UGA Football

Richt, Bulldogs Preview Southern Game

Mark Richt
(Photo: John Kelley/UGA)

Georgia head football coach Mark Richt, along with several players, addressed the media on Tuesday ahead of Saturday’s game against Southern University in Athens. They offered the following comments:

Head Coach Mark Richt: 

Opening statement… 

“Alright, I got a chance to say hello to big Kyle, got to meet him. He is a star. We are going to wear our Coaches Curing MD patches, and we have Kyle Eggleston. Just so glad he is here. He is 10 years old. He is an MD (muscular dystrophy) patient. He and his family are here, and I welcome them.

“Getting ready to play Southern here. Coach Dawson Odums does a great job with his team. A year ago, they had eight wins, 8-1 in league play, and they are 2-0 in league play today. They are scoring a bunch of points. I’ll start off offensively. They are impressive, score 38 points per game. They are passing for about 275 (yards) and rushing for about 170 (yards) per game — so very good balance there. They are right at 44 percent of their third-down conversions, which is keeping drives going and allowing them to control the clock and put those points on the board. They have a tremendous running back in (Lenard) Tillery, No. 21, he’s averaging 95 yards a game. He has five touchdowns already. Their number two back, (Malcom) Crockett, has 83 yards per game and already has a couple of scores himself. Their quarterback (Austin) Howard — I am very impressed with him. He is averaging over 200 yards per game passing and already has 70 yards rushing. He is a dual-threat guy hitting over 65 percent of his passes. He is an impressive, fundamental quarterback who does a great job. His top receivers — a couple of guys have over 10 catches. (Randall) Menard, No. 87, and (Willie) Quinn, No. 25, both have 10 catches. While I’m at Quinn, I want to mention him in particular, he is a 5-foot-5, 145 pound senior, but he is a stick of dynamite right now as an athlete. Their tackles are big men, averaging about 6-foot-5, 300 pounds, and are impressive athletes upfront.

“On defense they have six returning starters. They line up mostly in a 4-3 alignment. Last year, they showed a little bit more 3-4, so we are not exactly sure what we will get. Their leading tackler is (LB Kentavious) Preston. He is a guy who has 19 tackles and also leads the team in tackles for loss with 2.5… They have two really big men inside doing a great job. Their down linemen have a lot of tackles, which usually means they are athletic. They can get off blocks and make plays all the way across the board.

“That gives you a little bit to where we are at with Southern. We are looking forward to playing the game. I am excited about being at home again. I thought our fans were phenomenal, I thought our band and student body were great, and I’m just looking for more energy. We feed off our fans and, like I have been saying for years, nobody does it better than Georgia, so I am excited about playing between the hedges again.”

On where non-conference games fall on the schedule…

“I’ll be honest with you, I think the SEC decides who we are going to play and when we are going to play, and then we just kind of fill in from there, so I don’t know if we have much of a choice on that. We would love to have as many home games as possible. There are certain years where in league play we might only have three home games because of the year where our home game is in Jacksonville we lose a home game there. We would like to have as many home games as possible for our fans and for our team, and sometimes that means getting out of conference people to come play us.”

On the offensive line… 

“Our line is doing a very good job. I know pass protection, especially this past week, was really outstanding. It’s one thing to not get sacks but it’s another thing to really provide a big pocket and he (quarterback Greyson Lambert) has a lot of space. His vision was pretty clear as far as not having guys squeezing the pocket on him and things of that nature. There’s always plays where the back will go for 60 or something yards and they’ll look around like, ‘hey man, did you get your guy?’ Those backs can make them look good at times, but there’s a lot of times where are our linemen make our backs look good. You can’t run the ball like we are running it without the linemen doing their job. They also know it is a week-to-week proposition, too. You start getting a little too happy and that’s when you tend to maybe not focus like you should.”

On senior linebacker Jake Ganus’ marriage proposal following the South Carolina game… 

“Jake did ask his girlfriend to be his wife, so she is now his fiancee officially. He said it worked out really good. I didn’t get to witness it but he said it went as good as he could have hoped. A lot of his teammates were out there with him to enjoy the moment.”

On Jake Ganus’ performance so far this season…

“For a guy to come in on such short notice and play significant time and be able to get out there and make some calls, get people lined up and all that kind of thing, it is impressive. He is a seasoned football player. I guess he led the team in tackles maybe the last two years at UAB, so it was not like he was a mystery as far as a football player. He has done very well. Glad we got him”

On senior wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell’s quote about him having fun again…

“I think a big reason he is having fun is I don’t think he is worried too much about his wheels anymore. He’s just playing again and he’s producing and doing some of the things he hoped to do all along. I think you see a lot of his energy in practice. I mentioned to him before. I don’t know what setting I was in talking about his work ethic, but he had a great summer, a great fall camp. He missed very little, and if he missed anything, it was just us trying to be careful with him. I’m happy for the guy. Anytime a guy overcomes an injury, and when you come back from an injury you are not automatically 100 percent because mentally you are wondering if this could happen again and all of that. You are just trying to test it out — first time you get hit, first time you make a hard cut — all these things start running through your mind. So, for him to just be able to play and enjoy it means he is not thinking about that, which is good.”

