Odds steep but not impossible for Bulldogs to win SEC East

Georgia quarterback Greyson Lambert prepares to pass against coverage by Tennessee defenders during their SEC football game at Neyland Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 10, 2015, in Knoxville, Tenn. Tennessee won 38-31.
photo Georgia flanker Reggie Davis, left, misses a pass against coverage by Tennessee defensive back Malik Foreman during their SEC football game at Neyland Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 10, 2015, in Knoxville, Tenn. Tennessee won 38-31.

SEC players of the week

OFFENSE: Tennessee quarterback Josh Dobbs, who threw for a career-high 312 yards and rushed for 118 yards in the 38-31 win over Georgia. DEFENSE: Alabama linebacker Reggie Ragland, who had eight tackles, a sack and a forced fumble on a defense that held Arkansas to 220 yards. SPECIAL TEAMS: Georgia junior receiver Reggie Davis, who had a 70-yard punt return for a touchdown to go along with 101 receiving yards. FRESHMAN: LSU backup tailback Derrius Guice, who had 16 rushes for 161 yards (10.1 yards a carry) in the 45-24 victory over South Carolina. OFFENSIVE LINEMAN: LSU center Ethan Pocic, who graded at 95 percent and had 17 knockdown blocks on an offense that tallied 624 yards. DEFENSIVE LINEMAN: Mississippi State defensive end Ryan Brown, who had seven tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss in the 45-17 win over Troy.

Two weeks ago, the Georgia Bulldogs were ranked No. 8 nationally and had the country's hottest quarterback.

Then came two very different losses.

Alabama ventured to Sanford Stadium on Oct. 3 and delivered a 38-10 knockout, the largest margin of victory for the Crimson Tide ever over a top-10 foe at an opposing venue. There was no blowout loss this past weekend when the Bulldogs ventured to Tennessee, but they did squander a three-touchdown lead for the first time in at least a generation as the Vols rallied from a 24-3 deficit to a 38-31 triumph.

So 4-0 has become 4-2, and the Bulldogs are unranked entering Saturday night's game against visiting Missouri.

"There is really no other option but to regroup and come back fighting," said quarterback Greyson Lambert, who completed 33 of 35 passes in wins over South Carolina and Southern University but was 25-of-56 the past two games. "I feel like we're a resilient team and that we'll be able to come back from this and move forward. We need to learn from all the mistakes, build off the good stuff and move forward to Missouri."

Lambert still ranks among the country's elite in passing efficiency, but he has slipped from No. 3 to No. 14 in the past two weeks.

The Bulldogs began this season as decided favorites to claim the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division title, but to do so now would require them to rewrite history. Georgia never has won the East, let alone an overall league title, with a 2-2 start to conference play.

Georgia no longer controls its destiny in the East, but that would change if the Bulldogs defeat Missouri and Florida loses at LSU on Saturday and Tennessee falls at Alabama next week. The Gators will play the rest of the season without starting quarterback Will Grier, who has been suspended for a full year after testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug.

"We've just got to keep going forward, because you never know what can happen in this league," Georgia inside linebacker Jake Ganus said.

Missouri is the two-time defending East champ, capturing the 2013 and 2014 divisional titles with 7-1 league records. Gary Pinkel's Tigers will not equal that record this year, having lost already to Kentucky and Florida.

Whoever loses Saturday between the Bulldogs and Tigers would be all but out of the East landscape, especially if Florida pulls an upset in Baton Rouge. A win by the Gators would improve their SEC mark to 5-0, and they close their league schedule with Vanderbilt and South Carolina following the annual date with the Bulldogs in Jacksonville.

"I think these guys are pretty resilient," Bulldogs coach Mark Richt said. "I think they like football. I think they understand it's going to be a challenge and a great opportunity and a great atmosphere that our fans are going to provide this weekend in a night game under the lights. There is still an awful lot to play for, so I think they'll be fine."

Said senior receiver Malcolm Mitchell: "We'll keep working. Our season isn't over. We have games to play, and that's where we go."

Odds and ends

The Bulldogs opened preparations for Missouri on Monday with a 90-minute workout in helmets and shorts. Captains this week are receiver Reggie Davis and left tackle John Theus on offense and end Josh Dawson on defense. Senior outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins (groin) will miss Saturday's game, according to the Athens Banner-Herald.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.