Georgia head football coach Mark Richt met with the media on Tuesday ahead of this Saturday’s SEC East showdown with Florida in Jacksonville. They offered the following comments:
Head Coach Mark Richt
Everybody knows who our captains are. We’ll move on (smiling). I couldn’t remember the open date.
We’re looking forward to this game. Been two weeks. We’re coming on two weeks before we play. I think we’re ready to go again. I thought our practice yesterday was outstanding. It just seems like it didn’t take long to get everybody back focused on the task at hand. We know what’s at stake.
Got a lot of respect for Coach Muschamp and the Florida Gators. Looking forward to going to Jacksonville and playing the game.
Talk a little bit about their offense. Averaging 368 a game, 169 yards rushing, 195 yards passing. Almost 29 points a game.
Everybody’s heard the word, I guess, that they’ve announced that Treon Harris is going to start for them at quarterback. He hasn’t thrown the ball a lot, but when he has thrown the ball, he’s hit 67% of his passes. He’s thrown three TDs in. Over 230, which is off the charts. So when he has played, when he has thrown the ball, he’s done it very well.
They run the ball well. Matt Jones is their leading rusher with 435 yards. He’s got four TDs to his credit.
Kelvin Taylor, Fred’s son, who I recruited when I was back at Florida State, didn’t get him, but Kelvin has got 213 yards rushing.
Their third leading rusher is actually Driskel, who is a very fine, physical runner.
Treon is very athletic. He can run and pass the ball extremely well. Great combination. He’s going to create some problems for us trying to defend what he can do.
Up front, they’re very big up the middle, averaging about 330 up the gut, maybe 320, 325. Their tackles are a little bit lighter, but very, very athletic guys. Guys that everybody in the country recruited, Humphries and Green. I know we battled to try to get those young men.Their guard Brown was actually a commit for us at one time. He ended up going to Florida. So we’ve got a lot of respect for their offensive line.
As far as wide receivers are concerned, Robinson, No. 11, has got 524 yards. He’s leading the group with yardage, receiving yards, four touchdowns. Dunbar has 122 yards receiving. Burton has 104 yards receiving. Westbrook, their backup tight end, has two touchdown catches already. We got our work cut out for us there.
When it comes to their defense, they are number three in the SEC in total defense. They’re sixth in the nation. When it comes to causing three‑and‑outs, they’re averaging over six three‑and‑outs per game, which like I mentioned before is sixth in the country, which is outstanding.
They’ve got eight returning starters back there. They are very, very stout. They’re averaging almost three sacks per game. It’s kind of spread out throughout the whole group. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight different players have had sacks. So it comes from all angles. A lot of linebackers coming and getting sacks. Cornerbacks getting sacks. And, of course, their front four do a great job.
They’re third in the SEC in rush defense. They’re seventh in the nation giving up double‑digit runs, 10 yards or more. They’re giving up the least amount, seventh in the nation. Holding up the long runs. It’s going to be a great challenge for us to run the football and break open some big runs.
They’re sixth in the SEC in pass defense.
I think their D‑line is a lot like ours. They’re not huge guys, but they’re very athletic, play hard, great change‑of‑direction guys. Three veteran linebackers coming back in Ball, Morrison and Taylor. All very active.
Neiron, we had his brother here, played for us. Neiron is a very, very fast, athletic outside linebacker. Morrison leads the team with 52 tackles. Got a sack himself.
In the back end, Hargreaves is probably one of the better corners in the country. They do a really good job of playing a lot of man coverage. They believe in their ability to lock up receivers, so we’re going to have to find a way to create some space and get some balls caught.
When it comes to their special teams, they’re fifth in the nation, not just in the league, in punt returns, averaging over 18 yards per return, and Debose himself has 19.8 yards per return with a long of 62. He’s also a tremendous kick return man, averaging 22 yards on the kickoff return. He’s a very, very dangerous return man.
They’re 18th in the nation in punting, 44.5 yard average. Christy is just booming the ball. It’s not a shock to see him punt it 60 yards in the air on many occasions. He’s doing a great job.
In field goal kicking, Velez is eight of nine with a long of 36. I think they’re short to midrange guy. They have another guy Hardin who is one for two with a long of 49. He’s also their kickoff man. About one‑third of his kicks are touchbacks. There should be some returnable kicks on the kickoff and hopefully we’ll execute our plan well in that area.
We’re looking forward to this game. It’s very meaningful to us. We’re all trying to get to Atlanta. That’s what we’re trying to do this weekend.
