UGA Football

Richt, Bulldogs Preview Georgia Southern Game

Mark Richt
(Photo: Steven Colquitt/UGA)

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

Head Coach Mark Richt

Opening statement…

“Talk about senior night, I don’t know if this has become public or not but Keith Marshall came to me a few weeks back and mentioned that he’s going to be graduating. He thought that he’d like to declare this as his senior season, to which I said that’s fine. I blessed it. Obviously he’s come in and played extremely well for us throughout his career. He’s going to be graduating. He just wants to go ahead and move on and take his shot at the NFL when this season is over. He wants to finish strong like the rest of the seniors, but he’ll be in the ceremony. Pregame — we know about 20 minutes before kick we’ll have our senior ceremony where the players come out and they’ll be with their families and we’ll take a picture together. So we’ll actually have the players go back in the locker room for a minute and then we’ll come out as a team. Keith will be a part of that so I didn’t want anyone to get caught off guard with that. That’s what’s going on.

We’re playing Georgia Southern this week. Since I’ve been here it’s been about every four years we’ve played them. It seemed like this one was three years, a three-year difference. Not a good football team but a great football team. They’re an FBS team now, I think everybody knows that by now. I think this is year two. A year ago they actually went undefeated in league play. This year they’ve got only one loss in league play. They’re 7-2, and they’re doing a great job. Coach Willie Fritz is a tremendous coach. He’s been National Coach of the Year, 2012 at the FCS level, he’s won a national championship and been in some championship games. He’s won over 192 football games. He knows how to win, and he’s continued the tradition of winning at Georgia Southern. Like I’ve talked to our team about and our coaches about, and I say it all the time, teams that are used to winning are very difficult to beat. They win because they do things right.  You watch their special teams, they fly down and cover kicks. They protect well. They place the ball where it belongs. Defensively, they’re always hustling to the ball. Offensively they’re just a dynamic rushing football team, averaging 379 yards a game rushing. I think that’s No. 1 in America. Overall, teams that know how to win are hard to beat, period. We’re playing a great team in that regard.

It’s going to be a big night for us. It’s senior night, it’s the last home game of the year, the last chance for a lot of our guys to play between the hedges. We do hope our fan base comes out early and gets in the stands and honors these guys that have really bled for our team. There’ll be about 28 to 30 young men that will be honored right before the game so it’ll be nice to have everybody be there and cheer them on. The Dawg Walk is huge, no doubt, but hopefully people get from that Dawg Walk and get in the seats by the time we introduce our seniors.”

On the challenge of playing teams with a lot to prove against Power 5 teams…

“They’re very dangerous, period. I’d prefer not to play them because they’re that good. I think it’s good that we do play them, when you look at the big picture. They’re a very dangerous team, and they’re fast. They’re athletic. They execute well. All their special teams are right on, how they play the game is very impressive. It will challenge our guys, I promise you. I don’t know what the fan base thinks about this game, as far as who should win, but I can promise you we’ll get tested in this game as much as any. We’re looking forward to the challenge. It’s a lot of work, a lot of prep.”

On what is unique about Georgia Southern’s triple-option…

“They’re running most of their option game from the gun. For years they were very similar to Army, Navy, Georgia Tech. QB under center, a couple wings and a back behind the quarterback and guys going in motion and running all different combinations of triple option football and speed sweeps and things they’ve done. Now they’re doing it from the gun and a little bit more of spread looks, but a lot of true triple option football still. What happens is if you’re reading a defender and not blocking him, if he takes an angle to take the back you pull it out and you go. There may be another guy that may be coming to get and he’ll have a back in a pitch relationship. When I was talking about zone-read before, where you read the end and if he played the run the quarterback went. If you take that same premise, it’s not exactly the same, but the same premise of ‘I’m not blocking this guy,’ he takes the run. When he takes the run I pull the ball out and I start running. When you’re playing zone read, the QB just runs. Now you’ve got another option. If the first guy comes to tackle him, if the guys comes on him and he’s got a back in a pitch relationship he’ll pitch it to the back now. So there’s a second guy that you’re not going to have to block. There’s different blocking schemes where they run the triple. The bottom line is there’s two defenders that you don’t block and you read them and do the opposite of what they do.  Now all of a sudden, everybody’s got a blocker. Everybody’s got to defeat a block in order to make a play. You all of a sudden can’t even play a lot of one-high safety because if you do, you’ve got a guy too far away from the ball. It’s going to be key everyone stays in their gaps, it’s going to be key everyone plays their assignments, it’s going to be key that everybody defeats a block and makes a play. It’s just different than anything we’ve seen all year. We’re getting our scoutteamers to work hard at simulating it, but it’s just hard to do.”

