UGA football head coach Mark Richt held his weekly pre-game press conference today ahead of Saturday’s homecoming matchup against Tennessee.
Below is a transcript of the press conference provided by UGA. Quotes from UGA players are also included.
Head Coach Mark Richt
Shootout is something good, Excited about that. Excited about playing this game versus Tennessee. Both teams, obviously, looking for their first conference victory. We’ve played a conference game; they have not. But the grind has begun for everybody, I think, when it comes to league play, and we absolutely need to have a great performance to get the win.
Coach Jones is in his second year, doing a fantastic job, in my opinion. Just by looking at the tape you see a bunch of well-conditioned athletes. You see a bunch of guys that are playing extremely hard and are very well-coached.
Talk a little bit about their players. Offensively, Worley, the quarterback, big kid, 6’4″, 220-222 range, really a good athlete for as big as he is. He can work himself out of trouble with his feet. Definitely can make all the throws and has done a very nice job to this point.
At the running back position, they have Lane and Hurd taking the most of it. Hurd is their leading rusher right now who is a freshman, big kid, 220-pounder and very physical runner. Lane, a little bit lighter, but been playing for three years for them and doing a great job.
When it comes to the receivers, I think they’re loaded there, quite frankly. They’ve got Pig Howard who has been there a while. 5’8″, 185 pounds, very fast, more of a slot receiver for them but capable of playing any position across the board. No. 25, Smith, I guess he had gotten hurt at one time, but I don’t know if he’s going to play or not, but he had ten catches. I think he had ten catches versus Oklahoma, had a big day.
This kid, North is a man, 6’4″, 220, big-time player, got great hands, good speed for a big man. Also Croom is a big man as well, 6’5″, 230 pounds, just big, physical guys that use their frame in blocking and in shielding. So outstanding players.
Tight end they’ve been rolling some guys around, had some guys hurt, not exactly sure who is going to play in those positions. And then their offensive line, they’re all really brand-new starters. I guess the big stat in the off-season was both their offensive and defensive linemen, all their starters graduated, and they’re basically having five new starters across the board on the offensive line. But now they’re into Game 4, so they’ve got some experience now, so they’re not just totally inexperienced players right now. But No. 77 is a very physical guy, and all of them are over 300 pounds, but excellent ballplayers and doing a good job.
As far as their kicking is concerned, their punter, Darr, is averaging about 37 yards. He’s a former linebacker, a big, physical kid himself. Medley, the placekicker has hit four out of six, with a long of 38. Their punt returner has been Sutton, but they really have only had a couple of returns this year. I think they’ve only returned two this year to this point. And their kick return man, Young, No. 19 is averaging 23 yards, but he’s got a long of 60, so he’s capable of taking it to the house.
On defense, without question, A.J. Johnson is their leader. He’s their leader. He’s the catalyst of that defense and probably the catalyst of the team. You see him play with passion; you see him play with energy; you see him just making just about every tackle. Great football player. Not a good one, but a great one. Really, I thought he should have turned pro last year. I don’t know why he came back, but he’s back and doing a great job.
No. 56, Maggitt, he’s back. He had a knee injury from last year. Big, long kid, 6’3″, 244, very athletic. Reeves, No. 34 playing the Will linebacker spot. Just the whole group of linebackers in our opinion, they’re bigger, they’re faster than a year ago. Their front line is, like I said, all brand-new. They sub a lot. They’re really playing them all. It’s hard to point out one guy over another, but we think Vereen, No. 50 has a lot of potential, and very athletic guy. And the guys that have been the most productive for them has been Barnett, No. 9, 11 tackles, two tackles for loss, and I think he’s a true freshman. And Williams has 7 tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack, No. 54, one of their interior down linemen.
Then in the backfield three guys are returning starters. Coleman, Sutton at corner, and then Randolph, No. 37 is a safety. Todd Kelly, Jr., they’ve got set here as the other safety, No. 6, but No. 33, McNeil plays a good bit. All the three returning starters are from the state of Georgia. They’re all outstanding football players.
So just a great challenge for us. Another noon game, we’re really counting on the Bulldog Nation to be there early and be excited and help our guys feel the love and feel the excitement and the energy because it’s going to be a wonderful day to play football from what I hear on the weather, and hopefully it will be one of those great days between the hedges. So with that, I’ll take some questions.
Q. Coach, when you think back on that game last year at Knoxville, I remember you cutting your finger at the end of it which was like the perfect met afore for what had happened during the game. But do you remember your feeling as you saw guys going down and ended up just being a teeter‑totter game? Could have gone anyway.
