Athens — Like the rest of you, Mark Richt is counting down.
“OK,” he said after practice Tuesday. “It’s getting closer. Down to 10 days after today. Seven practices to go.”
Georgia is immersed now in preparation for Oklahoma State, the opening opponent Sept. 5 in Stillwater.
All of Georgia’s practice Tuesday was closed to the media –- usually, the first three or so periods are open -– because the Bulldogs began working on stuff for the Oklahoma State game right away. Usually the first few periods are devoted to fundamental work, so coaches don’t worry about prying eyes on the field for that. Tuesday, “we were right into all our schemes right away,” Richt said after practice.
Late this afternoon, the Bulldogs will hold a practice game –- also closed –- in Sanford Stadium, with the scout team emulating Oklahoma State.
With at least 20 cases of swine flu reported on the UGA campus, Richt was asked if he’s worried about it reaching the football team.
“Oh yeah, we’ve been keeping a real close eye on it,” he said. “We actually had a couple of guys that had those type of symptoms in the summer, and we either took them and moved them off on their own or took their roommates out of there. . . . We probably did that two or three times this summer.
“And we have kept a real close eye on the guys since camp started, but we really haven’t had anything since camp started. Haven’t had any symptoms like that. There are certain things, like that MRSA [infection], that can be spread throughout a team, and if you don’t watch it, you’re in trouble. So Ron [Courson, UGA director of sports medicine] is real proactive.”
Much has been made of how the Bulldogs backed off physical practices as injuries mounted last year and of how Richt vowed not to repeat that mistake this year. The team-wide epidemic of hamstring injuries has not caused him to reconsider.
“I’m not too concerned about it, really,” Richt said Tuesday. “Quite frankly, we’re practicing about how we [had] been practicing before last season. It’s not a whole lot different. It might feel different to the guys this year because last year was different. But it’s just about the way we’ve always practiced.”
Many of the hamstring pulls have been sustained by veteran players, particularly at linebacker and safety. And if they had to happen, better that they happen to experienced players than to young players who desperately need practice reps, Richt said.
“I’d be more concerned if all of our young guys had hamstring pulls and all I had was veterans working,” he said. “I do think it could end up being a blessing. Those young safeties [Bacarri Rambo, Makiri Pugh, Sanders Commings] got a ton of work –- and a ton of work with the No. 1 defense. And some of our linebackers got some work they wouldn’t have gotten without the veterans having to sit. With the veterans having a working knowledge of the defense, I don’t think [the missed time] will hurt them too badly.”
It helps that most of those who were sidelined with hamstring problems have returned to full action just as — Richt’s words – “we’re getting into the guts of the game plan.” Among those recently returned: safeties Reshad Jones (”I feel like I’m right where I need to be,” he said) and Bryan Evans, linebacker Darius Dewberry and tight end Aron White. Injury update here.
High among the UGA defense’s goals this season: Force more turnovers. Last season, the Dogs’ defense tied for 111th among the 119 major-college teams in fumbles recovered, tied for 67th in passes intercepted and tied for 104th in total takeaways. And remarkably, only one Georgia defensive back, Jones, had an interception (he had five).
In turnover margin, the Bulldogs tied for 73rd at minus-3, meaning they lost three more turnovers (19) than they gained (16).
“Football is game of momentum, and we gave away more momentum than we gained,” Richt said Tuesday. “I think most all of us know that if you’re going to win one statistic besides the scoreboard, [you'd want it to be] be turnover ratio. If you knew you were going to win the turnover-ratio battle every single game, you’d know for certain you were going to have a winning season and probably one of your better seasons.”