ATHENS — In Mark Richt’s let’s-salvage-what-we-can-out-of-this-season nirvana, Georgia closes the year with five straight wins, the coach adds a 9-4 season to his resume and the panicking masses calm down just enough to stop waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, screaming something about the triple-option.
Maybe 9-4 wasn’t the dream in September. But it became the dream in November.
There’s only one potential pitfall to that scenario. Wins over Tennessee Tech, Auburn and even Georgia Tech (rivalry game) can send out false signals. A strong finish says something about the character of young players who didn’t quit on a season that unraveled early. But it doesn’t explain a year and a half of disappointment in the program.
Players know this. The assumption is Richt knows it, too.
With the Dogs preparing for their season’s final home game against Kentucky, Richt will tell you he can’t see past Saturday. He obviously can. And he probably does — every day. He is doing everything possible to douse speculation about the future of his coaching staff and what changes he might make in the program. The latest evidence came Tuesday.
When asked if he would factor in how the team finishes the season into his off-season plans, it was as if Richt pushed a button and interview autopilot kicked in.
“I’ll say this: It’s definitely good policy for me not to answer you,” Richt said. “My main focus again is Kentucky. That’s where I have to keep my mind. That’s what I have to focus on. Focusing on anything too far down the road is not healthy for me or the team. So my goal is really to make sure we’re ready to play against Kentucky.”
This week’s game is against Kentucky. Both teams are 6-4. Both teams beat Auburn by a touchdown. That’s really the only reality check Georgia needs.
If the Bulldogs win Saturday, it will be a nice memory for the seniors.
If they beat Georgia Tech in two weeks, it will return bragging rights to Athens.
If they win whatever bowl game they ultimately land in, it will create a talking point for spring football.
But that’s it. When a season loses its meaning, decisions can’t be based on the games that follow.
The hard questions haven’t changed. What happened in Stillwater after an entire off-season of preparation? What happened in Knoxville? What happened in Gainesville? Again. Why does it seem like so many of the nation’s top recruits are not being coached up? Why does Georgia too often lose physical battles? What happened to the mental toughness? Whatever became of the impact of the vaunted mat drills?
Any changes Richt makes need to be based on why the air went out of the season so soon, not where they may be in a few weeks.
Players are aware there may be changes. Flanker Israel Troupe said, “You never want to see anything dramatic happen. We want to play hard every day for all of us, players and coaches. We’re a tight knit family. You hear the talk. You read things in the media. But you can’t worry about that. You have to worry about what goes on in house and on the field.”
Finishing the season strong, Rennie Curran said, “would show we can still do great things and we’re a program that’s still on the rise, despite what happened early. It’s still about how you respond to adversity. But I do think the whole season should be taken into account.”
Three more wins would make the record nicer to look at. But it wouldn’t erase two months.