'They're all benchmark games'

ATHENS, Ga. – The loss to the Bulldogs of Mississippi State last season was tough on Georgia's players and coaches. Turnovers, penalties, arguments and missed assignments took what could have been a much-needed victory and turned it into yet another painful defeat.

The Bulldogs of the SEC's Eastern Division fell to 1-3, despite outgaining Mississippi State in total offense.
That game weighs heavily on the minds of the Georgia players. Naturally, they are looking to redeem themselves this Saturday when MSU comes to Sanford stadium for a noon kickoff.

The final result of this weekend's contest will mean more than just revenge. As the Georgia fan base looks for signs of improvement over last season's 6-7 performance, the Mississippi State game will undoubtedly be held up as a benchmark to gauge the direction of the program.

"Well, yeah, it is big for both teams," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "Last year certainly springboarded Mississippi State into quite a fine season. And us losing that game, with others, didn't help us much. Yes, it is a big deal."

Outside linebacker Chase Vasser agrees, and he is confident that the team is trending upward.

"Yeah, we have come a long way since last year. Last year we had some mistakes here and there, but we feel like we have learned from them," he said.

Last season was the first in which the Bulldogs employed new defensive coordinator Todd Grantham's 3-4 defense. Improvements in Season 2 have been self-evident.

"Everybody knows the system," Vasser said. "Last year people were running around not knowing what was going on. I know who I am working with at safety and linebacker. I know what the defensive linemen are doing. If I have to go through a certain gap, I won't hit this man like I used to last year."

Starting inside linebacker Mike Gilliard was asked whether the fans could draw conclusions about the progress the team from the upcoming game.

"Yeah, you can," Gilliard said. "For instance, last year was the first year in the system. I feel like every guy on the team has gotten adjusted to the defense."

Senior tight end Aron White believes Mississippi State won't recognize the team it beat last year.

"I feel like we are such a different team," he said. "The energy, the chemistry and the leadership is so different. We really went through a transformation this offseason. I don't know if it is fair to compare last year's team to this year's team.

"I feel like we are a team on the rise right now. I feel like we are getting better every game. I think that is reflected in a lot of our stats across the board and how we are playing."

For a coach under the microscope, such as Richt, there really is only one approach.

"They are all benchmark games," Richt said. "We say that every week."

Radi Nabulsi covers University of Georgia athletics for DawgNation. He can be reached at RadiNabulsiESPN@gmail.com.