Richt believes Georgia is poised for a bounce-back season

Georgia coach Mark Richt believes the Dogs can avoid some of the problems that plagued recent teams. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Georgia coach Mark Richt believes the Dogs can avoid some of the problems that plagued recent teams. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Here’s a sneak peek at a column that will appear in print in this Sunday’s special AJC College Football Section. The 34-page section will preview Georgia State, Georgia Tech and UGA seasons, the SEC and ACC, top games, Heisman candidates and more.

Nine years ago, Mark Richt lost his first SEC game as a head coach (to South Carolina) and started 4-3 in a conference that generally doesn’t allow for long honeymoon periods, at least not outside of Vanderbilt.

It wasn’t the usual backdrop for what would happen in the next four years. Richt went 44-9 overall and 25-7 in the SEC. He won two conference titles at a school that hadn’t won one since 1982. He won a Sugar Bowl.

What has occurred since at Georgia is less a market correction than it is a changing landscape. Think of the SEC as a boulevard of resort hotels. Richt built what seemed like Xanadu in 2002. The problem came when Les Miles, Florida and Alabama built more lavish structures down the street.

LSU, Florida and Alabama didn’t just win SEC championships. They won national championships — the last four, in fact. Over that same period, Richt went 20-12 in the SEC without making it to the conference title game once.

Xanadu began to look like a slightly weathered Marriott.

Which brings us to 2010. Georgia is not crumbling and Richt is not on the firing line. There has, however, been a leveling off in Athens. To deny that would be like a hotel owner ignoring the other properties that are stealing his business.

The Dogs are somewhere back in the vapor trail left by Florida and Alabama. Richt’s not in denial — otherwise he wouldn’t have fired three assistant coaches after going 8-5 (4-4) last season.

The question now: Is this the bounce-back year? Possibly. Richt may never have a better chance to quiet critics.

The potential pitfalls of starting a redshirt freshman quarterback, Aaron Murray, should be minimized by an experienced offensive line and two key weapons for Murray to feed: A.J. Green and Washaun Ealey. The defense should be significantly improved under Todd Grantham (who is switching to a 3-4).

The schedule? Instead of opening against Oklahoma State in Stillwater, as in 2009, the Bulldogs open against Louisiana-Lafayette in Athens. They don’t play Alabama. They don’t play LSU. They do play Florida, but it would be surprising if the Gators didn’t feel the loss of nine starters in the first five rounds of the NFL draft, including: Tim Tebow, Joe Haden, Maurkice Pouncey, Carlos Dunlap and the serial eye-gouger, Brandon Spikes.

There’s also this: Richt just feels better about his team. Granted, all coaches like their team before opening kickoff, but Richt’s confidence is rooted in something legitimate: strength and stability on his offensive line.

“I like our maturity on offense,” he said. “You see it especially up front, even the non-glamour positions if you want to throw in the fullbacks.

“There’s something about when your offensive linemen are your sages, your veterans, your leaders. When they’re running it, things tend to go well. They’re pretty grounded. They’re not glamorous. They’re really the most unselfish guys on the team. ”

Glamour seldom is Georgia’s problem. It seldom gets more glamorous than Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno in the same backfield. But that was in 2008, and a pre-season No. 1 team wound up getting drilled by Alabama and Florida, losing at home to Georgia Tech and settling for the Capital One Bowl.

Georgia’s problems have been in other areas: a lack of discipline, sometimes passion, sometimes just a seeming willingness to punch the opponent in the mouth.

Experience and the arrival of Grantham, who’s far more fiery than Martinez, should help in those areas. But fire starts at the top and Richt needs to light one with his team.

This season could start well — very well. If the Dogs can get past early tests against South Carolina and Arkansas, they could be 8-0 going to Jacksonville. But Richt knows better than to play “the schedule game.”

“I used to do it more than I do now,” he said. “What year was it – Stafford’s freshman year [2006]? I kind of did it that year a little bit. We didn’t have a great season. Everything looked different than it was. So I don’t do that any more.”

The Dogs were coming off Richt’s second SEC title that year but they went 4-4 in the conference in 2006. The landscape changed. Richt, going into his 10th season, realized Georgia required some renovation.

Now we find out what the place looks like.

