able to secure the win for one reason or another," Richt said. "They aren't far from being a 5-0 squad coming in here on Saturday, and one thing's for sure -- they aren't going to feel sorry for us having lost our ball game."

Richt feels for Shula, who got his first head coaching job under the most trying of circumstances.

Dennis Franchione bolted for Texas A&M after last season, not even bothering to tell his players goodbye. Mike Price was brought in from Washington State, but a strip-club escapade cost him the job before he ever coached a game.

Enter Shula, who had never been a head coach or even worked in the college ranks since playing quarterback for the Tide in the 1980s.

"I'm sure he's like I was," said Richt, in his third year at Georgia. "Things are happening so fast, it's just a flurry of new things coming at you. I know I was just doing my best to keep my head above water, faking as best I could to make it look like I knew what I was doing."

Shula knew his task would be difficult, but it's still tough to lose so many close games.

"I kind of thought about it ... just how close we really are to being 4-1 or 5-0," he said. "It's not lip service. That's how close games are. From my experience, that's how they are every week."

Somehow, Alabama must cut down on the sort of silly mistakes that keep sinking this team at the most critical points in the game. Take last week's overtime.

The Tide intercepted a pass on Arkansas's first possession, but cost itself 15 yards with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Alabama still got in position to win, but Brian Bostick missed a 38-yard field goal from the center of the field.

In the second OT, Arkansas came up with an interception and drove into position for a chip-field goal that ended the game.

"We're a little bit confused as to how we blew a three-touchdown lead," quarterback Brodie Croyle said. "Starting 2-4 would not be the way we'd want to go. We've got to find a way to pull it out this week."

After the 17-10 loss to LSU, Georgia was off last week. While the Bulldogs didn't relish the idea of stewing for two weeks with such an unpleasant memory, the break actually came at a good time.

Greene had a chance to rest a sore right knee. Receiver Fred Gibson, tight end Ben Watson and running back Tony Milton -- all starters -- got more time to recover from injuries that kept them out of the last game.

Greene will wear a brace on his knee, but he's ready to go. Gibson, Watson and Milton are expected to play, too.

"Anytime you lose like we did, you want to get right back on the field," Greene said. "But we were fortunate to have a week off. We had a lot of guys banged up."

Ditto for Alabama -- most significantly Croyle.

He played the entire second half and both overtime periods after dislocating his left (non-throwing) shoulder against Arkansas. It didn't affect his throwing, but it did cause significant pain.

"You can play through pain," said Croyle, who expects to start against the Bulldogs. "Pain is no big deal."

This story is from's automated news wire. Wire index