Georgia head football coach Mark Richt and a delegation of players met with the media on Tuesday ahead of this Saturday’s matchup with in-state rival Georgia Tech in Athens. They offered the following comments (see attached documents for a full transcription of Coach Richt’s press conference):
Head Coach Mark Richt
“It is senior day and the first thing I want to do is encourage all of Dawg Nation that is going to the game to get there about 20 minutes prior to kickoff so that we can do a great job of honoring our seniors. These guys deserve it. They’ve been working hard their whole careers. They’ve been bleeding for this program, risking bodily harm every time we practice and play, and they do it because they love Georgia. They love this team, they love their teammates, and Saturday is a day to be able to honor those guys and honor their families as well. We’ll have each player and any family members that choose to be there introduced before the game. It’s a very important and emotional time for our guys and I’m also sure it will also get them ready to play some football. I just want to encourage everyone to be there.”
“Also, I Tweeted out a couple days ago for everybody to go red. If you’re looking for a theme, let’s go red, and let’s get there on time and have the greatest Dawg Walk and greatest atmosphere we’ve had since I’ve been at Georgia. That’s what I’m looking forward to.”
“Alright, we’re going to play Georgia Tech, obviously. Coach Johnson has got his team playing great. They’re 9-2, they’re Coastal Division champs, and have already got their ticket punched to Charlotte [for the ACC Championship]. They also have another opportunity to hook it up with us. I know they’re looking forward to it, I know we’re looking forward to it, because it’s two outstanding football teams playing pretty darn good this time of the year.”
On the Georgia Tech offense…
“I’m going to talk about their offense first. They are first in the ACC in a few categories and I’m just going to rattle them off: total offense, scoring offense, rushing offense, yards per completion, passing efficiency, fewest sacks, fewest interceptions thrown, third down conversions, fourth down conversions, and number one in turnover margin. Nationally, they are number one in yards per completion and third down conversions, and from what I’ve heard they might even be breaking an NCAA record for their third down conversion rate. And, they’re actually number two in the nation in rushing, so obviously they are getting it done on offense.”
“In most offenses everything starts with the quarterback. Justin Thomas for them is a really outstanding football player. He’s passed for close to 1400 yards and 15 touchdowns. You’ve already heard the stat of having hardly any interceptions thrown, best in their league, but he’s also had over 800 yards rushing and he runs their system extremely well. He’s very dangerous, very fast, and has a strong arm. I think they’re throwing and catching better than I’ve seen them do in the last few years. He’s a very impressive guy.”
“Their running backs, their B-Backs, will get the majority of the carries and yardage. Zach Laskey has got 680 yards rushing. Synjyn Days has got 592 yards rushing, so they’ve got a lot of guys that can carry the mail and do a good job. In the pass receiving categories the number one receiver is [DeAndre] Smelter. He’s got 32 catches for 671 yards, which is an extremely high yards per catch stat there. Their second leading receiver is [Darren] Waller, number 88. He’s got 15 catches for 248 yards. Their number three receiver is [Tony] Zenon, number 9. He’s got 8 catches for 161 so they’re doing a great job.”
“Their offensive line is very impressive—three returning starters there. Six returning starters offensively, overall, but three are up front. They average nearly 300 pounds. They’re big and athletic. In years past they weren’t quite as big as these guys but they are bigger, stronger, faster than I’ve ever seen so it will be a nice challenge for our defensive line and linebacking corps.”
On the Georgia Tech defense…
“As far as their defense is concerned they are number one in their league [ACC] in defensive touchdowns. They’ve given up 24 points and 388 yards a game with 165 rushing and 228 passing [on average]. Their linebacking corps is very impressive so I’ll start with that. Their number one tackler is P.J. Davis, number 40. He’s got 90 tackles and is also tied for first in tackles for loss with 8. He’s also number one on their team with 4 sacks. [Quayshawn] Nealy, the middle linebacker, is number two in tackles with 75, number three in tackles for loss with 6, and is actually third in interceptions with 2 picks.”
