ATHENS, Ga. - What do a Missouri defensive lineman, a heated exchange in Nashville and a fed-up defensive back have in common?
They light a torch under the Georgia Bulldogs.
Georgia has a 7-1 record and a No. 6 ranking in the BCS standings this football season after two months filled with emotional peaks and valleys. The Bulldogs were lifeless early on against Buffalo and Florida Atlantic, were no match for South Carolina and barely survived Kentucky, yet they have flipped the switch when motivated.
"It seems like someone has to say something to give us some kind of spark to play hard," Bulldogs senior cornerback Sanders Commings said. "Now the SEC East is on the line, and I think we realize we need to take our game to the next level. It shouldn't have to happen like it has, but for some reason that's just the way it's been this year. Last year we played hard every game."
In Georgia's three most impressive showings -- a 41-20 win at Missouri on Sept. 8, a 48-3 humbling of Vanderbilt on Sept. 22 and last week's 17-9 upset of Florida in Jacksonville -- the Bulldogs entered with the proverbial chip on their shoulder.
With Missouri, it was Tigers defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson describing Georgia's brand of play as "old-man football." With Vanderbilt, it was the combative encounter after last year's matchup involving Bulldogs defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and Commodores head coach James Franklin. And with Florida, it was Georgia senior safety Shawn Williams calling out the Bulldogs for being soft and pointing out how certain inside linebackers should be playing more than others.
"Playing for something or playing to prove somebody wrong is an easy motivator for anybody in anything you do," senior linebacker Christian Robinson said. "Hopefully, we don't have to do that type of behavior every week to win a game and get excited. We are playing these bigger games in November now, and I think that will make it easier, especially if you look at last year and our track record of winning games at the end of the 10-game streak."
After forcing six turnovers and holding the Gators to 266 yards last Saturday, the Bulldogs can win a second consecutive East title with wins the next two weeks against Ole Miss and Auburn. Ole Miss visits this weekend after having improved to 5-3 last Saturday with a 30-27 win at Arkansas.
Georgia coach Mark Richt is hoping his team can be just as inspired as last week, while Ole Miss counterpart Hugh Freeze is hoping none of his Rebels provide needless ammunition.
"I don't think our players would even think to do that at the point we're at," Freeze said. "We know we're still young and short on depth. Every game we play is going to be a great challenge for us regardless of who it is. It would shock me if our kids would do anything but tell the truth about how they view Georgia, which is that they're a fine football team."
Bulldogs junior quarterback Aaron Murray said there is nothing wrong with playing angry and determined if that creates wins, but he admitted that certain positions on the team benefit more than others from external motivation. Murray believes the offensive line and defense can be inspired more than quarterbacks and receivers, which he describes as finesse positions that need to stay grounded.
There had been no stinging comments as of Thursday night, just the realization that a divisional title is two more wins away.
"I really don't think it should get that far," sophomore cornerback Damian Swann said. "We should play every game like we did last week, but when we do get those type of challenges, I think we always answer them. Again, it shouldn't get that far, and we should always play like that."