On sophomore tailback Nick Chubb’s 100-yard rushing streak and his playing time…

“We don’t really think much about it. At the end of the game we just look at the stats and think well he did it again, but we are not sitting there tracking it, I can tell you that.”

On the process of getting Jake Ganus to come to Georgia… 

“When they (UAB) dropped football, obviously everybody was eligible to play immediately. So, we got film — just like you would a high school tape — and just started looking at tape and trying to see was there anybody we thought could help us, and Jake was definitely one of them. To be quite honest, I don’t know who made the initial contact. I can’t remember how all that went, but I know his film went through the process of any other recruit, basically. Get the position coach, the coordinator to take a look and make a decision. The fact that he could play right away, and he was here all spring, so it just worked out good for us. Was I surprised? I don’t know. I don’t remember him out of high school, so I don’t know what he looked like the day he left high school. He might have been a guy who was not all that big and was skinny and developed and proved to be a great player, so I have no idea how he looked at the end of high school.”

On the amount of freshmen who have played so far this season… 

“We’ll play freshmen, and I think we have played 21 true freshmen. I think they are learning how to play. They play with a lot of energy, enthusiasm and athleticism. All of those things are great, but we talked about it today as a staff. Fundamentally and technique wise, we have to get better — those guys in particular. The group that struggled the most was probably our kickoff coverage team. We were offsides. We had one called against us, but we could have had four called against us. There were a couple of creases that came out where they had one return at the end, where our kicker had to twice make a tackle, and some of that is how you place the ball — it’s not all those guys. But when you have nine true freshmen running down the field, or whatever it was, you have them all learning at the same time and that is not really healthy. If you are sprinkling two or three and you have a bunch of veterans to show the way it is not so bad, but we’ve got a bunch of puppies in there right now. We know we are coaching the right guys. They just need more work.”

On taking two instant-impact transfers in Greyson Lambert and Jake Ganus…

“Part of the attraction is that they were able to be immediately eligible. We’ve taken junior college transfers obviously that can play right away, but a true transfer from a four-year institution to another four-year institution, we haven’t done much of that at all. But because these guys were eligible immediately, and in Ganus’ case could come in in the spring when we needed more people. We saw the potential that he had and we said let’s get him in here and see what he could do. We thought for sure he’d help us on (special teams), and we thought maybe help us on scrimmage downs. Sure enough he’s doing that for us. The thing with Greyson, we only had three (quarterbacks) on scholarship. That’s really under the number. We’d like to have four on scholarship, so just to get that number corrected was important to us. When you are in a QB competition, maybe in this day and age more than in other times, there’s maybe more of a chance someone will go when it’s all over at the end of the spring, so you certainly don’t want to be sitting there with two. It just so happened that there were a few QB transfers around the country that were at least available to look at and try to recruit, and it worked out for us and Greyson.”

On the balanced attack against South Carolina in contrast to the previous weeks on offense…

“I think that what you saw against South Carolina is the type of balance we’re looking for, the type of run-pass ratio on first down. We absolutely don’t want to get away from running the football. We’re good at it, we’ve got good backs, but the better you run the football the better your play-action pass can be. The term we use is RPO, it’s a run-pass-option, people are doing it all across the country. Like I said last night, we didn’t invent it by any means. It’s a running play but there’s a pass tied into it. A quarterback may stick the ball in the back’s belly in the gun, and if the defender totally sells out to the run then it creates a little passing lane, a throwing seam to someone. So you pull the ball and get a quick passing game. So some of those throws were run-pass options where if the defender would have stayed at home a little bit better we would’ve run the ball. So you call those 10 times a game, sometimes nine times out of 10 you run it, sometimes nine times out of 10 you throw it. That’s part of the game, too.”

On freshman safety Johnathan Abram’s playing time against South Carolina…

“He’s just very eager to strike people. He plays hard. He’s very coachable, teachable, but young. He still makes mistakes that freshmen make. But he’s in there with a bunch of veterans compared to the kickoff coverage team where we’ve got eight or nine of them that are true freshmen. When you have too many of them at a time that’s when it gets a little scary, but it was great experience for him. You learn through making mistakes sometimes. You learn by doing it right and reinforcing that. It’s just like when you start riding a bike – how many times do you fall down before you start learning? It’s just like riding a bike, you fall down before you start learning.”

On Greyson Lambert’s response to a strong performance against South Carolina…

“I don’t know how he feels, quite frankly. I’m sure he was excited about having a good performance, and I’m sure that helped his comfort level somewhere along the way. But if he was uncomfortable going into the last game maybe we need to make him uncomfortable again, I don’t know. I think we all — and I say we all as myself, the offensive staff, players, quarterbacks — I think we all know we’re doing the right things. We know what we’re doing, we’re teaching it right, we’re doing the right things against the right defenses. It all comes together. Are we going to have a performance like that every week? I don’t think that at all. But I think it’ll be somewhere in between the first half of Vanderbilt and what happened this last game.”