Follow me on Twitter @JeffSchultzAJC and Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC

283 comments Add your comment

Not Disappointed

August 26th, 2010
2:04 pm

Isn’t it his job to be hopeful? Time will surely tell about the young QB!

anotherdawg

August 26th, 2010
2:07 pm

I think everyone is excited. Are you ready for some football?

GT Alum

August 26th, 2010
2:08 pm

I second Not Disappointed. Do you really expect the guy to think they’re going to be mediocre at best this season, much less say it? Not that that’s necessarily what I think is their potential, but, while a coach knows his team better than anyone else does, he’s hardly the best person to give an unbiased view of their potential. Only time will tell for both UGA (sic) and Tech.

F-105 Thunderchief

August 26th, 2010
2:12 pm

They are, too. They are going to win 10 in the regular season and one of those may very well come in Jacksonville. They are at least three wins better than last year if they 1.) cut down on turnovers, 2.) have more takeaways and 3.) stop somebody. All three of those will surely happen.

Russ, the Temporary Mascot

August 26th, 2010
2:13 pm

Welcome back, Jeff. Do you know if those shoes Coach is wearing in the photo are his or the athletic department’s or are they a gift? The reason I want to know is that I got nothing from Nike. Only Krylon.

George

August 26th, 2010
2:14 pm

Jeff-

Excellent article. I wouldn’t call finishing #2 in 2007, and #10 in 2008 a big problem. Sure last year, should have won the Kent & LSU games. Should have beaten Tenn. Should have gone 10-3, or 11-2, minimum. It was an off-year.

Problems are not penalties (Florida is consistenly among college football’s worst) not turnovers (The nation’s best at not giving the ball away rarely win more Championships (Navy/Air Force, Army). The best teams play aggressive, they arn’t afraid to make mistakes.

Problems have been strategy:
1- Too much passing in 1st 7 games, need to have a heavy run strategy, NEVER abandon the run game, under ANY circumstances or you become 1 dimensional
2- Not getting playmakers like AJ Green, Ealey, Olson enough touches the way Florida and Alabama uses their playmakers. Rotating in too many mediocre players to “keep everybody fresh”. The rotation system has been utterly ridculous. Play your best players, keep the mediocre players ff the field.
3- Willie’s read and react defensive strategy was too passive, and people had finally caught on to what Georgia was doing defensively and Georgia had become too predictible. Offense became predictable too, Georgia became the easiest team to intercept a ball from, just very easy to read.

GeoffDawg

August 26th, 2010
2:15 pm

Disagree a bit about the fire having to come from the top. I like a HC with a measured approach and a DC with a fiery temperment ala Richt and Van Gorder, Dooley and Russell, Bowden and Andrews, etc. That being said, you still have to have a top guy that’s not going to put up with crap.

Bo

August 26th, 2010
2:15 pm

I’m stoked for football season!!

anotherdawg

August 26th, 2010
2:16 pm

Nice job Jeff in pointing out the ‘reasons’ Richt feels good about this team. A solid offensive line, a great receiver, awesome tight ends, talented running backs, an aggressive defense with new coaches, and a little easier schedule gives plenty of reasons to be optimistic.

Mickey

August 26th, 2010
2:16 pm

In 2001/2002, Richt bounced back and finished #3. In 2006/2007, he bounced back and finished #2. He will bounceback again and finish in the top 3, likely #1.

Idot

August 26th, 2010
2:17 pm

As I recall the Bulldogs were pretty well devastated by injuries in 2008. Or am I wrong, again?

Jeff Schultz

August 26th, 2010
2:17 pm

Not Disappointed … It’s his job to win. But you can usually tell the difference between real confidence and fake confidence, if you know what I mean.

Paul

August 26th, 2010
2:18 pm

A fun thing is to compare Richt’s 1st 9 seasons to Bear Bryant’s or Nick Saban’s.

Richt had 6 top 10 finishes, Bear and Saban 1 top 10 finish.

Richt won .770 of his games, Bear & Saban won a lot less.

Richt had 2 top 3 finishes, Bear had 1 & Saban had 0.

Jeff Schultz

August 26th, 2010
2:19 pm

Looking at schedule, 10-2 (pre-bowl) is a real possibility, if Murray can play and defense comes through.

