Clinching SEC East would be nice bonus for No. 1 Georgia Bulldogs

STARKVILLE, Miss. – Georgia wide receiver Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint’s eyes widened and he tilted his head ever so slightly when he was asked about the Bulldogs being able to clinch the SEC East and punch their ticket to the SEC Championship game with a win over Mississippi State on Saturday night.

He seemed totally unaware of it. If not, clearly the notion hadn’t been discussed inside the Butts-Mehre football complex this week, not with him anyway.

“Right now, we’re not looking far into the future; we’re not dwelling on the past,” said Rosemy-Jacksaint, a junior from Pompano Beach, Fla. “We’re focused on the present. We’re focused on getting better day-by-day. We’re getting ready for practice today. We’re going to get ready for practice tomorrow. We’ve got Mississippi State this week.”

That was after Georgia’s practice Wednesday in Athens. At 7 p.m. Saturday, the Bulldogs will put their unblemished record (9-0, 6-0 SEC) and newly minted No. 1 ranking on the line against Mississippi State (6-3, 3-3). That’s a sneakily dangerous proposition.

It already was considered a “trap game” for the defending national champions because of where it fell in the schedule between Tennessee and Kentucky, two traditional Eastern Division rivals. But now it’s thought to be an even more dubious challenge as it comes on the heels of Georgia’s momentous 27-13 victory over then-No. 1 Tennessee last week.

Surely, there will be a letdown.

From the cacophonous, pro-UGA din of Sanford Stadium, the Bulldogs a week later land here at the most rural outpost of the SEC’s 14 venues. And it’s one that produces its own quirky kind of noise for the opposition. Artificially produced with cowbells, the noise seems to stir something within the home team. All who have been to the Maroon Dogs’ little stadium in the sticks warn of the relative ferocity within.

That includes Georgia coach Kirby Smart, who went there every other year while coordinating the Alabama defense from 2007-15. As a team, UGA hasn’t been there since 2010.

“Coach Smart’s been showing us videos about the cowbells and the different environment they have there,” junior offensive lineman Warren Ericson said. “Being a part of that’s going to be cool.”

Said Rosemy-Jacksaint: “We’re going into a very hostile environment. We’re on the road, night game, in their stadium. I don’t think they’ve lost at home in a year or so, or something like that.”

Well, State hasn’t lost there this year. It is 5-0 in what they call Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field. With quarterback Will Rogers running coach Mike Leach’s famed “Air Raid” offense, the Maroons have averaged 43 points per game at home and won by an average margin of 21 points.

That’s particularly impressive when compared with their away games. Leach’s offense is averaging 19.5 points on the road, and only 13.0 against SEC foes.

But the real issue these days for Georgia is the more and more recognizable “Power G” on the side of their red helmets and what it stirs in the opposition. Now validated by a No. 1 ranking from the College Football Playoff committee, Georgia has been ranked No. 1 or 2 in 24 of the past 26 Associated Press polls. It was No. 3 those other two weeks.

Last year, the Bulldogs were No. 1 in all five regular-season CFP rankings before dropping to No. 3 for their run through the playoff to the national championship. Georgia was No. 3 in the first ranking of the year last week, but quickly ascended back to the top spot after dominating Tennessee on Saturday.

The price of doing business at that level is always getting an opponent’s best shot. Fan bases everywhere relish the thought of ripping down goal posts and depositing them somewhere they don’t belong.

Of this, the Bulldogs are well aware.

“I feel like we’ve had a target on our back all year,” Smart said. “I really don’t feel like that changes, right? When you won the national championship the year before, there’s a target on your back from Day 1. It doesn’t change regardless of your record or the venue that you play in.

“We talk about toughness and DNA -- and DNA travels. If you have good DNA, it travels with you. We don’t do all the exercises that we do to build composure to not use it.”

It will take execution, more than anything. For Georgia’s secondary, it will take air-tight coverage against a team that attempts just under 50 passes per game -- and completes 68% of them. It will take keeping a clean pocket against a defense that sacks opposing quarterbacks nearly three times per game in SEC play (2.67). It will take scoring touchdowns and not settling for field goals in the red zone.

Above all else, it will mean taking care of the ball. That’s something – really, the only thing -- the Bulldogs have been subpar at doing this season. Fortunately for them, they’re proficient at producing takeaways, too. So Georgia enters Saturday’s contest at 0.00 in turnover margin. But Mississippi State is second among SEC teams with 16 takeaways with a league-best nine interceptions and seven fumble recoveries.

Turnovers and red-zone deficiencies were what dogged the Bulldogs when they last went on the road for an SEC night game. Georgia found itself down 10 points to Missouri in Columbia on Oct. 1 before rallying for a 26-22 victory.

The thought this time is that the incentive of being able to punch their ticket to Mercedes-Benz Stadium will keep the Bulldogs supremely focused and motivated despite the constant clang of cowbells. Georgia needs only to get by the SEC West’s fourth-place team to assure itself a berth in the SEC title game for the fifth time in the past six seasons.

It has, we later determined, come up during the Bulldogs’ football practices this week.

“Yeah, absolutely,” Ericson said. “That’s obviously in the air, and that’s exciting. That’s one of our goals we start out with each year. The thing is, we have a mentality of going 1-0 each week no matter what the circumstances are, where we play or whatever.”

Said Rosemy-Jacksaint: “We know it’s a great opportunity for us to go out there and show the work that we’ve put in this past week. We’re just thankful for this opportunity that’s coming up.”

It’s a good one, for sure. Historic, if Georgia can win it.

November 5, 2022 Athens - Georgia's defensive lineman Warren Brinson (97) celebrates with teammates during the second half in an NCAA football game at Sanford Stadium in Athens on Saturday, November 5, 2022. Georgia won 27-13 over Tennessee. (Hyosub Shin /


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November 5, 2022 Athens - Georgia's wide receiver Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint (1) celebrates with teammates after catching a touchdown pass during the first half in an NCAA football game at Sanford Stadium in Athens on Saturday, November 5, 2022. (Hyosub Shin /


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