Georgia head football coach Mark Richt and a delegation of players met with the media on Tuesday ahead of this Saturday’s SEC showdown with Auburn in Athens. They offered the following comments:
Head Coach Mark Richt
We’re talking about Auburn today. Coach Malzhan has done a wonderful job there, obviously, in a very short amount of time. Those guys are playing great football right now.
I’m going to start talking a little bit about their offense. They’re number one in the SEC in rushing with 284 yards a game. They’re number one in the league in pass efficiency, and number one in the league in third down conversions. They’re number two in the league in total offense and number three in the league in scoring with over 38 points a game.
Obviously quarterback has a lot to do with that, Nick Marshall. He’s passed for over 1,500 yards and 14 TDs, only four picks and has rushed for over 700, well, actually, 775 yards rushing. So kind of the, you know, a lot of people talk about guys being a dual threat, but he’s the kind of guy that truly is as dangerous as a runner as he is a passer.
Their running back, Artis Payne, No. 44, very physical back, work horse for them. He’s No. 1 in the league in rushing, approximately 132 yards a game. He’s No. 1 in the league in all purpose yards, very physical back that can carry the load.
Grant is one of his back ups has got 300 yards total rushing, has helped out to a certain degree. Roc Thomas, true freshman is doing a nice job for them, is doing well, but Artis Payne is the work horse as mentioned before.
In the back field they got a kid named Fulse, No. 11, H back/tight end type player. He does a lot of full back tight end type blocking, route running, ball catching type stuff. Uzomah, No. 81, their tight end has got 86 yards receiving and a couple of TDs.
As far as their pass receivers, their leading receiver, Williams, as we all know, got hurt, and the latest report I got was that he probably would not play in this game, but he had 38 catches for over 600 yards.
Their No. 2 receiver, Bray, 25 catches, 287 yards, and Coates, 20 catches, 416 yards, so Coates definitely is their deep threat. Bray catches a few more screen type passes and does a lot with the ball once he catches it.
Up front, they’ve got three returning linemen up front in Dismukes, and Slade and Young, and their line averages about 300 pounds up front, very physical bunch, great run blockers, and outstanding pass protectors, again, helping them be the No. 1 pass efficiency team in the league.
Going to defense, they are fifth in the league in rush defense. They’re only giving up 129 yards rushing per game, so that’ll be a great challenge for us. They’re second in the league in interceptions. They actually have a plus five turnover margin, which is outstanding, and they’re second in the league in red zone defense. So they’ve been very difficult to score against once you get in that red zone, touchdowns anyway. So we gotta make sure we do a good job there.
As far as their personnel is concerned up front, their interior linemen, they rotate a lot. They’re all really outstanding football players. You got Gabe Wright, a senior, 6’3, 296. He’s fourth on the team in quarterback hurries with eight.
Montravius Adams, No. 1, he’s first on the team with quarterback hurries, 14. He’s third on the team with tackles for loss with six and he’s got two sacks; playing outstanding football.
Their backups, Bradley and Blackson, play quite a bit. They do rotate those interior linemen. As I mentioned, Blackson, No. 98, Blackson is second on the team with sacks, and fourth on the team with tackles for loss, so he is a guy who’s considered a back up, highly productive guy.
On the edge, Lambert leads the team in sacks, second on the team with quarterback hurries and third on the team with tackles for loss. So he’s having an outstanding year as well.
At the linebacker position, Casanova McKinzy, No. 8, he’s their second leader in tackles with 64, just one behind Ford who has 65 and he’s No. 1 on the team with tackles for loss, eight and a half tackles for loss. Frost is in the middle of all those categories, tackles, tackles for loss, sacks. He’s in the top 3 in every category, quarterback hurries as well.
In their back field they’ve got two returning starters in Mincy and Holsey, but Ford is a guy that’s actually leading the team with tackles with 65, he’s got two picks, having an outstanding year, No. 23.
Jonathan Jones is a guy that leads the team with interceptions with five, number 27, their corner. And doing a great job there. Whitehead is I guess he was No. 9 early in the year, and I believe he’s number 35 now, but he’s second in the team with picks, and he’s been playing some safety as well.
