Dawgs survive easy stretch _ barely.

Updated: October 26, 2003, 6:12 PM ET

ATHENS, Ga. -- Maybe it's all the injuries. Maybe a lack of motivation.

Whatever the case, Georgia stumbled through a supposedly easy stretch of the season looking downright mediocre. That was good enough to beat Vanderbilt and UAB. It won't be good enough to survive the gauntlet that lies ahead -- Florida, Auburn and Georgia Tech.

"We're a tired team, a banged-up team," coach Mark Richt said Sunday. "I don't know if we've got enough juice left. We barely had enough juice the last two weeks. We're as vulnerable right now as we've ever been."

On Saturday, the Bulldogs (7-1) struggled mightily to beat UAB, a 29-point underdog with a redshirt freshman quarterback making his first college start.

The Blazers led 13-10 in the second half, but Billy Bennett kicked two field goals -- the last early in the fourth quarter -- to give Georgia a 16-13 victory.

At the end, the Bulldog Nation let out a giant sigh of relief.

"We've been a little flat," defensive tackle Ken Veal said. "I don't think the team was real hyped up like we usually are."

It's been that way two weeks in a row. Against Vandy, another big underdog, Georgia trailed 2-0 at halftime before rallying for a 27-8 victory.

Based on this latest close call, the Bulldogs remained fourth in The Associated Press poll, getting leapfrogged by Southern California for the third spot behind unbeatens Oklahoma and Miami.

Last week's No. 3, Virginia Tech, was upset by West Virginia, removing another hurdle in Georgia's quest to earn a spot in the national championship game.

No one was talking championships after Saturday's game.

Beaten down by a rash of injuries, the offense has struggled to find any sense of continuity. Tailback Tony Milton barely played this season. Receiver Fred Gibson missed the last two games and looks doubtful for this week's showdown with No. 23 Florida. Backup quarterback D.J. Shockley is out for the year.

There's more. Guard Bartley Miller was knocked out of the UAB game in the third quarter. The other guard, Josh Brock, didn't get on the field at all. The top two fullbacks, Jeremy Thomas and Jamario Smith, couldn't play either, forcing the Bulldogs to move linebacker Des Williams to fullback.

"We're playing a lot of young, inexperienced guys," Richt said. "They're just inconsistent enough to keep you from moving the ball like you want to."

The Bulldogs got another scare Saturday when All-American defensive end David Pollack was sidelined with a sore knee. But he is expected to play against Florida.

"He kind of got leg-whipped in the knee," Richt said. "He'll be fine."

Richt also expects Miller, Brock and Smith to return for this week's game, which should make things a bit easier for quarterback David Greene.

The Bulldogs have given up 25 sacks -- tied with lowly Mississippi State for the most in the Southeastern Conference.

Also, Greene seems a bit of sync with his receivers, not surprising considering the injuries that have plagued that group. Sophomores Bryan McClendon and Mario Raley have been forced to take on a larger and larger role -- showing flashes of promise but also revealing their inexperience.

McClendon dropped a sure touchdown pass against UAB, preventing the Bulldogs from scoring on their first two possessions. That miscue seemed to turn the momentum in UAB's favor.

"If we go out and play Florida like we did the last two games, we're going to be in for a long night -- a real long night," McClendon said. "But it should be easier for us to get up for Florida."

No kidding. Georgia has plenty of motivation, having beaten the Gators only once in the past 13 years. A year ago, Florida handed the Bulldogs their only loss, potentially knocking them out of a spot in the national championship game.

This time, a victory over the Gators would virtually ensure Georgia of a return to the SEC championship game. The Bulldogs would need to win only one of their last two conference games -- Auburn or Kentucky, both at home -- to clinch the East title. "Last year, we won 13 games and lost only one," Richt said. "Still, everyone wants to know when the heck are we going to beat Florida."

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