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THE GATHERING TOOK PLACE IN MID-SEPTEMBER IN GEORGIA'S main meeting room. The day before, the Bulldogs had lost at home to South Carolina 45--42, dropping their record to 0--2. Now with their season slipping away, several upperclassmen at this players-only meeting stood up and put forth an ambitious goal: Let's win 10 games in a row.
That's precisely what happened. Though the Bulldogs lost their final two games of the 2011 season, including a 33--30 defeat to Michigan State in the Outback Bowl, that winning streak reinvigorated the program and hushed talk that coach Mark Richt's job could be in jeopardy. "One key for us this year is going to be to start fast," says junior quarterback Aaron Murray. "This team is loaded with talent at every position. We need to play every game this season like we did during the winning streak."
Murray holds the key. One of 15 returning starters, the 6' 1" 211-pounder threw for a school-record 35 touchdowns in 2011. He has started 27 games at Georgia, and when he's on, he can pick apart a defense with ruthless efficiency. Last season Georgia finished second in the SEC in passing (244.5 yards per game) and third in total offense (408.5). And he likes the taste of victory. "Since peewee football I've been on teams that basically won every game," he says. Richt loves his quarterback's progress since he arrived in Athens. "Aaron has grown up," the coach says. "He has outstanding fundamentals, he's very prepared and he has great knowledge of our system."
The Georgia defense is anchored by nosetackles John Jenkins and Kwame Geathers—mountains of humanity (Jenkins is 6' 3" 351 pounds, Geathers 6' 6" 350) whom Richt calls "the best one-two punch in the country at that position." Jenkins and Geathers excel at tying up blockers and opening space for Jarvis Jones, a 6' 3" 241-pound linebacker who led the SEC in sacks last season with 13½ while making 19½ tackles for loss. The Bulldogs finished sixth in the conference in 2011 in scoring defense (20.6 points per game), but that number should shrink this year.
Says Murray, "Last year, when we started so poorly, we needed to figure out what we needed to change and we did that. We learned a lot. I know that this team now has the right attitude to go very, very far."
COACH Mark Richt (12th year) 106--38 (60--28 in SEC)
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR Mike Bobo
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR Todd Grantham