So outstanding defense that we’ll be dealing with. And then in the kicking game, they’re No. 1 in the Southeastern Conference in punt return yardage, they’re averaging over 20 per. Quan Bray is No. 1 in the league averaging 20.5, per attempt in punt returns and has had returned two for touchdowns. As far as their kickoff return, Grant and Lewis are averaging 22 and 21 yards respectively.
As far as field goals are concerned, Carlson is 11 for 15 with a long of 46, and he does lead the league in scoring as well. And Carlson, their punter, is I say their punter. They’ve had about three different guys punt so far, but he’s punted the most and he’s averaging 41 yards a punt.
So you know, they’re an outstanding team. And you know, I guess we’ve been playing 117 times. This is the 118th time we’ve played and they’ve got us by one game, and even the point differential is less than one point per game after 118 years. It’s been that close. And so we’re looking forward to being home for the first time in 42 days.
We’re looking forward to our fan base welcoming our players and supporting us. And we’re looking forward to playing some exciting football to get our fans excited, too. So with that I’ll open it up and see what y’all want to know.
Q. Hudson about five returns for starting tailback. Can you expound on that, No. 1, and do you see him going back as kind of the featured guy he was before or did what Chubb do the last four games means you’ve gotta be a little bit more emphatic about getting him in there?
COACH RICHT: Todd’s our starter, that’s pretty plain and simple, at tailback. But you know, you talk about being the work horse, even before he had the suspension you know, our goal, our plan was to run other backs in there. We’ve got other good backs. We wanted to keep everybody as fresh as possible throughout the game, and hopefully really fresh in the fourth quarter, because we think it’ll be that type of ball game.
And we go into every game really thinking that. So the goal is to try to spread the ball around as much as possible without keeping it from a guy that oughta be carrying it. But he’s going to get his share of carries, that’s for sure, and we’ll find ways to get him to touch the ball.
Chubb obviously has done a wonderful job, and Sony comes around to where he can perform well, he’s get his chance, too. Brendan Douglas has had carries in just about every single game he’s been in. So we’ll spread it around, but we definitely want Todd to get it as much as he can handle it.
Q. The way the last month has transpired, obviously you’ve coached so long enough you have to deal with interactions, and I imagine in season distractions are as tough as out. Given what this season and what you went through in 2010 with A.J., it looked like this year’s team handled all of that better than did you learn anything from what you went through four years ago that may have helped you?
COACH RICHT: Well, the big thing, again, is if something happens to a player, whether it’s injuries, suspension, whatever it might be, if you lose a guy, especially a great player like Todd or a j, you know, you have no choice but to move on. You have no choice but to put the next best man in there and get after it.
You know, I think Nick Chubb, you know, filled in pretty darn good. We didn’t have a huge dropoff at that position. Would we have been better off with Todd and Chubb and Sony and Nick, Marshall and all those, everybody healthy and being able to share the load, yes, there’s no doubt about it. But considering what Chubb and Brendan Douglas did, I think that probably helped us as much as anything.
Q. With all the distractions you made the decision not to have Todd talk this week and limit access to players in general. What was your mindset on that?
COACH RICHT: Well, I just felt like probably the most asked question was going to be about what do you think about Todd being back, what do you think about, you know, all that stuff, and I wanted to just get through this week.
It’s our normal policy for a guy coming off suspension not to talk to the media, period. So Todd’s deal is nothing new. But you know, reducing the number of guys to speak to the media today was mostly to get some mature guys in there that would be able to handle those types of questions.
I didn’t want it to become I didn’t want to know everybody’s opinion on what they think about Todd being back. I want everybody to be excited about Todd being back, which I am and the rest of the team is and the staff is. But let’s focus on the game. Let’s focus on Georgia.
Q. Distractions here before, potential distractions. In your mind, was this elevated higher potentially this week than other things you’ve dealt with?
COACH RICHT: This week in particular? Well, I don’t know if it’s elevated any higher, other than I was thinking the week was going to be a fairly predictable about what everybody wanted to ask about, so I was like, let’s just get four guys that I think are pretty mature and handle those questions for the team. Then when the game is over, we’ll go back to normal.