On the importance of getting the ball to Malcolm Mitchell…

“We try to. Again, when I was talking about the ‘RPOs,’ the run-pass options, a lot of times it depends on how the defense plays as to where the ball goes. Most of our system has a progression read, meaning Malcolm might be the first progression of a certain read like those little hitches we were throwing. If they’re playing cover two, he’s not the first option. Quite frankly, he would’ve not been an option at all. It would’ve been the tight end down the middle, to the flanker on the go route, to the check down. It happened to be soft coverage weak side so he got the ball two times in a row if you remember. We hit him twice to start the second half. He was the first read in that coverage but if it was a different coverage he might not have seen the ball on those two plays in a row. There are some things where you try to make him a primary target, but if you start trying to force it to anybody then you’re going to throw picks, you’re going to throw incompletions. You must be willing to take what they give you. There are some things, like a little tunnel screen, where you can make sure he gets the ball. But you can’t have too much of that because if everybody’s like ‘we’re going to stop this particular guy,’ then you’re going to be battling uphill.”

On Southern wide receiver Willie Quinn’s 5-foot-5 stature posing a problem for Georgia’s defense…

“He is so quick, fast, (and has) good ball skills. He really is a dynamic player. He’s just not a big player, but he plays big. When you see him you’ll be like ‘that guy is a special talent.’ I think you’ve just got to guard him like anybody else, or at least try to. Morgan State had a back one year who was not very tall at all, and they started running zone plays and you literally could not see him in the gap, from what people would say, and I could see that. But he’s more on the edge, more on the perimeter, so I don’t think that will be an issue.”

On the overall play of the defense through three games…

“I think our defense is playing well. Very few big plays, plays of 20 yards on the pass or 15 yards on the run, very little of that. Our red zone defense has been close to spectacular, denying people touchdowns. We’ve done a good job of getting turnovers. I think most of the balls that could’ve been picked have been picked. There have been a few balls that have been dropped but we’ve been very opportunistic in that way. Tackling has been pretty good. Part of the reason that you tackle well is that guys are pursuing the ball and gang tackling. People have been respecting their gaps in the run game. I think they’ve done a nice job.”

Junior C Brandon Kublanow

On having a quick start against South Carolina…

“I thought we just had a good week of practice. We were prepared for them. I thought we just came out and did what we needed to do.”

On confidence gained from early play against the Gamecocks…

“We had a pretty good idea of what we were going to do against them. We had a good game plan. As long as we went out there and executed I knew we were going to be okay.”

On a botched snap in the third quarter…

“It was just a mental error on my part. I’ll fix it. It won’t happen again.”

Senior WR Malcolm Mitchell

On having fun on the field…

“I think the previous years were a challenging time in my life personally. I wasn’t on the field. So the comment ‘I’m having fun again’ just relates to my ability to perform on the field.”

On advice for freshmen contributing to Georgia…

“(I would tell them) To just relax and play the game as you’ve been playing for the majority of your life. That’s what I tell them. When you start worrying about other things that you can’t control, that’s when you begin to make senseless mistakes.”

On freshmen being overwhelmed playing in front of a Sanford Stadium crowd…

“I went to a high school, we didn’t have 92,000 people in the stands, but I went to a high school where the games were pretty packed. So I’m not sure that it bothers the freshmen that are playing now. It didn’t bother me. I know as a receiver group we like the bigger the crowd because that’s a bigger group that’ll see you do well.”

Junior TB Keith Marshall

On not overlooking Southern…

“We hear it around campus, but in this building we’re focused on Southern.  They offer a good challenge. Coaches will make sure that we stay focused and the older guys will make sure we stay focused, so it won’t be a problem.”

On challenge of covering Southern’s kick returner Willie Quinn…

“We have seen have seen a little bit on him. I know that he has taken a good amount of kick returns back during his college career. It will be a good challenge, but we’re going to fly down there and try to make plays.”

Senior LB Jordan Jenkins

On freshman DT Trenton Thompson’s hit vs. South Carolina…

“If he keeps working and listening to the coaches the sky is the limit for him. You see how big he is now and he’s a heck of a player. I really enjoyed seeing that and I know the whole sideline did. If he keeps his head on right, the future is bright for him.”

On how film works for the defense…

“Every Monday on the first day back we sit and watch the good, the bad and the ugly as Coach (Jeremy) Pruitt likes to call it. We watch certain parts of the game and then break off and watch it with our segment.”

On keeping focus towards Southern…

With the way last season happened with the Florida game and everything, I feel like that was a learning experience for us. With the guys we have this year, I feel like that’s not going to be a problem this year. We’re going to make sure that we take this one game at a time and treat every opponent the same.”

Sophomore TB Sony Michel

On wide receiver play vs. South Carolina…

“Being able to throw the ball always opens up the run game in any football game.”

On quarterback Greyson Lambert’s performance vs. South Carolina…

“He had a great game. A successful passing game, which helps us a lot. It let teams know that we are able to throw the ball.”

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