“Up front, [Keshun] Freeman, number 42, is tied for first in tackles for loss with 8 and is second on the team in sacks with three and a half. In the back end, Jamal Golden leads the group in interceptions with 4, and also has 43 tackles. He’s also their kick and punt return man. [D.J.] White is number three in tackles with 57 and number two in interceptions with 3 picks. Their nickel back, [Demond] Smith, number 12, is fourth on the team with 55 tackles. He’s a very active player if you get into three wide receiver sets. Again, another challenge for us offensively that we’re looking forward to.”
On the Georgia Tech special teams…
“As far as their kicking game goes they are number one in their league in blocked kicks. That’s punts and kicks. Their kick return man, Golden, who I mentioned a little bit ago, is averaging 26.6 yards per return, which is the most of anybody we’ve played all year long. [Broderick] Snoddy also has an average of 22.4 which is outstanding. Golden is also their punt return man. Their field goal kicker, [Harrison] Butker is 10 of 16 with a long of 46 and their punter [Ryan] Rodwell averages 41.3 in the punting game. So, again, another good matchup on special teams. We’ve got to do a great job in that area to have a chance. So those are the things that we’ve been studying about Georgia Tech. Again, they are a very hot team right now and are Coastal Division champions. They’re a championship team this year and we need to play our best to have a chance.”
Q. Coach, you guys have obviously gone against this offense a lot over the last few years. Coach Jeremy Pruitt, I don’t know how much he has. Have you weighed in more on that part of game planning, just having been through it so many times or where does that factor lie for your defense?
COACH RICHT: First of all, I’m not going to try to tell any defensive coordinator how to try to defend this particular offense because I just don’t — I don’t know enough to give the great detail that you need to try to defend it.
Jeremy has had experience, and I think all of our coaches have had some experience defending this type of offense, but going head to head with Georgia Tech, I don’t believe they did at Florida State last year. So you know, it’ll be the first shot out of the cannon, so to speak, for this staff to go against that offense here at Georgia Tech.
I have done my best to explain, you know, kind of how this game goes, and the emotion of the game and how relentless Georgia Tech is in how they go about their business, and it’s kind of — it’s a game where you’ve gotta be — you’ve gotta be tough to play in this game. You gotta be tough, because the type of offense especially that they run is one where they’re going to come after you down after down after down, and you gotta be resilient, you gotta be good fundamentally. You gotta be tough fundamentally, too.
And they play a physical brand of defense as well, and we try to play a physical brand of offense, so it’ll be interesting to see how that matchup goes, too. But it is going to be a game where you’ve gotta be physically and mentally tough.
Q. Do you speed up your practices during the week preparing for Tech because of how quick they are?
COACH RICHT: Well, their tempo is they do have some good tempo. We’ve played a lot of teams that run tempo, and when I say tempo, fast pace, and our offense has our moments when we try to go fast as well, so I think we can operate under that circumstance, you know, because it’s kind of what a lot of people do as far as how fast they go. But I think the big thing with Georgia Tech’s offense is just the pure execution of it that is the most daunting task to try to slow it down.
Q. During practices to get the defense ready for some of those cut blocks, do you go more full speed as opposed to the sub you normally would during the week?
COACH RICHT: We do. We work on drills, you know, to work on cut blocks, and then, you know, we’ll get some scout team work as well, but you just can’t simulate it. You can’t simulate how well they play offensive football and the way they block, and they’re not always cutting. You know, and a lot of teams cut block, so it won’t be the first time we’ll play a cut block all year.
But you know, on average they probably do it more than most people. But you have to — I just got a feeling we’re going to have to play a series or two to really get a feel for how fast it happens, and not so much fast in between plays, but when that ball is snapped, how fast things happen, how fast they can get you on the ground, how fast they can be up on you.
So it’s going to be interesting to see. I mean we work hard to get our scout team to try to simulate it, but you just can’t do it. You can’t do it.
Q. What’s the value that you’ve happened to experience against the triple option. You have some freshmen on the back end?
COACH RICHT: I think just the original thing I was talking about as far as, you know, just how the game goes, I mean how you have to be ready every single snap, because any snap it could go to the house. If one guy makes a mistake or one guys decides he’s not going to play good fundamentals this play or one guy decides he’s going to do his own thing, bam, big play. Because you’ll see a lot of three, four, three, two and a half, you know, and then bam, big play, pass or run. And that’s what we gotta try to minimize, if possible.
Q. The guys that were there for that six and seven and then a couple of East titles, so it seems like when you think about that ’10 class, seems like they’ve been through a good bit.