Q. The Florida game lately. Did that get into it as well?
COACH RICHT: That wasn’t part of it really. The big thing was just trying to predict what the whole week could become. I didn’t want it to become only about Todd’s return.
Again, and I’m happy Todd’s returning. I’m smiling. I’m happy. Okay. But I didn’t want that to be the whole focus of Georgia. Georgia, you know, it’s a team sport, and you know, we love Todd, we love all our guys, you know what I mean? And I just didn’t want it to become too much of a focus on one guy. I wanted it to be more of a team focus.
Q. With Leonard’s shoulder is healed or healthy, did Lorenzo give you something to think about in terms of how you distribute the snaps at that spot?
COACH RICHT: I think Lorenzo did play well. I think Floyd will play. Yeah, I think he I think we need to substitute as much as we can in every position we feel comfortable. You know what I’m saying?
If you got a big dropoff between one and two, you don’t want to sub a lot, but you got two guys that are playing good, play them both. Let them help each other out. It’s going to be it’s been a long season. It’s going to be a very physical game. Obviously both teams like to run the ball.
You know, let’s sub as much as we can to keep everybody as fresh as possible.
Q. Obviously having (indiscernible), what are your feelings about the success Nick Marshall has had.
COACH RICHT: Well, I don’t know what everybody is going to think about this comment as far as the well, I’ll just make the comment, because what I think. I think that, you know, guys from 18 to 22 are at a very crucial time in their life, and sometimes they make mistakes, and when they make those mistakes during their college years, I’m excited when a guy can turn it around and have a positive move in a positive direction after a bad choice, you know.
And I’m happy for the guy. I mean I’m not happy that we gotta try to defend him. But I’m happy for any young man that can, you know, get his act together and do great things. That’s what it’s all about for me.
Q. Seeing what he’s done at Auburn, has it made you rethink at all the decisions y’all made initially when you recruited him here to play cornerback as opposed to quarterback?
COACH RICHT: I hadn’t really thought much about it. I hadn’t thought much about it, but he’s doing great. There’s no doubt.
Q. I know that you have no control over this or influence, but is 42 days too long to not play at home?
COACH RICHT: I mean if you could have it ideally, would you spread it out a little differently, I think we would.
I say this same thing over and over, I know it’s probably boring to people right now, but I’m of the opinion that, you know, just tell us what the schedule is and we’ll go play it.
I didn’t think much about oh, this is going to be horrible or this is going to be bad or whatever. I was like, okay, let’s this is what the deal is, let’s go attack it the best we can and find a way to win every week. I didn’t think much of it really.
COACH RICHT: I am glad to be home now. There’s though doubt about that. I think well, I took Michael Bennett and Amarlo Herrera to a luncheon yesterday at the Touchdown Club in Athens here. It’s just something we do every year. And just I didn’t bring anything up about being back home but both of them were just verbalizing how excited they were to be back home, playing in front of their fans, our fans and their family and the Dawg Walk and just playing between the hedges again. They were really getting amped up about being home again.
So I’m glad they feel that way. I would hope they feel that way, but it wasn’t like hey, how you guys feel about this. It was like they just started talking about it. So that was good.
Q. Given Jonathon Rumph, the way they’ve come on, and given Todd’s return, do you feel like I know this is deep into the season, but you may have your healthiest, most effective offenses?
COACH RICHT: Could be. I hadn’t really thought about comparing it to other games in the season, but you know, it’s always nice to get guys back healthy and be productive.
We may be as healthy as we’ve been. I don’t know. We still I don’t think, you know, Keith Marshall is 100 percent and I’m not sure about Sony right now. He’s getting there. At the receiver position we’re in a lot better shape, for sure.
Q. I guessed he rushed it 16 times. Did he have like a setback or a tweak?
COACH RICHT: Yeah. His ankle. And a little bit. I mean he’s been getting some treatment. He may not go today, but we’re hoping he’ll go tomorrow.