Q. The jerseys, is it something you have to prepare for, I know red and blue are contrasting colors, but I didn’t know if it was as sharp a contrast as red and white?
COACH RICHT: Talking about the jerseys in this game, both teams are going to wear their home colors. Obviously we’ll be in red, they’ll be in blue. We all felt it was enough of a contrast.
I think we got to get either the SEC’s or the NCAA’s permission to do that. But they felt like there was enough of a contrast where that wouldn’t be a problem at all.
I just think it’s enough of a contrast where we don’t need to practice it. I’m hoping our guys don’t think blue is red and the QB starts throwing to their guys.
I don’t think it will be an issue. I don’t know who’s going to enjoy it. Hopefully the fans enjoy it. I think our players are fine wearing either jersey. I don’t even know who thought of the idea, but I wasn’t against it. We’ll see how it goes.
Q. For the lack of communication so far from the NCAA regarding Todd Gurley, has it impacted the repetitions he’s giving?
COACH RICHT: Not really. We’re giving him a good bit of reps. We want to rep him to the point where if he’s able to play, he’ll be able to play well.
I’ll say this about all of our backs. When they’re getting their carries in practice, they’re doing a super job of just running hard and long. Probably at least, you know, 30, 40 yards of sprinting once they break the line of scrimmage just to get in the kind of condition that you need to be in to play the game.
But we know Todd knows what to do. I mean, all we can do is just keep practicing and focusing on the opponent, then just kind of wait and see. We really don’t know what to expect right now. We’re just practicing and focusing on Florida right now.
Q. Many teams are tested when there’s a setback of some sort. What have you learned about this team over the last two games?
COACH RICHT: Well, I think we’ve been able to stay focused on the job at hand. I said this on a few occasions, whether it was media or call in show, whatever it was. But I think we were a team that was improving. Whether Todd was playing or not, I thought we were getting better on defense, thought we were getting better on offense.
A lot of people want to say, Well, Todd not being there really gave our team incentive to play harder, all that kind of thing. There may be some truth to that. I know our players really love Todd. I know they were trying to honor him, especially that Missouri game when things were going well, trying to give him a sign of saying, Hey, we’re with you. I think there’s been some of that.
But I think we were getting better regardless. The good thing is we’ve stayed focused. We’ve won. We’ve created a lot of good momentum right now.
Q. Have you coached teams that might not have handled it as well as this team has?
COACH RICHT: I don’t know. It just seems like every year there’s some kind of adversity. There’s something that goes on, whether it’s injuries, whatever it is. You just don’t go through a whole four months with 18 to 22 year old guys and everything is rosy. There’s always something that comes up, whether it’s a loss, injuries, whatever it may be. You have to find a way to overcome it.
That’s why I do think football can help our players after their football days are over to learn how to handle adversity. That’s to just keep focusing on what you can control and not worry about too much of the rest, hopefully put their faith in the Lord and trust He’s got their back.
Q. What do you think of the guys defensively on the back end not giving up the number of plays you did last year?
COACH RICHT: I think the biggest thing is being in sync, the communication, make sure everybody is where they’re supposed to be. Guys are going to get beat sometimes on deep balls or whatever it is. But if you’re out of position, that’s when you give up big plays in the passing game and the running game sometimes.
It’s not always the back end. Sometimes there’s a miscommunication up front where we get gapped out, two guys in the same gap, nobody in this one. Here comes some locomotive coming through there, and it’s tough to tackle those guys with a lot of space all by yourself.
It’s not always the problem of the back end. They’re the ones that usually get most of the criticism when big plays are had.
I just think we’re doing a good job of communicating, everybody being on the same page, executing overall pretty good.
Q. Is there a trust factor between the front seven, like on third down, don’t have to worry about a mistake being made?
COACH RICHT: I think the trust factor really is for the guys to trust that everybody around them’s going to do their job, therefore they can do their job, not try to ad lib, not try to do something special to make a big play.
The goal is for everybody to handle their responsibility. When you play hard and everybody does what they’re supposed to do, plays tend to come to you, if you’re where you’re supposed to be when you’re supposed to be there.
It’s maybe when you start not trusting what a guy is doing next to you, you want to help him do his job, then all of a sudden you didn’t do your job.
I think the trust factor is everybody is saying, Okay, I am going to handle my job because I know my buddy is going to handle his business and therefore we’ll have success.