COACH RICHT: Yeah, they have. You know, they do reminisce about those kind of things. You know, I’ll hear them from time to time. The thing I hear from those guys the most, though, is just how fast their senior year went and how they can’t hardly believe this is the last game between the hedges and how much it means to them. It really does.
You know, they’ll start saying, you know, this is the last Tuesday practice of the regular season of my career, you know. And then the last Wednesday and all that kind of — I mean they know it’s the last of a lot of opportunities that they’ve had here at Georgia, and they get, I don’t know, they get reflective. You know, young guys usually don’t get reflective, but when you’re a senior, you start reflecting back on your career and you look and you remember yourself as a freshman and then you see yourself as a senior and you realize how much you’ve grown, and they have grown. I’m proud of them.
Q. Speaking of redshirt, there’s some guys that we haven’t seen. You haven’t redshirted many guys this year, I guess, but are there some guys that you’re excited about their future?
COACH RICHT: Yeah. We haven’t thought much about that right now. We’re just trying to beat Tech right now. That’s all we’re thinking about. But obviously — every year there’s either new freshmen or redshirt freshmen that have a chance to do big things, and sometimes in bowl practice you’ll try to get a lot of those guys work and all that.
But with our calendar the way it is, and with really the lack of depth that we have right this minute, I don’t know if we’ll have a lot of those scrimmages maybe that we’ve had in the past. We may do a little.
I was just looking, you know, Brad Hutchinson, our director of football ops, we have to do a little bit of planning down the road, and as we’re looking at it, you know, our exam schedule is kind of a week later than it has been in the past. So we gotta figure out how we’re going to handle our bowl practices.
Q. Second half of the year and fans were calling into your radio show saying you need to put Brice Ramsey in there. What made you know that Hutson was still the guy?
COACH RICHT: Well, I think his performance at Kentucky kind of solidified that part, and then everything he’s done since that time. But when you– if you played quarterback or you’ve coached quarterbacks, you know as you’re training a guy or as he’s practicing or as he’s in a meeting if he’s going through the right process to be good and to play well.
And sometimes you just have to be patient. And you’re like, well, I’m being patient with a fifth-year senior, but we’re also being patient with a first-year starter, and there is — there’s a different weight. There’s a weight that’s on a starting quarterback. Second-team guy, everybody loves second-team guy, but when you’re the man, there’s a big responsibility, and like I say, it’s not a burden, but it’s a weight.
It’s — I always talk about — people ask me what am I looking for in quarterbacks. You know, they’ve got to be able to hit their target, be accurate passers and have the arm strength to get it done. They have to be very good decision makers, guys that are sharp guys that can make good decisions. But then they have to be able to handle the pressure of that job, and you never really know how a guy is going to handle that until he is the guy, and sometimes it just takes a little getting used to.
But I think — I think Hutson’s deal this year was knowing he only had one shot at it and wanting to be perfect, wanting to not make a mistake, wanting to make the most of it, and I think it kept him from being free to cut the ball loose like he had done all along in all the practices we watched. And then when he finally said, you know what, I’m going to get back to dropping back, hitching up and ripping the ball, he’s done extremely well.
Q. (Indiscernible). Seems like they’re really high on guys. What do you see?
COACH RICHT: He’s good. He’s a winner. He’s got “it.” You know, obviously the physical tools, speed, agility, even a feel for — you know, I’m no expert on his reads and all that kind of thing, but you see him execute extremely well, and on the decisions that he has to make, and even the pitches that he makes. He’s just very clean in his ball handling and the pitches.
And he throws the ball very well. He’s got — I mean we were talking about anticipating and all that kind of thing. I was watching a film where he was rolling out to the right, and we stopped the camera when the ball left his hand, and the receiver was about two steps before he stuck his foot in the ground and came back on a little comeback route. Guy turned his head around, bam, right there. I mean you can’t defend that.
You know, I mean it goes to show, they’re definitely No. 1 in their league in pass efficiency, and you can see why.
