ATHENS, Ga. - Georgia's upset of Tennessee at Neyland Stadium in 2001 was the defining win that ignited the Mark Richt coaching era, and the 2008 home loss to Alabama was the setback that sent the Bulldogs and the Richt regime reeling.

Last Saturday's 45-42 loss to South Carolina represents the most recent defeat, but it may also be the first moral victory under Richt considering the strides that were taken after the season-opening debacle against Boise State.

"Moral victories don't do much for us, but they do bring a little bit of comfort because it's always good to see that you're improving," Bulldogs defense end Abry Jones said Tuesday. "Last year, it just seemed like we were getting beat from the very start. This year, we seem to be holding our own but not really finishing well.

"I think we're getting closer and closer to knowing how to finish, so the team still has its spirits up. It's a long season."

Richt said there may be a dark cloud perceptually accompanying Georgia's 0-2 start but he doesn't sense one within the program. The Bulldogs are 15-15 in their past 30 games, which includes victories over the FCS tandem of Tennessee Tech and Idaho State, and are 3-7 in their last 10 SEC contests.

The SEC East championship and the SEC title remain the team's two chief goals.

"That hasn't changed one bit," Richt said. "Let's face it, could that game Saturday have gone either way? I think it's pretty obvious that it could have. Did we improve tremendously in a lot of areas? There's no doubt about that.

"I left the field sick about losing but encouraged about the team -- encouraged about so many things that are important to winning."

Richt cited starting safety Shawn Williams, who yanked a freshman off the special teams and went in to provide a block that sprang Brandon Boykin for a 58-yard kickoff return. He also said several players insisted on not coming out even though they were hurt.

The players expressed disappointment but said the optimism level has not dipped at all.

"Honestly, I think the mood is better than it's ever been," junior snapper Ty Frix said. "I know that's kind of cliché right now since we're 0-2, but I really believe that. Boise State is a great team and they just beat us, and having said that, I think we took that to the practice field last week and really worked hard and became a better team."

Said guard Chris Burnette: "A 10-2 finish is a possibility, so we're not going to harp on the things that happened in the first two games. We're going to focus on Coastal Carolina and keep moving."

The Bulldogs, who incidentally have not had consecutive losing seasons since 1962-63, play five straight SEC games after this week. The first four occur before the season's lone off week, which falls in between games against Vanderbilt and Florida.

Richt said the plan is to take them one at a time and then see where they are.

"If South Carolina is the team to beat in the East, which right now they are -- they are the preseason favorite for it and they are 1-0," Richt said, "but I would think we can compete with anybody in the Eastern Division and anybody in the league."