December 30, 2010

Are Dawgs motivated to play?

MEMPHIS, Tenn. - Motivation comes in many different forms.

But for junior cornerback Brandon Boykin, the only motivation he and his Georgia teammates need for Friday's AutoZone Liberty Bowl matchup against UCF is to look at the record.

At 6-6, a loss to the Conference-USA Champion Knights would give Georgia its first sub-500 campaign in 14 seasons, when the 1996 Bulldogs finished 5-6 in Jim Donnan's first year as head coach.

That's a thought Boykin really doesn't care to consider and should give the Bulldogs plenty of reason to try and finish the season out strong.

"I'm really fired up. I think coming into a game like this, where Central Florida is a 10-win team, a conference champion and we're sitting here 6-6," Boykin said. "We're the ones who feel we have a lot to prove. Just to have a winning season - this means a lot to us."

Linebacker Akeem Dent was even more succinct.

"The motivation is going out with a win," Dent said. "Things didn't start out the way we wanted them to start out and didn't go the way we wanted. We want to go out on a winning note."

For head coach Mark Richt, the stakes are somewhat higher.

With pressure mounting to turn the program around, Right needs a win in Friday's 3:30 contest (ESPN) at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium to at least keep the grumbling among fans to a minimum heading into what's sure to be a critical 2011 campaign.

"Everybody wants to end the season with a winning record. Really, the last few games we've played have been fighting with getting over .500," Richt said during Thursday's final press conference. "We fought hard to get to .500 after a 1-4 start and now we've got our one and only opportunity to get above .500 which I think means a lot. Nineteen-ninety-six was the last time a Georgia team hasn't finished over .500 and we'd like to keep it like that."

If Georgia happens to need more motivation, the 10-3 Knights should offer plenty. The nation's 24th-ranked team is no slouch.

At 10-3, UCF is the nation's 34th-ranked scoring offense (33.8 points per game) led by freshman quarterback Jeff Godfrey (5-11, 186), who sits eighth in the country with a 165.28 passing efficiency rating having completed 143-of-209 passes for 2,042 yards and 13 touchdowns.

Godfrey's pass efficiency numbers place him one spot ahead of Georgia's Aaron Murray (162.72) who has thrown for 24 touchdowns, one shy of Mathew Stafford's single-season mark which currently stands at 25.

But that's just the tip of the talent for the C-USA Freshman of the Year who has also rushed for 546 yards and scored 10 touchdowns.

Godfrey's not the Knights' only weapon. Besides Godfrey, running backs Ronnie Weaver (four), Jonathan Davis and Latavius Murray have each rushed for 100 yards with Weaver scoring a team-high 11 touchdowns.

Defensively, Woodstock native Bruce Miller is the two-time C-USA Defensive Player of the Year with 34 career sacks that rank him fifth all-time in the FBS, two behind former Georgia great David Pollack.

"We look at them on tape and it doesn't matter what conference they're in, they're a really good team," Boykin said. "In my opinion, we're kind of the underdogs because of their record and the fact they've been very successful."

The Bulldogs, meanwhile, have been dealing with adversity it seems all season long beginning with the team's disappointing 1-4 start.

From A.J. Green's well-documented four-game suspension for selling his Independence Bowl jersey, to other off-the-field indiscretions that cost Washaun Ealey and Caleb King a total of three regular season games, Georgia it often seemed generated as much news off the field as on it.

That trend continued earlier this week when officials announced that King, backup offensive lineman A.J. Harmon and backup cornerback Derek Owens would not travel to Memphis due to various academic issues.

"We've definitely learned how to handle adversity as a team. Early on, things were looking real, real bad. We weren't even thinking about a bowl, we were just trying to win a game," Boykin said. "We fought back and stayed together. For us to come back and have a winning season after a 1-4 start I think that will do a lot for the team heading into next year."

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