Georgia pushing to break through in 2013

As frustrating as Georgia’s SEC championship drought has been for fans, try running it by the Dawgs’ coaches or their players.

The last time they collected an SEC championship ring was 2005.

And if you want to talk national championship, that drought has been 30-plus years, going all the way back to the famed Herschel Walker days in 1980.

Yep, it has been a while, but it’s also not as though the Bulldogs haven’t been knocking on the door here recently.

They’ve been to the SEC championship game each of the past two years and came within a tipped pass inside the 10-yard line last season of winning it and playing for a national championship.

“It still hurts, no matter what you’re doing or where you are,” Georgia sophomore outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins said. “You’re that close. But all it does is drive you to get back there and finish the job this time.”

Mark Richt is the rare exception in the SEC. Some might say he’s a dinosaur, albeit in a good way.

Most head coaches in this league don’t make it past five seasons. Richt is entering his 13th season at Georgia and is one of only five men in NCAA Division I-A (now FBS) history to record 115 or more wins in his first 12 seasons as a head coach.

Still, nobody needs to remind him that the Bulldogs haven’t won a national title on his watch and have now gone seven years without winning an SEC title.

Richt, one of the more mild-mannered coaches in the business, blistered a reporter last season following the 32-28 loss to Alabama in the SEC championship game over a question about Richt and Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray struggling in big games.

Jenkins said that’s a side of Richt that his coach doesn’t show to just anybody.

“He was broken down, and that’s why he went after that reporter,” Jenkins said. “I promise you that he’s as hungry as anybody to do what we all want to do around here, and that’s win another championship.”

And while nobody’s doubting that Georgia will have the offense to do just that in 2013, it’s a different story with the defense.

The Bulldogs lose 12 players on defense who started at least two games for them last season, including as many as seven players who could be drafted. Outside linebacker Jarvis Jones and inside linebacker Alec Ogletree are projected to go in the first round.

Then again, between early-season suspensions and some erratic play, the Bulldogs weren’t nearly as good or as consistent defensively last season as they were in 2011.

Jenkins welcomes the lukewarm expectations for the Bulldogs’ defense in 2013 and warns that anybody sleeping on them will be sorry.

“I feel like this season, we’re going to have the attitude that, ‘We’re going to come at you and physically break you down and mentally break you down … whether you like it or not,’” Jenkins said. “We’re going to be a young defense that everybody’s going to doubt, and that’s only going to make us play with a chip on our shoulder.”

Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham likes the young talent on Georgia’s defense, and he also likes the way players are competing for spots.

Jenkins said there were more than a few scuffles when the Bulldogs opened spring practice earlier this month.

“All offseason, this summer and once the season starts, we’re going to play with that attitude that we’re ready to shock the world and shut all the naysayers up,” said Jenkins, who’s poised to be the next star defender at Georgia.

“I already know what people out there are saying about us. I get pumped up now even talking about it. I just know we’re ready to come out there and shut everybody up and shut everybody down and prove that we’re a defense that can help this team win a championship.”

Richt, who was recently given a raise to $3.2 million annually and a year extension on his contract, is about as grounded as they come. He understands the gaudy expectations at a place like Georgia, but he’s also not consumed with them.

He’s more consumed with what’s right in front of him -- building the necessary depth this spring that it takes to win a championship in this league.

On the offensive line, the Bulldogs are off to a good start. They return eight lettermen, and with a couple of returning starters nursing injuries this spring, they’ve been able to take longer looks at other players. Mark Beard, who started a couple of games last season after coming over from junior college, could be a factor at left tackle.

The depth on the defensive front will be young, but Richt said there’s not a lot of difference between the first- and second-team guys right now. Moreover, Grantham has vowed that the Bulldogs will play more people up front, especially after seeing what Alabama did to them last season in the second half of the SEC championship game.

In his own words, Jenkins can’t wait “to get it rolling.”

One thing’s for sure. The Bulldogs will know by the end of September what kind of team they have. They open at Clemson on Aug. 31 and then come back home to face South Carolina the next week. They close the month at home against LSU on Sept. 28.

“Things around here are changing,” Jenkins said. “After they went 6-7 [in 2010], and everybody was doubting the defense and doubting Coach Richt and doubting the whole team, Jarvis and all those guys that just graduated started a whole new identity for Georgia football.

“We owe it to the fans and to ourselves to do what they did and more. Just getting to the SEC championship game isn’t enough.

“It’s our turn to take that next step.”