I wouldn’t have thought such a thing possible a month ago or a week ago or even 24 hours ago, but here it is:
Mark Richt is in trouble.
It was possible to write off Georgia’s first two losses as having come against superior opposition. It is not possible to write off losing in Starkville. It is not possible to square all those ballyhooed recruiting classes with being 0-3 in the conference. It is not possible to look on the Bulldogs as anything more than a middling SEC team.
Five years ago, how many other league schools would have gladly traded their coach for Richt? Nine? Ten? How many would today? Maybe three, and that’s depending on how Ole Miss feels about Houston Nutt this week. Too many SEC programs have caught and passed Georgia, and this has nothing to do with the superpowers in Tuscaloosa and Gainesville. Consider:
Last year Georgia lost to Tennessee in Year 1 of Lane Kiffin. Last week Georgia lost to Arkansas in Sanford Stadium in Year 3 of Bobby Petrino. Last night Georgia lost to Mississippi State in Year 2 under Dan Mullen.
No longer does an opponent tremble at the sight of Georgia approaching. On the contrary, this has become — three weeks running! — the team you want to play if you’re looking to establish your program.
The old Steve Spurrier critique of Ray Goff — “Georgia gets all these players … I don’t know what happens to them” — again applies. Georgia doesn’t lack talent. It simply cannot bring its talent to bear. Its new 3-4 defense mustered one sack against Arkansas and Ryan Mallett. Its touted offensive line was able to carve out 113 yards rushing against Manny Diaz’s Mississippi State defense. Its offense could not score a touchdown against South Carolina and needed 58-plus minutes to manage one in Starkville.
There has been no improvement week over week. There is only a weird stasis. The weeks and the opponents change, but Georgia looks no different. How does that happen?
Granted, the season might look different had A.J. Green played these four games. But he didn’t because he broke a rule, and that’s the other reason Richt is in trouble. A coach can get away with having his players mess up off the field if the coach keeps winning big on it. But Richt is 10-9 dating back to Nov. 29, 2008, and guess what cheery news awaited him on his return from Mississippi?
You got it. Another player has been arrested.
When I say, “Richt is in trouble,” I don’t mean I expect him to be fired this week or even after this season. I think Greg McGarity, the new athletic director, will err on the side of patience with a coach of such distinguished pedigree. (And a strong finish to this season — winning the next eight and beating Auburn and Florida en route — would effectively get Richt out of trouble.) But the loss at State seems a tipping point. It seems the game in which the majority of Georgia fans stopped seeing Mark Richt as the answer and came to regard him as the problem.