Q. You have had success in Jacksonville the last few years. How do you approach this with a team when you are in that role? It is rare to have that kind of buildup: Can Georgia take it lightly?
COACH RICHT: I haven’t even mentioned a word to anybody other than, like we just talked about in that last answer, focus on your job, take care of your business. Practice in such a way that you’re creating really good habits that will carry you through the game.
We talk a lot about creating good habits in practice, good fundamentals, good pad level, good pursuit to the ball, proper angles when you pursue, proper angles as you’re trying to come make a tackle. Whatever it is, focus on those things. Don’t focus on anything else. It’s just not going to help you win. Let’s focus on the things that will help us win, and that’s everybody doing their job well.
Q. Jenkins and Ramik were named Butkus semifinalists. It could be argued that Amarlo and Leonard have had just as good of years. Are your linebackers living up to the hype?
COACH RICHT: They’re playing well. Our linebackers are doing a really good job. When you say you’re a 3 4, you can consider Leonard and Jordan outside linebackers, obviously we have the two inside linebackers, that’s a really good group of players. They have played well.
Yeah, I guess you just can’t have too many guys from one team to be on that list. But those guys I think would be just as deserving, in my opinion.
COACH RICHT: I wouldn’t be thinking either one of them will be ready.
Q. (Question regarding Hutson Mason.)
COACH RICHT: I think he’s doing well. I think he’s starting to feel it. I think he’s in a really good place right now. I mean, I think he was in a good place coming into the year. Sometimes you have to live through being the man for a while.
I think he’s doing a very good job hitting a high percentage of his passes. Hasn’t really thrown many balls that were ill advised. Very few of those. He’s doing a good job of getting us in the right running game, right protections.
There’s a lot to what he has to do at the line of scrimmage. He handles that well. I’m pretty pleased with what he’s doing right now.
Q. Justin, do you expect him to have a bigger role this week?
COACH RICHT: Justin, it would be nice to see him break out. We’re going to do what we think we got to do to win the game. We got a lot of good players. It would be nice to see Justin break out, make some big plays. I think he’s been pretty healthy now, practicing well for the last few weeks.
Q. When you came here in 2001, the Georgia Florida series wasn’t going well from the Bulldogs’ perspective. Looking back over the 14 years, how has your mindset adapted to what the Florida game means to the Bulldog Nation, what you’ve been able to do to this point?
COACH RICHT: I try not to make too big of a deal of it because, again, I think the players are focusing on, I hope we win, all that kind of stuff. That’s just not a healthy way to be. Or we ought to win. Whatever it is.
What’s important is being good at what we do, playing together as a team, believing in each other, then getting after it, hopefully making the plays that need to be made when you need them the most. That’s really all we can do.
Q. Does Jacksonville feel better when you win three in a row?
COACH RICHT: I learned a long time ago not to make much of a comment on the venue, other than we’re looking forward to playing Florida in Jacksonville (smiling).
Q. When you got a here, sometimes the senior classes would taste maybe one victory over Florida. This ’11 class can go for a sweep. Is that motivation?
COACH RICHT: Might be for them. I haven’t asked them. I haven’t brought it up.
Q. Marshall Morgan, he’s had quite a bit of success in Jacksonville the three games he’s played there. Talk about his contribution to the team this season.
COACH RICHT: I think he’s outstanding. We do love the way he kicks off. He’s very accurate. He’s accurate on the kickoff, but we like the ball placed in a certain spot. We like the ball with a lot of hang time. He’s been very, very consistent doing that, allowing our coverage team to get down there and do a good job on some of the better return people in our league and in the country.
That’s one of the biggest keys in kickoff coverage, ball placement and the hang time. He’s done a good job of that. He’s made all the two kicks as far as field goals are concerned. I guess, what, he missed two last year all season. Had a tremendous year last year.
He’s been very consistent. We can’t ask for much more other than perfection, which would have been nice, but no one’s perfect.
Q. You mentioned a few weeks back that especially last couple weeks what you’ve gotten out of Nick and Dominick, would you necessarily say they exceeded expectations?
COACH RICHT: I would probably say yes. I mean, we wouldn’t have predicted Chubb to probably have had as big of a role as he has the last couple ballgames. But if you asked me, Hey, if Chubb was the featured back, do you think he would do well? I would say yes.
We had a pretty good feel that Sanders was going to be a guy we thought could help us, but he’s done a very good job. He’s gotten better throughout the year.