Q. As you all kind of approached Auburn every offensive possession they need to make the most out of it. When you play an offense like Auburn’s that’s prolific. Is offensive efficiency the key to stopping them almost?
COACH RICHT: No question. Not many people have slowed them down at all. Obviously they put a lot of points on the board, and is it going to be a scoring fest, I don’t know. I don’t know. It’s hard to say.
But their style of offense, with the way they run the ball, they get it going, it’s hard to stop. You know, they don’t do a lot of things that when you run the ball and that’s your way of doing it, it’s just the you can control games better that way, I guess you could say. They can get long drives. They can get time consuming drives, even though they like to go fast, they’re still pretty methodical about how they move it down the field, just constantly trying to pound away till the dam breaks and a big run hits. So yeah, all of our offensive possessions will be very valuable.
COACH RICHT: Well, we just gotta everybody’s gotta play their gaps properly. Everybody’s gotta make sure that if they’re in charge of containing a play that they don’t let it bounce outside. And when our safeties and corners are in position to make plays, if they’re the unblocked guy, they gotta make them. They gotta go they gotta be aggressive and go after it and get these guys on the ground.
Q. Can you talk about Auburn’s and the way they just pound the ball away but Nick Marshall has shown that he can beat you through the air if he needs to. How do you weigh that kind of balance from the quarterback position?
COACH RICHT: Well, it’s tough. It’s tough. You better get a bunch of people involved in stopping the run or it’s going to be horrible. When you do that, you get a lot of singled up coverages. You get a lot of guys with opportunities to make plays.
There’s nothing like a play action pass with a good running team. We enjoy that; they enjoy it, and teams that can run the ball well and, you know, fake the ball and make it look just like the run and then all of a sudden guys are running free. It’s a tough thing to defend and it’ll put some pressure on our cover people for sure.
Q. In your career you’ve not had too many losses that I don’t know what the word is stung too much as the way that one ended last year, Auburn.
COACH RICHT: I had too many. One’s too many.
Q. But also then you think back to 2002 and some other games. Just talk about what this series has been during your time here.
COACH RICHT: Yeah. I don’t even know what the record is. 13 games. But they’ve been mostly close. There’s been a couple where they got out of hand for one team or the other.
But there’s been some games that have been very meaningful to us that we won, very meaningful to them that they won. I know one year we went up there, I don’t even remember what year it was, but we had lost, I don’t know, two or three in a row or at least two or three that everybody thought we shouldn’t have lost and went to their place, they were highly ranked and I remember thinking the night before the game being looking at my call sheet thinking we’re not going to get a first down. This thing is awful, you know. It was the year Stafford was playing, I think, and we ended up hitting a couple of deep balls, and I think we got a couple picks early, and Stafford ran for more yards than anybody thought he would, and found a way to win that game.
So you never know what the game is going to bring regardless of who’s ranked and who’s favored and all that kind of thing. It’s just one of those true rival games. I mean you can’t predict what’s going to happen.
Q. Last year when you were playing Auburn orchestrated their offense pretty well and Auburn went down to the wire last week. Do you have confidence in Hudson Mason when it comes to those down to the wire in those situations?
COACH RICHT: Yeah. Hudson does a very nice job of running our two minute drill, or one minute offense, however you want to call it. We have a lot of faith in him.
Q. You’ve seen them after difficult losses, and now coming off his best game of certainly this season. His personality, how does he handle the extremes in his position?
COACH RICHT: He’s business like, in practice, meetings. You never know what’s going on on the inside with a guy, but you know, when you’re looking at him, because he is the leader and how is he responding, is he he’s not flinching. He’s not giving off any kind of body language that would make anybody feel like this guy’s losing any confidence or anything like that. I think he’s handled it extremely well.
And I was really proud of him, really happy for him and the way he played this last ball game.
Q. Coach, it’s also a big recruiting weekend for you. A lot of guys are taking official visits. When you have a game of this magnitude and all these recruits coming in?
COACH RICHT: It’s a lot of work. So many unofficial visitors will be here, and like you said, there will be a good many official visits. Maybe more official visits this game than any game since I’ve been at Georgia, that I can remember, anyway. There may have been another one.