COACH RICHT: Yeah, it was a game I think we were up 17‑3 at one time. They blocked the kick and scored and momentum kind of changed, and before you know it, we’re fighting for our lives. We’re down with just a few seconds to go, and Murray hits Wooten for a touchdown and puts us into overtime. Even that was dramatic. Looked like they were getting ready to score and didn’t score, and we were able to kick the ball and win the game.
But as you said also, a lot of injuries. I say a lot of injuries. We had a few guys already hurt. I think we had Justin Scott‑Wesley and Keith Marshall to add to that list of injuries, and there may have been more that day, I don’t remember. Bennett went down that game? Yeah, so a lot of tough things that happened to us, but we were thankfully able to find a way to win it.
But that’s a year ago. We’re getting healthy. We talked about the receivers a little bit in Malcolm and Justin Scott‑Wesley, I don’t see either one of those guys playing. Rumph, I don’t see him playing. We’re hopeful for maybe all those guys next week, but not this one.
Q. How have you been with the offensive line so far? I know since spring you and Coach Bobo said this could be one of the more athletic offensive lines that you’ve had. Have you seen that come to fruition?
COACH RICHT: Well, they’re doing a good job. They’re doing a good job. A lot of times when you run the ball the way we’ve been running, sometimes it’s the backs, sometimes it’s the line, you know, there has been some gaping holes at times and most anybody can run through it. There have been some times where there wasn’t a lot of space, but our guys have broken through tackles and gotten yards after contact. So it kind of works hand in hand. I think they’re doing a good job.
We’ve had very few sacks. We haven’t thrown the ball a lot. We haven’t been in position where we have to throw the ball down after down. But overall, I think they’re doing a very nice job. We’ve gotten a chance to play our two freshmen guards, and I think they’re doing a nice job as well.
Q. I know it’s early, but just based on what’s happened early this season and as you head into the heart of the SEC schedule, is the division looking to you like it’s going to be kind of a fluid situation for a long time?
COACH RICHT: I mean, it looks still wide open to me. We don’t win, it won’t be very wide open for us, I can tell you that. But I think everybody feels that way. I doubt anything will be settled until maybe with one or two games to go, it might be Game 7 and eight for everybody to figure out who is going to go to Atlanta, but we want to be in that mix.
Q. Have the current battles with Tennessee been more intense than say the other ones with other schools in the SEC?
COACH RICHT: I think they’re all pretty intense. Everybody recruits extremely hard. Everybody‑‑ I don’t know of anybody. It’s almost like when a kid commits, that’s when recruiting gets started, pretty much. If you’re the team that the kid is committed to, everybody tries to gang up on you. But, anyway, I think it’s pretty intense across the board, quite frankly. Tennessee’s doing a great job in that regard.
Q. Coach, going back and listening to some preseason audio there was a lot of talk about identity. About trying to figure out what this team’s identity was. Obviously, you guys are running the ball and kind of seem to be developing to kind of a physical, tough‑running football team. What are you seeing from an identity, both offensively and defensively? Has one been established there?
COACH RICHT: As you said, so far we’ve run the ball well. We’ve been play‑action passing well. Short to intermediate passing has been fine. We haven’t had a lot of‑‑ I don’t know if we had any long touchdown passes yet. But I think we’re kind of doing what we think we do best right now. We’re doing what we think we need to do to try to win a game.
Defensively, we’ve stopped the run pretty good. We haven’t given up a massive amount of big plays, but people have been pecking away at us a little bit, a little easier. Throwing and catching, they’ve had a little more time to throw and been a little too comfortable in the pocket at times. We haven’t played tight enough coverage at times, but we’re getting there. I think our special teams are much improved so far. I think we have hopes of being even better as we go, so we’re getting there.
Q. When it comes to the passing game, do you feel like there is a need to really do it in the game and do it again to kind of make sure that if the run game isn’t there in a particular game, that you all know you can do it, like you could have the last couple years?
COACH RICHT: Well, we’re running the same plays. We’re practicing the same way. Game 1 we got in a situation where we didn’t feel like we needed to throw the ball. We didn’t get into that type of a battle. Game 2 we had to throw a little bit more and we did. But, again, we’re still running the ball pretty well in all the games. Then Game 3, there were some times we had some passes called, but the way they lined up, it was just too inviting to run the football. We ran it so well, it wasn’t a game where you were going to just try to throw it around the yard all day. Didn’t really have to. So I don’t think we’re going to try to do anything other than what we think gives us the best chance to win.