Both those guys are very good practice players. They’re kind of no nonsense. Sometimes freshmen have a little playfulness about them, they’re just trying to fit in, whatever it is. There’s always something with young guys a lot of times trying to figure out college life, trying to figure out the academic end of it, whatever it may be.
These guys are very, very solid people in how they approach practice, how they approach academics. They just seem a little more mature than most. That’s probably contributing to their success right now.
Q. (Question regarding the College Playoff rankings show.)
COACH RICHT: I’ll check that out. I’m sure everybody will check that out. I’m not too concerned where we are, where everybody else is for that matter. There’s just so much football to be played, we know things are going to change over time.
It will be interesting to see how that thing gets started anyway, even the show itself.
Y’all know how long it’s going to be?
Q. Half hour maybe.
COACH RICHT: Are they just going to say the ranks, cut off the air, talking there for two hours?
Q. A few commercials in there.
COACH RICHT: A few commercials in there. It will be interesting the format of the show, how they present things.
Q. In your opinion, what is the biggest key to this game, winning it?
COACH RICHT: Well, first and foremost, the boring answer, the turnover ratio I think is by far the most important stat besides the score. Florida has caused 16 turnovers. That’s a lot. They’ve done a good job in that area. We’ve only caused 17. We’re plus 13, and they’re even.
I could sit here and brag about how great we’ve done securing the ball, but the reality is we did fumble eight times, but somehow only lost one of them. It’s not like we’ve been perfect in our ball security. We’ve just been blessed to be able to get on the ball when the ball got on the ground. So we got to continue to work hard at that.
I just think the running game is going to be key for both teams, I really do. I think both teams are going to want to establish the run. Like a lot of people say, win first down. If you stay out of third and long, you got a chance to convert a lot. If you get in a lot of third and long situations, it’s just so difficult I think against both of these defenses to have a lot of success.
Like I was saying earlier, they’re sixth in America as far as creating three and outs. There’s a lot to be said for that over six times a game on average they’re getting three and outs. We got to try to stay out of that as much as possible.
Q. You say don’t worry about the past, but when you’ve had success in a series, do you build on that? Does that give you extra confidence coming into a game when you’ve beaten a team three in a row?
COACH RICHT: I may think about some of that stuff in the off season. Our life is fairly regimented. We get up on certain days of the week, we’re going to do certain things during that timeframe. We go to practice. Practice is pretty much in stone. We’re going to get this done on this day. We’re going to go eat, watch the practice film, critique it, then start working on what are we going to do in the red zone that night.
It’s so busy, we just focus on the process. We really do. We don’t think much about the rest.
Q. Do you preach to your team a little bit about keeping emotions in check?
COACH RICHT: I think we need to play with a lot of emotion. I don’t want to keep from playing with emotion. But we need to be smart. We need to play a tough, physical game without fouling. That’s the name of the game.
The three main things that get you beat are turnovers, foolish penalties, and missed assignments. Those are the three big guys that get you the most. We don’t need to have those.
Q. When you look at the turnover margin, particularly the lack of committing them, do you think y’all have been a little bit more lucky or is this who you are, this is a careful team with the ball?
COACH RICHT: Well, I don’t know. Ball security is a skill. It’s a learned skill. Again, if you create habits from the first day on your ball security, if you are constantly reminding your players and drilling how to secure the ball the best you can, even if you secure perfectly as far as technique, it can still come out. Sometimes you just get hit. Sometimes you are spinning around, whatever, you lose your balance.
That’s why we do these drills. You’ll see our runningbacks doing all sorts of agility drills with the ball in their hands. You don’t want that ball to come out when you’re dodging somebody. The quarterback, we do a lot of drills, moving in the pocket, keep both hands on the ball, don’t run around with that ball flailing around there.
When receivers catch the ball, immediately tuck it. The ball is not caught until it’s tucked. You have to secure it before it’s considered a catch.
Even on defense, we’ll do ball disruption drills. Basically we’re trying to punch it out, strip it out, whatever it may be. But then let’s say the ball is on the ground, our defense grabs it, we work hard on them securing the ball right away because we don’t want them to get a turnover, run free with it, all of a sudden somebody tackles them, turns it right back over.
We preach it, we drill it a lot, and like you say, we still have put the ball on the ground eight times, fortunately we’ve gotten on it.
COACH RICHT: I think in a pinch we could take J.J. and use him without him having to get every rep. He knows enough. He got a little bit last week. We’re pretty comfortable he remembered a good bit.
In an emergency situation, we could grab J.J., let him play that position.