On the Theus brothers…

“The Theus brothers have been great for us. Nate, being the older brother, ended up getting redshirted and that’s why he’s a senior the same year as John, who’s a year younger. They’ve done well in school, they’ve done well on the field, they’ve performed well. They’ve represented Georgia well. We’ll definitely miss them. Their younger brother (Jeremiah) plays for Georgia Southern. We may even grab him and let him be in the family picture pregame. That may be a first, to have a player from the other team in our ceremony. I know this game is big for the Theus family for a lot of reasons.”

On the momentum the defense has built, and if it’s applicable against the triple option…

“Hustle. Defense is about hustle. Defense is about tackling. Defense is about defeating blocks. Defense is about being disciplined in your area of responsibility. All of those things are applicable. There are some, just the way they block, they way they do read things, the way their quarterbacks are true, dynamic runners, as good as any running back you’ll see, that changes the game a little bit.  Just schematically, it’s different than anything we’ve really faced. Again, the fundamentals of a great defense is to play good gap responsibility, take on blocks, shed the blocks when you get to the point to make a tackle.  Get him on the ground and hustle. Gang tackle him. Force turnovers. All of those things are the same, but it’s just a different scheme that we’re facing.”

On the reduced role of passing in the offense for Georgia…

“We just want to win. However we do that, we’re happy. Bottom line. We may throw for a lot more than 70 yards or whatever, we may not. We’re going to do whatever we think gives us the best chance to win. We’re really not too worried about stats right now.”

On Malcolm Mitchell’s career at UGA….

“Malcolm, you can’t help but be really proud of what he’s done on and off the field. The injuries have certainly slowed down his athletic career. If he was healthy and played three great years, he might’ve been gone for two years. Now here he is in his fifth year, but he’s learned a lot about life along the way. Even last year he was thinking ‘should I turn pro or should I stay?’ I told him in front of his mom, I said ‘the good thing about you, Malcolm, is whether there’s the NFL or not, you’re going to make it in life. You’re a very smart young man. You’re a very polite young man. You have people skills. You have a lot to offer. You care about people. You’re more than just a one-dimensional human being that football is your only identity and that’s all there is in your life. Whether you play in the NFL or not, you’ll make it.’ That’s what I was excited for him about, was trying to tell him the NFL’s going to be there either way. Getting your degree is important. To write the book and to want to help young kids learn how to read and learn how to read well, he realized later in his academic career how much fun it is to read and how much benefit there is to reading. He just started to devour it. He wanted the other kids to have confidence earlier in their lives and have a lifetime of reading and academic success.”

On the impact of Nick Chubb’s injury on the season…

“We haven’t really reflected on that, it happened so recently. But it’s just like playing Auburn – when you play Auburn you watch last year’s tape, usually, maybe you might go back a couple years. But I’m watching last year’s tape and I’m seeing Todd Gurley and Nick Chubb in the same backfield. Maybe they’re not in the same backfield, but they’re on the same team. It’s almost unfair to have Gurley and Chubb doing their thing. You’re watching Chubb in the game, going ‘that guy’s pretty good.’ We miss him for a lot of reasons, but it’s just part of football. You have to move on throughout the season. He’s rehabbing extremely well, he’s got a great spirit about him. He’s really looking forward to getting back and helping Georgia win and finish out his career.”

On his favorite moment with this senior class…

“It’s just fun to think about them where you first recruited them and then where they are now. You shake your head sometimes at how far most of them come. A few of them show up pretty mature, or that way all the way through. A few of them I’m not sure if they’re ready for life when they leave this place, but I’m sure most of them are. It’s fun just to say ‘remember back when you were this, that ,or the other?’ They’d be like ‘Coach, I can’t believe how mature I was back then.’ They might see a freshman going through the same kind of thing and they’re looking at them like ‘don’t you get it?’ I’m like ‘don’t you remember? You’re the same guy.’ It’s fun to watch them grow up, and I’ve been blessed to be at Florida State for 15 of the 16 years, and I’ve been here for 15 years.  You get to see them (grow). It’s like Durham shows up. There are so many players that’ll show up a few years from now. Ben Watson, I still keep in close contact with Ben. Ben just wrote a book that I think is going to be a very important book for this country. Just to see those guys go from what they were to what they are now is a lot of fun.”

On this senior group’s ability to reach initial expectations…

“Every year we’re just battling to be as good as we can be. I think those are reflective questions that you don’t think about much in the middle of the season. Usually it’s when the thing’s over and you look back and start thinking about those things and talking about those things. I just think year by year, game by game, you’re just trying to do your job the best you can. I think that’s one thing they learn through the process. You don’t always get what you want. You have to decide every day how you’re going to wake up and what kind of attitude you’re going to bring to your job and what kind of effort you’re going to bring to your job. The process in a lot of ways is as important as the results are at times. You want the results, but there’s a process of getting to where you want to go. If you stay consistent, good things will happen to you.”

On Leonard Floyd’s future…

“I’m not going to make any comments on juniors or guys deciding what they want to do. I don’t want to speak for them. I don’t mind those things being discussed, or even myself discussing them even after next week’s game because that time between the end of the season and the bowl game, there’s a lot of time there. I think that’s an appropriate time to talk about those things. I like to just focus on our opponent this week.”