So it’s just going to be a lot a lot to manage, but we’re taking it in little chunks, even throughout this week. We talked a little bit last week about this coming weekend as far as who’s coming on official visit, I mean just trying to get organized. We didn’t spend a lot of time last week, but if you don’t get ahead of it, you’re in trouble.
But I think we’ve got a very good recruiting staff that’s on top of it, and in some ways they’ve had 42 days to get ready for it, we haven’t had a home game in so long, so I think they’re ready for a big challenge.
But I’ll say this to our fan base, the atmosphere that I know we can provide is very attractive to the recruits that come in, official visits, unofficial visits. Just how our fan base loves our team and supports them means an awful lot to those players, and it means an awful lot to those parents as well?
Q. During the past year, was it a teaching point at all, you know, with the secondary as far as you know?
COACH RICHT: Well, I think from a teaching point it’ll probably get brought up, the situation, that type of situation. I don’t know if it would have to be, but you never know, you got brand new freshmen that might be back there that didn’t experience that from a year ago but I’ve not mentioned it to the team yet.
And I don’t know for sure what I’m going to tell them Friday night before the game. I grab the whole team Friday night before the game, and I also talk to them right before we go to the Dawg Walk as well, and you know, I’ve got I’ll jot notes all week long on things I want to hit. And some I’ll use during because you want to motivate during practice, so certain things you’ll say during practice to try to get them going, and then there’s some things you might just try to save, you know, for the moment.
And so whether or not that’ll be brought up, I don’t know. But right now I don’t have any kind of burning desire to talk about it, or I hadn’t written it down and say, hey, man, I better bring that up. But who knows, it may be worthy.
Q. What kind of shape do you think he’ll be in after being
COACH RICHT: That’s a good question.
Q. I know he’s been practicing.
COACH RICHT: He’s been practicing. He’s been getting extra work in the weight room, getting extra work running on his own. Or apart from the team.
But you know, it’s a little bit different than playing games and being in football shape, but I think he’ll be in good condition, and you know, if he had to carry it 38 times, if I knew he had to carry it 38 times and catch five balls, how would he do that, I don’t know for sure, but hopefully he won’t have to have that many touches.
Q. Do you think his attitude is right this week as opposed to the previous few weeks when he wasn’t sure?
COACH RICHT: You know, he did a great job of when he did practice, when he did get reps, going really hard and just his body language didn’t show anything about, oh, I’m feeling sorry for myself, or this, that or the other. He showed up, he worked hard.
And Todd’s a guy that he’ll have he’ll chirp out stuff here and there, just keep things light, keep everybody going, you know. And he didn’t just shut down for that month. He kept trying to help his teammates, you know, get through practice, because practices aren’t a whole lot of fun all the time.
And so I haven’t seen a big difference really.
Q. First week he practiced right after the…
COACH RICHT: Well, the first day was that Thursday prior to the Missouri game, I guess, when we made the announcement to the team right here what was going on. Then we went straight to practice. He didn’t practice that day. I excused him. I really gave him the choice, you know, Todd, you know, it’s up to you, whatever you think. I’m kind of I could see it go either way. And I wanted to whatever is in your heart, I’m with you on that one. And at first he’s like I want to be with my team, I want to practice, and then after a little while he’s like, you know what, coach, it’s probably better for other guys to get reps and for everybody to kind of get used to what’s going on, and I might be a distraction today. So it might be better that I’m not out there. And I said, I’ll honor that wish, and we’ll go to practice.
But he was you know, starting the next week he was back with us working.
Q. Has he had a moment that he stood up in front of the team and addressed the situation or apologize or will there be a situation like that?
COACH RICHT: Well, he apologized in the media, his comments that he made was a public apology.
You know, he wanted to move on after that, but we didn’t, we tried not to make a big deal about it. We tried to just keep working, try to keep focusing. And you know, like I said, football is a team game, and obviously Todd’s a big part of our team and a big part of our program, one of the best players in America.