Q. Some percent of the time. Had a lot of success doing it. Is that something you see most of the line coming back?
COACH RICHT: You know, I don’t know. I think we’ll — I think we’ll end up getting closer to the balance we’ve had in the past as far as, you know, the run-pass ratio and all. I think we’ve got some good QBs coming in or moving up through the ranks, and we think we’ll have the skill at receiver, and I think we’ll get back to — I mean let’s face it, the last four years Murray threw for over 3000 yards each year, first time in the history of the SEC. So it’s the same staff, same system. We just emphasize it a little heavier with our runners because of the strength of that group.
And early in the year we had some injured receiver issues, you know. It just happened to be that way, but I got a feeling it’ll start swinging back a little bit more. But we’re not going to forget how to run the ball either. We love to run the ball and run it in a physical manner.
Q. What will your team be doing from 2:30 to 6 on Friday when the SEC is going to be determined?
COACH RICHT: You know, I hadn’t looked at it yet, but we have our normal Thursday routine as far as meetings, special teams meetings, offense and defense meetings, walk-throughs. Meals are tied into there.
Then obviously — sooner or later we’ll get in the bus and we’ll take it on to the team hotel and get ready for dinner. So I’m not exactly sure what’s going to be on the agenda right at that very moment. But I can tell you this. We’re very focused on this game. That’s really the only thing we can control and it’s the only thing that is worth talking about right now.
Q. In light of what you lost at tailback and you mentioned it took a while to get all your receiver core together. Any special nod toward Mike Bobo for the job he did this year?
COACH RICHT: I think Coach Bobo and the rest of that offensive staff are outstanding. And I’ve been knowing that for a long time.
Again, it’s kind of like when you– as you’re watching the process of a quarterback and you know he’s going to be really good, sometimes you gotta be a little patient. It’s the same thing with coaches sometimes, and of course, Mike’s been here the whole time I’ve been here. I’ve seen him grow tremendously. He’s one of the best in the business. But will friend the running back coordinator and John Lilly and B Mac and Tony Ball, they’re all outstanding, and they have a tremendous working relationship.
I mean it’s not just a one-man job, just like head job is not a one-man job. He wants to know what Will thinks. He wants to be what Ball thinks. He wants to know what Lilly thinks. He wants to know what B Mac things, and they’re all in there grinding out that game plan and putting ideas together. But you know, then you gotta call the game, too, and you gotta motivate and all that kind of thing, and Mike is just a super, super coach.
Q. Adam Erickson is another one of those guys this will be his last game in the stadium. Can you talk a little bit about his contribution to the program?
COACH RICHT: Adam’s done a great job for us. He’s been our holder for I guess the last two years. I don’t know how many years he’s done it. But holders are kind of like long snappers. If they never make a mistake, you don’t notice them that much. So we haven’t noticed Adam much which is good because he’s done such a nice job in that area and he’s been our short-range punter. He’s been a back up kicker at times. He’s been the punter, you know, for us, and he’s — you know, part of his contribution to the team was just adding some depth to the punting and kicking units, but also actually being the guy.
And the holder is– it’s sometimes a thankless job, but it’s such an important job, and he’s been spot on on that. And he’s been — he’s just a positive guy. He’s a team guy. He’s an unselfish guy. I’m really proud of what he’s done for us.
Q. Why do you think you’ve had so much success against Georgia Tech? I mean obviously there’s some years you’ve had better teams, but you’ve also won some games.
COACH RICHT: I don’t know. I don’t know. We’ve had a bunch of very, very close games that we’ve been able to win.
I do think we — you know, you want to take every game serious. We do try to take every game serious around here. But you know, this one, it’s the end of the year. It is a rival game. It does — it gets our blood pumping, and if you show up with the right mental attitude, you got a better chance.
Q. Also y’all talked about probably more significant than this game has been for both teams, I think it’s the best winning percentage for the combined since ’66?
COACH RICHT: Oh, both teams as far as going into this game?
Q. Yeah, both teams at 9 and 2.
COACH RICHT: Right.
Q. And both, obviously you guys have got — you know, if other games go your way, some aspirations, and they obviously are in a championship game?
COACH RICHT: Both teams are ranked. Both teams have won nine games. Both teams, again, I think are playing really well.
You know, you can show up 9 and 2 and have lost your last two games or you could show up with a pretty good string of victories, and I think both teams are in the process of that and in the middle of that.
I don’t know. It’s just — it’s a game you do — you think about all year long. It’s a game you think about all year long, and you know, I’ve enjoyed the competition and hopefully we’ll have a good performance.