Q. Going back to the College Football Playoff, with the human element being involved, how do you think perception is going to be important to the committee? How important is it that you win convincingly so you can have a better impression?
COACH RICHT: I used to think about win convincingly before I got to Georgia. Within about two games I realized, like Al Davis said, Just win, baby, just win. Whether it’s one point, three points, whether you score 40 points, nine points, that’s all I really concern myself with.
I don’t think we’re in a league that you can sit there and try to start naming your number. I don’t know if we’re good enough to start naming our number. We just need to try to get a victory.
Q. Last week South Carolina was a heavy underdog at Auburn. Coach Spurrier went in there and sort of threw the kitchen sink at them, played like he didn’t have anything to lose. Do you expect that kind of thing out of Florida? Do you anticipate a team that has a few losses, a coach that’s under fire, might try to gamble?
COACH RICHT: We go into every game expecting a fake punt, a surprise on side kick, trick plays, whatever you might want to say. I mean, we can’t control whether a coach decides to go for it on fourth down or not.
You play fourth and six like it’s third and six basically. If it’s fourth and six, you’re basically playing the defense you prepared. Third down is usually a possession down. Obviously, if you go to fourth down, that’s truly a possession down.
I don’t know if it would change how we would prepare. But we’re always looking for the possibility of a fake field goal, fake punt, surprise on side kick. We look at our film and try to say, If we were playing us, what would we try to do to catch us off guard? We try to do that every week.
COACH RICHT: I think he is. He’s been a great leader for us, he’s got some productive numbers. He’s gotten some picks and sacks, a lot of tackles. Yeah, I think he’s got a chance to be an All SEC performer this year.
Senior QB Hutson Mason
On starting against Florida for the first time…
“I am [excited]. Obviously been down there a few times, so I know what it’s about and know about the atmosphere. It’s definitely a game over the years that as a backup you always want to play in. As a quarterback, you’re judged on a few things. Did you win a championship, and did you beat your rival? Did you beat Florida? It’s a big game, and it’s just a big game just because of where we’re at. We’re 6-1 and we control our own destiny. It would be pretty sweet to look back and say you won the SEC Championship and beat Florida.”
On the success of the team without Todd Gurley…
“There’s some really good senior leadership. Not only seniors, just really good leadership. There’s a high maturity level on this team and there’s a high focus level. The one thing about this team, and the difference I’ve seen over the last couple years is that we practice really well, and I think that’s why we’ve had some success so far this season. I think you could count on one hand the amount of bad practices we’ve really had this year.”
Senior ILB Kosta Vavlas
On the Georgia-Florida rivalry…
“It’s definitely a big game, but the one big thing we try to stress is to cut out that aspect. We’ve just got to take it as another SEC game. We look at it as another big challenge that we have to get through to achieve what we want to achieve and get to our goal in Atlanta. We’re looking at it as just another SEC game. We’ve got to give it our full effort and stick to our game plan.”
On preparations for Florida…
“They bring a lot of energy and a lot of effort to the game. They’re going to bring their “A” game so we’ve got to bring ours. You can count on them to play really hard. We don’t expect anything less. There will be a lot of effort out on that field so we are going to bring everything we have as well.”
Senior WR Michael Bennett
On controlling the SEC East…
“It’s easier that way because you don’t have to worry about someone else losing or something like that. All we have to do is [win] the three SEC games left and then the SEC Championship. That’s really not a lot. We’re through the meat of our schedule. We obviously have a big one this Saturday, we have Kentucky who’s doing really well, and then we have Auburn at home, which is going to be a huge game. If we win those three games, that’s all it takes.”
On potentially beating Florida in four consecutive seasons…
“It would mean a lot. Not a lot of Bulldogs can say that they’ve done that. That doesn’t happen a lot as a player. That’s something that can be said about our recruiting class.”
Senior ILB Amarlo Herrera
On this season’s linebacker play…
“We’re getting a lot of tackles and we’re getting a lot of tackles for loss. We’re just causing problems for the offense.”
On potentially beating Florida in four consecutive seasons…
“It’s fun, but we have bigger goals than that. That’s just one of them. To accomplish our goal, we’ve got to beat them this week. Then we will have four, hopefully.”
On the overall defensive improvement this season…
“There’s been a lot of progress. We’re getting a lot of turnovers, and that’s one thing we didn’t have last year. That’s something we’ve focused on all year and something we focus on every day in practice. It’s good that it’s paying off now.”
Courtesy of UGA Sports Communications