Over the last five years or so, things have been up and down for the Georgia Bulldogs. Even though Georgia was able to put together some nice nine and 10 win seasons, other SEC teams were staking their claim to college football’s National Championship. Now, thanks to a six game winning streak and a little bit of help, the elusive crystal trophy is right there within the grasp of the Bulldogs. This year’s SEC Championship isn’t just for conference supremacy. This time a trip to the National Championship game and a date with Notre Dame awaits the winner. Things didn’t go well for Georgia last year in the SEC Championship game as they were belted by LSU. The ‘Dawgs are hoping with an improved defense, a running game loaded with fresh legs and the number one quarterback in the country in terms of pass efficiency, that the outcome will be different.
Mark Richt joined WCNN in Atlanta with the Rude Awakening to talk about getting into the SEC Championship game, on the loss earlier this season against South Carolina, if the team changed their goals after the loss against South Carolina, what he sees in Alabama, on the practices leading up to the SEC Championship game, whether he thinks Georgia is playing their best ball of the season, on all the freshmen that he has relied on this season and what he thinks about Aaron Murray’s season.
On getting into the SEC Championship game:
“It’s very good, we’re on a roll and with regard to that we haven’t gone undefeated in league play but two 7-1 seasons in league play and two losses to South Carolina. Thankfully some other teams knocked them off, beat them twice and gave us the chance to come back. The reality is just about everybody loses one along the way and we’re fortunate that we got the tiebreaker with Florida this year so we’re in, we’re back.”
On the loss earlier this season against South Carolina:
“It was good and bad and like I said after the game the bad news was we got whipped but the good news was it was kind of a team whipping. It wasn’t like one side of the ball played great and the other side blew it for the team. Everybody knew they had a part in that loss, including the coaching staff. We win together and we lost together so now we have to get back on the winning track together. That part was good and the other part that was good was while we were suffering for two weeks before we could play again, while we were suffering South Carolina lost the open date and then they lost earlier in the day of our next opponent so by the time we played another game we were back in control of our own destiny. That was very unusual for something like that to happen but we lost that game, we lost our control of the East and then next time we played we were back in control and we didn’t even have to play a game to get that done.”
If the team changed their goals after the loss against South Carolina:
“We haven’t and we really can’t. I’m not going to give up on any goal unless it’s mathematically impossible to reach it. Then you have to start thinking about re-setting your goals and thinking of other things that are worthy of playing for or worthy of practicing hard for. We never got into that situation this year which as a head coach it’s nice to not have to sit there and re-evaluate your goals.”
What he sees in Alabama:
“Just when you look at them on the hoof, they are a bunch of good looking guys. They recruit a certain body type and then they develop it a certain way where they all look like outstanding players and they are. They’re very disciplined in what they do, they’ve got a very good plan offensively, defensively and special teams and their young men have a lot of competition within their program because of the volume of players they have that are outstanding so they’ve created a culture of winning, they’ve created a culture of achieving and striving to be the best they can be just like we do. When you play them you know you’re going to be in for a battle, you know they’re going to be well coached, you know they’re going to play hard and you know they’re going to be strong and physical. They’re philosophy mainly is to wear you down. They’re going to try to wear you down physically and mentally until in the end they come out on top.”
On the practices leading up to the SEC Championship game:
“I think we have a bunch of guys who were excited about practicing. They should be. There’s 12 other teams in our league that were wishing they were practicing and us and Alabama were the only ones that were able to so there’s some honor in that and should be some excitement generated by it and knowing what is ahead so I felt like the guys were in a really good frame of mind to get to work and try to understand the game plan and focus on the process of preparing to go to battle. I try to tell them not to get too far in their mindset. Let’s focus on process, let’s not focus on the outcome, let’s try to stay in the moment as we go because if you let your mind go ahead it doesn’t let you prepare so the goal is to stay in the moment and hopefully we will continue to do that.”
Whether he thinks Georgia is playing their best ball of the season:
“We’ve been playing pretty good and I would think we have gotten better as the season has gone on so yeah I would say the last few games we’ve progressively gotten better.”
On all the freshmen that he has relied on this season:
“Guys that have basically had starting roles on offense and defense and there are others who have had roles on our special teams as well so 12 games into the season they’re really not a rookie anymore, they’ve got a lot of experience under their belt, they’re practically a sophomore so I think they will be ready.”
On Aaron Murray’s season:
“That’s pretty special and that’s why he’s the number one rated quarterback in America. Pass efficiency is a pretty good judge of a guy’s ability to function within a system and throw the football. As many teams across the nation that throw the ball now and throw it as well as they’re throwing it to be on the top of that chart is saying something. Just like I talked about the defense in preseason, everyone wanted to say ‘oh we’re going to have a great defense, we’re going to have a great defense,’ well we may be great statistically but how are we going to be at the moment of truth? It’s the same thing for a quarterback.
We’re about to play a big game and even though statistically Aaron is going to have this tremendous pass efficiency rating there’s going to come some times in a game where he’s going to have to make a play. Like the Florida game in the second half, he had to complete a bunch of balls that drive and hit Malcolm Mitchell with a blitz right in his face for us to win that game. He’s proven to me he can make plays when it counts the most and they will be times when he has to do it again because he’s playing quarterback in the SEC Championship game.”