COACH RICHT: Yeah. It is nice — first of all, just to see guys that were injured to come back and begin to produce again. They work so hard. It’s hard to rehab and it’s hard to get yourself back in position to get in there again. I mean because what happens is the world keeps moving while you’re hurt, you know, like it or not.
And other guys are getting opportunities. And you know, we’ve found ways to have success, you know, maybe a little more heavy in the run game or whatever it took to kind of get things going this season. And so if you’re having that kind of success, it’s hard to all of a sudden change gears and say, well, now we’re going to start slinging it all over the yard. So that’s just part of it, but it’s good to see those guys back and to know that we have them and to know that they’ve been productive in the past.
Q. Coach, I think this is Coach Johnson’s seventh season. This team, any facet or any players stand out this year that are different than the last six years?
COACH RICHT: Well, every team is different. You know, every year both teams are starting new guys. I mean they have one, two, three, four, to my best — to the best that I can see, four return of starters on defense and six return of starters on offense, you know, so they’ve got a lot of new guys, and it happens that way most years for us and them.
And you know, we’re both major D-1 schools. We recruit major D-1 players, and you know, to sit there and point out one over another, it’s hard to do, but you know, obviously the guys that get the most attention, you know, in everybody’s system is the quarterback, and I think Justin is a guy who’s as good or better than any of them that we’ve faced.
Senior DB Damian Swann
On his final game in Sanford Stadium…
“If I could stay here and do another four years, I would. I don’t really think there’s a place like Athens. I don’t really think there’s a place like Georgia. With the love and all that the people around here show you, you can’t help but to get so attached to it that you never want to leave.”
On beating Tech the last three years…
“It’s different. We still have to practice. We have to approach it every year with an attitude to say that we’ve got to get a stop. Regardless of what we’ve done in the past, on that particular day we have to get a stop for us to get another win.”
Senior C David Andrews
On his final game in Sanford Stadium…
“It hasn’t hit me yet that it’s the last game, but it’s what you want in a rivalry game. It’s Tech, so you can’t ask for a better game. I’m just trying to enjoy this week, soak up this week. I haven’t really thought about it, but I guess it will hit me probably Saturday night or Sunday morning.”
On Georgia Tech…
“They’ve done a good job. I think they did a good job against us last year. I watched that film last night and they had a good game plan against us and played hard and played tough. We struggled at times last year. We’ve just got to go out this year and earn the right to win and come out there and have a physical game.”
Senior N Mike Thornton
On an improving defense…
“I think our confidence has always been there. I don’t think we’ve ever shied away from anything, any team. Last week, that was a competitive team we played against. It was just that we had the upper hand a little bit. But every week we have to come out and play our hardest game. It doesn’t matter about who we played the week before or the week before that.”
On beating Georgia Tech every season of his career…
“It would be pretty cool. I wouldn’t want to lose to those guys and let this team down and have to live the rest of my life with that on my heart. I wouldn’t want to do that, and I’m not going to do that. I definitely want to get the Governor’s Cup at the end of the season.”
Senior WR Chris Conley
On senior WR Jonathon Rumph…
“He’s got a couple more games to show what he can do. He’s got a couple more games to make an impact. I think that’s one of the things that Rumph wants to do. It seems like it was a really short career but I think he has the opportunity to make it a meaningful one.”
On the rivalry with Georgia Tech…
“Everybody says hate, but I think there’s another level. Everything about this game is you’re trying to demean and dominate your opponent. That’s literally what it comes down to in the trenches, in the secondary, in the backfield, everything. Every level of this game is intensity. When both teams prepare that way, it creates a game that’s like that.”
On preparing for a rivalry game in which Georgia has dominated in recent years…
“I think around here, just the fact that Coach Richt has lost to them before and knowing what that means and what that feels like, I don’t think they allow that [a lack of passion] to happen. There’s an ‘indoctrination’ of the younger players to let them know what this game really means and the gravity that the score at the end of it holds. Obviously, the older guys know because they’ve played in it before. It doesn’t lack any of that on our end. I think the team learns how to get up for this game. It’s something that, even though we’ve won in the past, we erase that from our minds.”
Courtesy of UGA Sports Communications