An extremely animated Mark Richt charmed the Touchdown Club of Athens Tuesday night with a mixture of humor and humility, even doing a passable Bobby Bowden imitation, but he refused to be put on the spot about his plans for backup quarterback Hutson Mason.
Asked by a member of the audience at the Athens Country Club if Georgia fans will see the No. 2 quarterback play Saturday against Louisiana-Lafayette, Richt smiled. “That’s a really good question,” he said. “I wish you didn’t ask me that.”
He did say again that it’s been the subject of discussion by the coaches, but “I’d like to tell Hutson before I tell everyone else.”
Talking about starter Aaron Murray, Richt asked fans to be patient. “Murray’s going to be learning,” he said. “Murray’s going to make mistakes.”
At the same time, Richt said, with a veteran cast around him on offense, “he’s got about as good a situation as you can have coming in as a freshman quarterback.”
“Murray’s got what it takes,” Richt said, “But he doesn’t have the experience.” The coach cited a couple of key errors Murray made in the Dogs’ recent practice game. In one situation, when the defense sniffed out a screen pass, the young quarterback scrambled around and got sacked, taking the offense out of field goal range. Later, in a goal-line situation, he at first avoided throwing into coverage but then scrambled again and threw what would have been an interception had the scout team defender not dropped the ball.
Because it was in a game-like setting, “the point was driven home better to him,” Richt said. “But that’s the kind of thing he has to live through. You just want to get them out of the way in practice.”
Still, Richt cautioned, Georgia doesn’t allow quarterbacks to be hit in practice, so “that kid hasn’t been hit in a game in two years,” and how he reacts to real competition will be the key.
A fan noted that Murray had impressive running stats in high school, but Richt said he’s tried to teach Murray that he doesn’t have to be “the hero” in college. “He’s used to scrambling and making plays. But he’s got to understand you can’t just run around in this league and be a playmaker when the guys that weigh 280 pounds are just as fast or faster than you.”
In other comments Tuesday night, Richt said:
The season’s first Dawg Walk through the Tate Center parking lot into Sanford Stadium is scheduled for 10:20 Saturday morning. Richt urged fans to turn out for it because “it does mean a lot to our players.” And he said that, per his custom, he’ll participate in the first walk. “I go to one a year,” he said, joking, “I go to the first one because I know we’re undefeated and that’s when I like to walk through the crowd.”
Richt again said his No. 1 message to his team this year has been fixing the turnover ratio. “Flip that stat and we probably win 10 or 11 games last year. Make them beat us. Let’s not beat ourselves.” Along those lines, he said, in practice players are disciplined for every turnover or penalty and then after practice their unit is also disciplined.
The subject of kickoffs, a fan pet peeve over the past couple of years when Blair Walsh frequently was asked to kick directionally to a corner rather than go for a touchback, prompted Richt to get loud. “What do you want to hear? We’ll let him kick it as far as he can? Yeah!” But Richt added that while Walsh has been told he can “kick it away,” if the receiver takes a kick five yards in the end zone and then gets a long return, “you’ll know why we say some hang time is necessary. Fans sometimes don’t seem to understand that.”
The head coach lamented that he didn’t get to see the Dogs’ veteran offensive line practicing together every day during preseason camp because of injuries and illness, and he noted that Cordy Glenn dropped 15 pounds during his bout with mono.
He referred to tailback Washaun Ealey’s “really dumb decision” to drive on a suspended license after being told not to. “He blew it,” Richt said, and is paying the price by not only sitting out the first game but getting up at 5:45 every morning for punishment running and by sitting on the sidelines at practice most of the time with the fourth string. “I know it’s killing him,” Richt said, “but you’ve got to pay a price.” He added that everyone on the team except two players (one of them being Ealey) has a valid driver’s or motorcycle permit.
New UGA athletic director Greg McGarity also was at the Touchdown Club dinner, where he was greeted warmly by many old friends. After former Georgia player Bobby Poss, part of the usual entertainment at Touchdown Club meetings, had finished up his wisecrack-filled door prize session with one of his infamous jokes, McGarity said, “I really feel home now after hearing Bobby Poss get up here and speak.”
McGarity also singled out UGA radio personality Loran Smith, saying, “I don’t think you get all the credit you deserve,” and said of Richt: “I think our program is in great hands.”
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