A lineman went down in the first tackling drill.
A lineman went down in the second tackling drill.
“You start thinking, ‘My gosh. We’ve lost two guys in the first 45 seconds of practice,’” Mark Richt said Monday. “That’s sort of how the whole year went for us. You think about things like that and, yes, I’ve got to say it was a reflection on how we prepared for games. I put that on me.”
It has been over two months since Georgia’s last football game. It will be six months before their next one. Sometime between now and then, the Bulldogs need to relocate their edge, toughness and resolve, which Richt now concedes was so obviously missing last season.
He blames himself.
On the eve of spring practice, the Bulldogs coach said Monday he erred by running softer practices last season after the team began accumulating so many injuries so early.
“When a lot of guys get hurt and you’ve got bodies on the ground, you start thinking, ‘If we lose one more guy, our game plan is shot,’” Richt said. “Then you have to re-invent the wheel on Wednesday or Thursday. You start making decisions based on that. It affected our defense in particular. Defensive players need to practice with an edge. When you don’t do that, you can lose some of that team speed and attitude. We had three scrimmages in the fall. But by the second scrimmage we weren’t going at full speed.’ That’s just not football.
“You make those calls in the interest of the team. But in hindsight it probably wasn’t the right thing to do. It’s time to go back to old school.”
We will never know to what degree Georgia underachieved last season. But we know the Dogs were a pre-season No. 1 and never looked the part. We know when a team lacks such mental toughness that it allows 135 points in three losses, and it struggles to beat two teams (Kentucky and Auburn) that went 4-12 in the SEC, there clearly are issues beyond bones and ligaments.
Their heads never were right.
Reality began to set in for Richt following the home loss to Georgia Tech. He decided to go back to full-contact practices before the Capital One Bowl game against Michigan State, and it’s probably no coincidence the Dogs won, 24-12, holding the Spartans to two field goals until the fourth quarter.
“I think we had more contact before the bowl game than we did the whole season,” he said.
“I’ve learned a lesson. There’s a balance between keeping guys healthy and keeping them ready to play.”
The first game is in six months. But the tone needs to be set now. Richt called it “crucial.”
“This is when you set the expectation level,” he said. “This is when you start to learn who your leaders are. You learn how far people have come, or how far they have to go.”
Florida had more than talent last season. It had the memory of a 42-30 loss to Georgia in 2007.
That game was the focal point of the Gators’ off-season workouts. Players were forced to do 188 push-ups or crunches, one for each yard of Knowshon Moreno’s rushing total. They did 42 repetitions at weight stations, one for each point allowed in the game. Coaches called them “soft.” Pictures of the Bulldogs celebrating in the end zone were stuck to their lockers.
“I think everybody does things like that,” Richt said, with a laugh. “And the team that wins gets to talk about it.”
Does he have similar motivational techniques for his players this off-season?
“Those are the kind of things everybody likes to keep private.”
No matter. Richt says he has learned a lesson, and the result of that lesson next season will be public enough.