We’re starting the first of seven SEC games, so I don’t think we’re going to be experimenting with anything other than just trying to win and do what we think we’ve got to do.
Q. Coach, was that a tough decision last week when you took Hutson Mason out with 2:44 to go? The difference between getting him more snaps and more timing with the receivers and then bringing in Brice?
COACH RICHT: Yeah, it wasn’t that tough of a decision. The game was getting out of hand pretty quick. There really wasn’t much to prove. Although as you say, we could have used that to throw more and we did a little bit. You know, it’s not that often you can just throw in a freshman quarterback in there and give him a chance to play when there is not a lot of heat going on the scoreboard. So we thought it was a good time to see what he could do, and I thought Faton handled things well as well.
Q. Have there been cases in past years where you were more concerned that an early loss could really bury you in the division race?
COACH RICHT: Anytime you lose the first one your back is truly against the wall. We’re all thinking that we have no margin for error. Even if we win every game, we still don’t know for sure if we’ll have any control over our destiny. When you don’t have that, all you can do is battle like mad and hope you get it. So I don’t know if it’s a lot different feeling right now. Though I don’t know if you can sit there and say somebody is a totally dominant team that is going to blaze a trail and kick everybody’s rear end.
I think everybody’s going to have their challenges. I think home‑field advantage might mean more this season than maybe some other seasons we’ll just see how it goes.
Q. It was significant when you guys won your first game against Tennessee in 2001. Will there be significance of being able to win five in a row against them?
COACH RICHT: Well, I did read some of those. That tied the longest streak for Georgia. I know Tennessee had us nine in a row. That was their longest streak. I’m not worried about a streak right now to be honest with you. I’m just trying to win our first conference game.
Q. Seems like Tennessee’s had problems on the offensive line. They’re pretty green, some freshmen. Your defensive line has I think eight sacks so far. Is that something you’re going to be really looking to take advantage of this week and put Worley under pressure?
COACH RICHT: I think you have to start out thinking in terms of stopping the run and being sound there. Hopefully getting them into a longer third down situation, more of a passing situation where you can start to come after a guy. But if their running game is going good and their play action pass, I can promise you their play action pass will be effective if they’re running the ball well. That is all there is to it. It takes away from your rush if you’re wondering is it run, is it play action pass.
Now if you know it’s third and long and they’re dropping back and slinging it and you know it, or you have a higher percentage chance of knowing what’s going on happen, then you can really pin your ears back. So we have to try to get them in that position where we can turn the guys loose.
Q. Coach, again this year it looks like you’re getting meaningful contributions out of freshmen. Is that something since you’ve been here you know and you’ve always needed or is it something that you’ve had a really good string of getting contributions?
COACH RICHT: I think you see it around the league and around the country. High school players are more advanced than they used to be. They’re all training‑‑ I say all of them, but 90% of them are training all year round. 90% of them are bigger, stronger, faster and even more skilled at some of the things that we’re going to ask them to do. In the past you might have to train a guy from scratch on certain things in the passing game, especially, whatever it is. A lot of these high school teams are very outstanding passing teams and concepts and things that you used to have to teach from ground zero, you don’t have to do that anymore.
So I’m not shocked that freshmen come in and are able to play, even some offensive linemen, you know. We’ve had in the past, Cordy Glenn and Ben Jones, and Sturdivant, and you know some of those guys are much more advanced than they used to be. Used to be a lineman, it was a couple years before you could get him ready physically to compete. Now some of them show up ready to go. It’s amazing. I think the athlete is different than they used to be even ten years ago.
COACH RICHT: I just think they get excited about football. I think their families make an investment in their lives as far as even the personal trainers and stuff. In the Atlanta area just about everybody’s got these training sites that the high school kids go to. Also the high school coaches themselves, the programs that they have, they understand what it takes in the off‑season to get a team ready as far as the weight room and even the practices that they have. The seven‑on‑seven camps that are all over the nation now, kids are throwing and catching all summer long instead of playing baseball or whatever it is. There are not a lot of three‑sport guys like there were back in the day. It’s mostly you choose the sport you like and you play it year round.
Q. Talk about Marshall battling back from an injury and trying to get healthy again?
COACH RICHT: I think it’s been frustrating for Keith, obviously, but he’s a strong kid. He has a lot of‑‑ he’s a man of faith, and he knows nothing is promised, and everything doesn’t always have to go his way. It’s not easy what he’s going through right now, but he’s a strong guy, and he’ll be able to get through this thing fine, I think, it’s just going to take some time.
