ATHENS, Ga. -- It has been an interesting journey for the 2011 Georgia Bulldogs, and that's somewhat by design.
Before the season, Georgia's football coaches adopted a bus theme from Jon Gordon's book, "The Energy Bus."
Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham explained following last Saturday's 45-7 defeat of Auburn that the bus represented the optimism for the season and that the headlights represented maintaining focus, whether things went good or bad.
Bulldogs players, who have countered an 0-2 start with eight straight wins, have been feeding off the theme all season.
"It isn't how you drive, it's how you arrive," outside linebacker Jarvis Jones said. "There isn't anything in life given to you, so you've just got to keep pushing and keep improving."
Georgia resembled more of a ditched Dodge Dart than a bus during its 35-21 opening loss to Boise State, which led by three touchdowns on two occasions, but the Bulldogs are one game away from their first trip to the Southeastern Conference championship game since 2005. That one game is Saturday against visiting Kentucky, which has lost its first three SEC road contests this season by a combined 109 points.
Auburn coach Gene Chizik admitted this week that the Bulldogs look nothing like they did at the start of the season, and Kentucky coach Joker Phillips agreed.
"I think they picked out a little page from South Carolina last year," Phillips said. "South Carolina lined up and ran more downhill running plays with the back they had, and you see a lot of similarities in what Georgia is doing with the back that they have this year. You just see a lot more attitude -- downhill, power plays."
Said Chizik: "Without question, from the beginning of the year and the films that we watched to what we experienced last Saturday night, this is a much improved football team. You can't win that many games in a row without being that much better than they were at the beginning of the year."
Scheduling has aided Georgia's success, as the Bulldogs have not had to face LSU, Alabama or Arkansas -- three of the top six teams in the latest BCS standings. And if Alabama defeats Auburn next week, the Bulldogs will go a fourth consecutive regular season without beating an SEC team that finished with a winning league mark.
Yet winning seven straight SEC games in the same season would be a first for the Bulldogs, and it's a scenario few pictured when they lost their league opener, 45-42, to South Carolina on Sept. 10.
"I go back to the locker room after that game," head coach Mark Richt said, "and I basically said, 'Men, just don't put your heads down. Don't lose heart. We've got a chance to be a good team.' I said, 'I left the field feeling encouraged that we have the right stuff.'
"Sometimes you've got to think quick and try and make something up to make guys feel better after the game or to try and help the morale of your team, but that was very heartfelt. I really believed that we had a special group of guys."
Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said the bus theme was implemented again after that game.
"It didn't matter who wanted to come in or who wanted to get off. It was locked, and we were going to keep playing," he said.
Abry Jones added that the South Carolina loss felt different from other defeats because it wasn't as much about the Gamecocks beating the Bulldogs as the Bulldogs beating themselves.
The next week brought about a 59-0 win over Coastal Carolina, which apparently was anything but a throwaway game.
"The biggest part of this was just winning that first game," punter Drew Butler said. "We had not won a game in 10 months, and that was just dragging people down."
Georgia went from 1-2 to 5-2 by sweeping the SEC's two Mississippi schools and the SEC's two Tennessee schools. The Bulldogs then had an open date before rallying past Florida, a rare win over the Gators that ignited the Bulldogs to surging victories the past two weeks over New Mexico State and Auburn.
By defeating Kentucky, the Bulldogs would set up two consecutive bus trips to Atlanta, one previously scheduled for next week's game at Georgia Tech and another to the Georgia Dome on Dec. 3 with the conference crown at stake.
"To win a championship is great, but it's more about the journey, truthfully," Grantham said. "That's what you're going to remember, the journey."