Jeff Schultz

August 26th, 2010
2:19 pm

Russ, the Temporary Mascot — Thanks. When the new Uga is introduced, do you lose your Krylon endorsement?

NW Georgia Dawg

August 26th, 2010
2:19 pm

Here’s hoping the defense raises the intensity level a couple of notches, and the offense is able to feed off of that. I’m ready to see some of our special athletes make game-changing plays the way I see other teams’ special athletes doing. If our O-line can stay healthy we can be successful. If not, we may be in for a repeat of last year.

PTC DAWG

August 26th, 2010
2:20 pm

I’m confident UGA will be better this fall than last. How much? If we knew that, wouldn’t be much fun watching the season unfold would it?

anotherdawg

August 26th, 2010
2:24 pm

I believe the key will be the QB. If we can get through two very tough games with Arkansas and South Carolina, we should have a very good, if not great season. It takes alot of things going your way to win all of it.

Paul H

August 26th, 2010
2:24 pm

Go Dawgs! I think this team will surprise a few folks this year

Idot

August 26th, 2010
2:24 pm

Didn’t UGA have a much tougher schedule that either Bama or Fla. in 2009?

#1 BAMA FAN

August 26th, 2010
2:26 pm

I would like to see the DAWGS back up where they belong. Don’t know if they can hide BO BO….RTR

Skeeter

August 26th, 2010
2:26 pm

“Xanadu?” “vapor trails?” You a Rush fan Jeff?

Idot

August 26th, 2010
2:26 pm

In 2007, the loss at S.C. pretty well torpedoed the rest of the season for UGA.

SSIgator

August 26th, 2010
2:27 pm

“Georgia is poised for a bounce-back season”

I would agree 8-4 and a trip to Tampa would be better.

#1 BAMA FAN

August 26th, 2010
2:27 pm

Paul…count the Championships.RTR

Jona

August 26th, 2010
2:28 pm

Thank goodness for the tune up game starting off. Who scheduled last year opening up in Stillwater? Should have been fired…unless he already has been.

David Granger

August 26th, 2010
2:28 pm

That sounds fine, Coach. Now let’s keep our damn mouths shut and go out on the field and PROVE it!

MoDawg

August 26th, 2010
2:29 pm

What I take from this is that he is actually giving us a glimpse of his expectations. In years past, he would use coach-speak before the season started and it was hard to tell what his expectations were. At least this year, he is revealing some enthusiasm about the direction of the team. I’m not sure someone on the “hot seat” would want to fan the flame if he knew people may be disappointed in the product they put on the field.

I believe the new defensive staff will ignite some of the fire that the prior defensive regime was lacking since BVG left. At least I hope so. In reading what the players are saying, they are excited, which gets me excited.

Go Dawgs!

chalkdawg4

August 26th, 2010
2:29 pm

Hoping for a great year. I graduated there in 1983 and really enjoyed the glory years. I think its time for the new AD to announce that we are moving forward on the indoor practice facility. Do a rush job and have it ready in about 18 months. Anyone know where we stand on that? Are there plans on the board anywhere?

Bulldog

August 26th, 2010
2:31 pm

We’ll see…

Hankie Aron

August 26th, 2010
2:32 pm

GeoffDawg

August 26th, 2010
2:34 pm

chalkdawg4, if I’m not mistaken, I believe the expansion of the athletic department currently underway is supposed to include an indoor area for some practicing but will not be large enough to be a true “indoor facility” in line with other programs. I think this was supposed to help alleviate the problem in the meantime however. I don’t know what their long term plans are. Somebody with knowledge of the situation, please correct me if I’m wrong.

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

August 26th, 2010
2:37 pm

i think this will be a great year for UGA- everything is in its right place

chalkdawg4

August 26th, 2010
2:40 pm

With all the money we have our facilities should be 2nd to none. I think the new AD will put his stamp on the program and move it along. I’m sure this is a point other teams bring up to recruits. No excuses to not move forward. In the words of a great american, “GIT HER DONE”

Go Dawgs!!!

Jeff Schultz

August 26th, 2010
2:42 pm

Skeeter — The band or Limbaugh?

Technophobia

August 26th, 2010
2:46 pm

Richt confident? I guess that means nobody’s showin up drunk.