On Greyson Lambert’s status on the depth chart…

“He’s the starter. He’s the primary quarterback. He was last week too. Again, whether or not there’ll be another guy that gets in the game, I don’t know. But he’ll start. I can safely say that. He’s been a guy that we think has had a pretty healthy respect for the ball and does a good job of getting us in the right plays and the right protections. He’s had some really bright moments, too. If he plays anything like he was throwing the ball yesterday he’ll have a good day.”

On the play of the linebacking corps against Auburn…

“When you see them make plays like (forcing the fumble at the goal line against Auburn), that’s big. We have played (Davin) Bellamy, we’ve played (Lorenzo) Carter, we’ve played Leonard (Floyd) out there, we’ve played Jordan Jenkins out there. It’s been a kind of ‘by committee thing.’ So the stats have been spread around a little more than one guy getting a bunch and getting a lot of attention. There’s been times when just one guy gets the majority of sacks and plays like that. I think we’ve had some good play. There’s been times when we haven’t contained a certain rusher like we should’ve here or there. They weren’t 100-percent disciplined every game, but they’re getting there.”

Senior TE Jay Rome

On growing up close to Georgia Southern…

“Oh yeah definitely. I have a few friends who play for Georgia Southern right now that I went to high school with. One of my best friend’s brothers plays D-line over there. Darrius (Sapp) plays D-line down there. We grew up like we were brothers so it’s going to be exciting getting to see him and getting to play against him.”

On the importance of this game…

“They would love to knock us off. Like I say all the time ‘it’s a game and every game is an important game.’ You don’t want to go out any game thinking that you are going to lose. They are definitely a really, really good football team whether people know it or not. They are going to come in here not scared and going to come in here and play really well. We just have to be prepared for them.”

On if Georgia’s offense can control the game…

“We’re putting in a good game plan for them and we’re going to try to come out and put up as many points as we can, just like we would any other week. They definitely have some really talented athletic people on that defense that can move around. It might not be as heavy as some of the other teams that we have played, but they definitely have really athletic guys who can get to the football. They are just football players.”

Senior C Hunter Long

On being part of the “Dream Team” incoming freshman class four years ago…

“One of the players’ moms had some T-shirts made that said Dream Team class of 2011. That’s really the only thing that we took part in. It was cool to be labeled that and have such a great class. The guys that have stuck around, it’s been a great ride so far.”

On if people put too much into recruiting rankings…

“On the outside looking in it’s a lot like that. It’s kind of looked over. But once you get in the program and the locker room it doesn’t matter if you’re a five star or if you’re a walk-on. They don’t care. As long as you come in and earn your spot and do your part then they don’t care. To the public eye, when you see a five-star guy walking in a restaurant you can identify them and say oh that’s John Theus or whoever. It’s kind of different for those types of guys, but for the most part those guys have worked the same amount and have earned their spots too.”

Senior LB Jake Ganus

On playing against his former UAB teammate Roscoe Byrd…

“I looked at the schedule to see if I was going to get to play anybody (from UAB) and this was the one game. Roscoe is awesome. He’s an awesome offensive lineman; he’s an awesome person. So, it’s going to be fun going against him. I went against him for three years in practice so it’ll be just like old times.”

On what Saturday will mean to him…

“It’s going to be fun. Finally senior day — senior night — is here for me. I’ve been a part of a lot of them and now, I’m a senior and they’re honoring me. It’s exciting. I’ve had a good year. It’s been fun; no regrets. I’m excited. I’m looking forward to it; looking forward to going out there and competing. It will definitely be special. Most of my family will get to be there and we’ll all get to enjoy it together. We’re getting a really good opponent that we’ll get to play, so it’s going to be a fun game.”

On getting a win last week in the State of Alabama…

“That was fun. It’ll probably be the last time I’ll play in Alabama. It was good to get the win. I told someone that (on) Thanksgiving and Christmas will be good for the upcoming year for half the family. So, I’m glad I got to do that.”

Senior DT Sterling Bailey

On the Georgia Southern offense… 

“Yeah, just by looking at their offense you can tell one of their main goals is to run the ball. They average 370 yards a game this season. It’s going to be a good game for us up front.”

On lining up against a team that consistently runs the ball…

“It is fun. Whenever you know that a team is going to be running the ball the majority of the game, because you get, kind of, a chip on your shoulder. You know they’re going to come in here and try to run the ball over us, but we can’t allow that.”

On how he’d like this senior class to be remembered… 

“As a class that continued to fight; that we didn’t give up, that we just continued to play.”

On battling through adversity this season…

“It was difficult, but I think we handled it really well. We stayed together as a group; we talked about it. Going into every season you have those expectations, but once things change, you come up with new expectations. And that’s what we did this year.”

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