And I’m going to say this, too, whether anybody wants to hear it or not. I’m proud of the guy for being truthful. You know, I still think it’s the best policy. I still think if I’m an NFL team and I’m looking at Gurley, I’m going to say, you know what, the guy might have done this thing, which I don’t know how much they care that he got some money to sign some autographs or not, but I think they care about his character and they care about what kind of person he is.
As far as just, you know, if you make a mistake, you know, fess up to it, and he did, and I’m proud of him, and I’m glad the suspension is over, and I’m looking forward to watching him play.
Q. What was hurt as a teammate and as a person? Is it tough to I’m looking for the right word, with what he did, to get suspended?
COACH RICHT: We’re all human. We’re all human. We all make mistakes. We all blow it sometimes, you know, and no one’s no one knows what it’s like to live in his shoes either.
So no one’s throwing stones here. We love our teammate. We love each other, and you know, when a guy as far as him being a great teammate, the reason why everybody thinks he’s a great teammate is because he is. You know, on a daily basis, he works his tail off. He cares about his teammates as far as what’s going on on a daily basis in practice, and I mean he’ll be just as friendly to a walk on scout teamer as he is to another guy that is considered a star player or whatever. He just he works hard, and he I think he’s a good teammate.
Q. Do you think you have an advantage this week with Coach Pruitt having coached against Auburn last year in the championship game? Do you think that’s going to help you guys this week in terms of preparation?
COACH RICHT: Well, I think it’s you know, there’s some familiarity, and there’s I don’t think there’s been a whole lot of change, you know, schematically.
Senior C David Andrews
On last year’s loss to Auburn…
“It was heartbreaking, but to be honest with you, it’s 2014 and I can’t even remember what I had for breakfast. I’m ready to move on. It’s motivation because it’s Auburn, not because of anything that happened in the past. We can’t control that. It’s Auburn, and everything is on the line.”
On Todd Gurley’s return to the offense…
“It’s not like Todd hasn’t been around. He’s been practicing every week. He’s been around. It’s not like he’s coming off an injury or something like that. Todd’s a gamer. He’s going to be ready to go. We’re just going to go out and do our thing, and when we do that, we can be pretty good.”
Senior QB Hutson Mason
On the offense’s 43 points per game…
“It just says that we’re doing a really good job of executing, really. This is really all about execution. We’re doing a good job of not shooting ourselves in the foot. We don’t have a lot of penalties and we haven’t been turning the ball over a lot. We’re taking the gameplan that our coaches are giving us and we’re doing a good job of executing.”
On the team’s effort in Todd Gurley’s absence…
“I think guys just really stepped up. I think that’s what it came down to. [Nick] Chubb did a phenomenal job of handling 30 carries a game. It seems like we got better in the passing game and made plays where we needed to make plays. The defense was really playing phenomenal. They were getting turnovers and I can think of a lot of times when we had great field position because of turnovers, which led to seven points. It really seemed like the whole team came together after we lost a pretty spectacular player.”
Senior DB Damian Swann
On returning to Sanford Stadium after 42 days…
“It’s going to be exciting to actually have people cheering for you and not booing for you. I like the games that are earlier in the day so we can wake up and get going, but when you’re on a stage like this against an opponent like this, you kind of want the prime-time, under-the-lights game. I think this game is going to be big and it’s going to be special.”
On last year’s loss to Auburn…
“I think we’ve kind of moved forward. It’s not a revenge factor. We have a new team from last year. We’ve got new guys. We have a whole new coaching staff on defense. Things have changed to the point where we can forget about that and worry about this week.”
Senior DL Mike Thornton
On Todd Gurley’s return…
“I wouldn’t call it a distraction because Todd’s never been that kind of guy to put his personal things on us, but it’s definitely going to be great to have him back. It will definitely be a boost to our team, I feel. We all love Todd here. This is Georgia, and we’re a family.”
On the Georgia-Auburn rivalry…
“It’s definitely one of the great games that I like to play because I have a lot of family members that are Auburn fans down in Columbus. I kind of went outside of it and went to Georgia. This is it for me. I love that family competition.”
Courtesy of UGA Sports Communications