HugoStiglitz

August 26th, 2010
2:49 pm

He would be a real crappy coach if he came out and said he thought his team would be bad. I do think UGA has a weak enough schedule to at least be slightly better then last year.

Mikey in the SAV

August 26th, 2010
2:52 pm

This is the best time of the year- everyone is 0-0 and the confidence is high.

Falcon Fan

August 26th, 2010
3:00 pm

Jeff….what do you really think UGA will do this year?And why?

DawginLex

August 26th, 2010
3:01 pm

News out of Columbia doesn’t bode well for SC the first 2 weeks.

SOS could be facing the ultimate “Karma is a biotch scenario”.

10 players out the first 2 weeks.

Saunders
Adjoboye
8 others who either start or play lots of minutes.

Heat and no depth=disaster

couldn’t happen to a nicer guy

Russ, the Temporary Mascot

August 26th, 2010
3:09 pm

I would be the next Uga if my a$$ were naturally white. I do the job. They win when I am on the sidelines. I slobber and sweat and lick my a$$ like any number of those in attendance. I am just a pure white a$$ away from glory. The same might be said for the team.

Destin Dawg

August 26th, 2010
3:12 pm

Stars are lined up.. lots of talent.. new mentality on Defense… UnderDawgs to Junkyard Dawgs after 7 games !!!! Florida and Awlbarn,, will be huge National games and GT could be too if they do well … my fortune cookie at chinese rest. said this is “year of the dog”…..fired up.. can’t wait !!! Go Dawgs

statkeeper

August 26th, 2010
3:22 pm

Paul,

Are you just stupid? Saban may not have had but 1 top 10 finish his first 9 years head coaching cause most of those years were spent at Toledo and Mich. state which has had all of 2 10 win seasons in its entire history(1 of them by Saban).

As to bear bryant having only 1 top 10 finish in his first 10 seasons that may or may not be true. What is true is that he coached at Kentucky where Adolph Rupp is king and bball is king.

Let me know when Richt wins 2 ncs as Saban has done or especially when he has won 6 ncs as bear bryant did.

JML Dawg

August 26th, 2010
3:24 pm

I read somewhere that the 2009 Dawgs had a minus 16 turnover rate. Even if every other factor is even (and I believe there’s lots of areas of improvement with this year’s team) what if this year’s rate is zero? What a huge difference that would make. Or if we had a PLUS 5 or 10?
That one stat alone could mean the difference between an also ran season and a legitimate title contender.

DawginLex

August 26th, 2010
3:28 pm

My prediction for the year

UGA 11-1 7-1
FLA 9-3 6-2
UK 8-4 5-3
SC 7-5 4-4
UT 5-7 2-6
VU 1-11 0-8

Bama vs UGA for the SEC title. Bama wins.

Lsu runs miles
Arkansas is this year’s 2009 Ole Miss
Auburn finishes 2nd in the west and gives UGA its only regular season loss.

Shawn

August 26th, 2010
3:29 pm

Man the delusions are non stop. Redshirt freshman qbs don’t win 10 games in the sec.
Ga will be lucky to win 9 games. 7-8 is more likely.

how2fish

August 26th, 2010
3:31 pm

DawginLex ,Well if the NCAA moves with their normal speed any sanctions will be next year!

joe

August 26th, 2010
3:32 pm

counting on a bounce back season with a “jittery” and short QB does not sense make. The best thing to happen to the dogs would be SC losing upwards of 6 to 10 players for living basically rent free at a Columbia hotel…so the dogs may win that game if those players are suspended. If that doesn’t happen, an 0-2 SEC start is a real possibility…if that happens, look for the wheels to fall off on the way back to Shreveport.

Dogs r idiots

August 26th, 2010
3:32 pm

my prediction
dawgs lose to sc ark uf auburn kty

69dog

August 26th, 2010
3:34 pm

Paul. CMR is not someone who should be referenced with any great coach. CMR has squandered SO much talent, has made SO many bad calls in games! CMR or his coaches do not adjust during games. Look at the blowouts UGA has received by inferior teams. I am tired of being spanked by Tenn and Kentucky and Vandy. CMR embarassed us by black outs and uniform changes.
CMR does not judge talent very well, He is just not a good fundamental coach.