Q. When you say Malcolm you’re hopeful on next week, is there a plan or a timetable in terms of practicing or anything?
COACH RICHT: Well, we’re trying to get him in as good of shape as he can be. My guess is even the very first game he comes back, it may be tougher to say he’s a 60‑minute guy. You might have to pick your shots with him. I don’t know if he’ll have the stamina to play hard every down for an entire game. Because of the injury, it’s hard to‑‑ until you just start running a lot and going through a practice, even going through practice I couldn’t imagine the first day of practice him going through the whole thing without having to pace himself a little bit. So I think the conditioning is going to be one of the issues for him.
Q. Was game 5 about what you thought of back in late July?
COACH RICHT: Yeah, that’s about what we’re thinking. We’re hopeful for sooner, but you’ve just got to go at the pace that he can go. He ran yesterday. He was changing direction yesterday and he felt good. But there is a whole‑‑ there is a big difference between zigging and zagging out there by yourself and running a route or running a route being guarded by somebody, or running the route with live tacklers all around you too. So it’s going to take a little bit.
Q. Three games into the season, how is Devin Bowman doing?
COACH RICHT: Not bad. He’s definitely gotten some reps and he’s had some good and bad, like the rest of them back there. He’s about like the rest of them, just trying to play on a consistent basis and earn playing time, but he’s done some good things.
Q. To be clear, on Justin Scott‑Wesley, he’s still out because of an injury issue and not any lingering disciplinary issue?
COACH RICHT: You’re just hammering away there. I’ll say this: he’s getting close to being ready to play.
Q. One more thing on the passing game, do you think as well as you run it that at some point you’re going to have to step that up?
COACH RICHT: You hope so. It’s not been awful. We’re hitting over 70% of our passes, I think. That’s not a bad thing. Have we thrown a pick yet? I don’t know. Maybe one? None. I don’t know. So we’ve been solid in that area. It just hasn’t been what we’re used to around here lately, and part of it is because the receiver issue, part of it is because we’re just able to.
Senior FS Corey Moore
On Tennessee’s offense…
“Tennessee has a great offensive team— great offensive line, great running back duo, great wide receivers and a great quarterback. It should be a challenge this week to make great plays on the defensive side against their offense.”
On playing Tennessee at home after last year’s shootout…
“We played Tennessee last year at Tennessee. But having the opportunity to play Tennessee here at home is a big plus. We’ve got the best fans in the nation in my eyes, so having that behind you and playing at home should be exciting. We know what’s at stake. It should be a fun game to play, and we’re looking forward to it.”
Senior C David Andrews
On Georgia’s offensive line this year…
“I think we’re good. I think we have a good way to go until we’re great, but I think we can reach that by the end of the season. I think we’re athletic and we have a smart group. That helps us out a lot. Having four or five running backs helps us out too. It’s kind of a combination of a bunch of things that has led to our success this season.”
On this year’s matchup against Tennessee…
“We definitely did overcome a lot of adversity [against Tennessee last year], and I think we learned a lot about ourselves as a team, especially in an environment like that. But now the tables have turned. We’re on our home field, and we have a healthy team. We just need to go out there and take care of business.”
Senior Wide Receiver Michael Bennett
On the play of the freshmen…
“They’ve done a great job, obviously. It’s incredible. It’s a lot of maturity from guys coming right out of high school. They’re learning fast and playing fast and doing a great job. I don’t know the real reason for it. Maybe it’s just a different level of athlete nowadays than there was in the past. Obviously, there are just great athletes coming in with phenomenal athletic bodies ready to play against 21 and 22 year-old people right away.
On the offense’s identity…
“We have a lot of great running backs. As much, as a receiver, as I would love to throw the ball more, if you’re winning games and scoring 66 points and you’re putting up a ton of points in the run game and it’s working, why not stick with it. As much as it hurts to say that, at the end of the day, if we’re winning ball games that’s all that matters. There’s going to come a point when we’re going to have to throw it maybe a little bit more. Defenses might be stacking the box to stop the run and we’re going to have to throw. We have to stay ready for that opportunity.
Senior Linebacker Amarlo Herrera
On Tennessee quarterback Justin Worley…
“He’s a big guy that can throw the ball. We’re definitely going to try to [get to him]. Anytime you see a flaw like [allowing consistent pressure], or something that happens consistently, you definitely want to take advantage of that. A lot of guys from Tennessee are always tall and tough to bring down.”
On the SEC East race…
“I mean, it’s the SEC. Anybody can win any night. It’s not just the east and it’s not just the west. Anybody can beat anybody. It’s a long season. You have to come prepared every time you play an SEC team. You have to be prepared. We just have to practice hard and run to the ball.”