ATHENS – Just three days after Georgia’s season-opening loss to Boise State, Georgia’s Mark Richt is already getting the type of questions reserved for November of a horrific season.
Twice Richt was asked during his weekly press conference Tuesday if he felt Saturday’s game was critically important to him as the Bulldogs’ head coach.
Phrased a different way by two different reporters three minutes apart, Richt gave the same terse answer.
In the first case, Richt was asked if he viewed the South Carolina game as “pivotal for you and your program.”
“I view it as a very important game,” he said, without further elaboration.
A short time later, a reporter from a South Carolina newspaper asked if Richt felt like it was “a must-win game.”
“Didn’t I just say it was a really important game?” Richt snapped back.
“But is it a must win?,” the reporter repeated.
“I think it’s a really important game,” Richt said, now glaring. “You want to ask me again? Because you can, and I’ll answer it the same way.”
And so the tone was set for this week’s SEC opener against No. 12 South Carolina (1-0) at Sanford Stadium on Saturday.
It could be argued that the game was already markedly more important than the opener against Boise State. But after the Bulldogs (0-1) fell 35-21 to the No. 4-ranked Broncos, the perception is that Richt’s job is on the line against the Gamecocks.
That’s certainly the message that Georgia’s players are getting. And they left little doubt Tuesday as to where they stand on the issue.
“We always try to play for Coach Richt, seeing how much he’s done for us,” said junior defensive end Abry Jones.
Said senior tight end Aron White: “I feel like we’re defending Coach Richt just like he defends us. We’re playing for him just like he’s coaching for us. We’re behind him 100 percent. I have complete confidence that all the players on this team are playing for Coach Richt, regardless of what we might agree with or not agree with. He’s still our coach, we’re still his players and we’re in this together. We have full support for him, We’re pulling for him, we’re playing for him, we’re doing everything we can.”
The fan reaction to the Bulldogs’ loss on social media platforms and blogs has been prolific and vitriolic. Likewise, it has been nearly impossible for players and coaches to avoid the negative feedback.
“I didn’t even check my Twitter account,” tight end Orson Charles said. “We know everybody we have in that team meeting room is all we have. If things are going right everybody’s going to jump on board. If they’re going wrong then that’s when things start breaking down. I just pray that the fans stay behind us. Yeah, we let them down in that first game. But I don’t see us letting them down the rest of the season. We just have to come out there and bounce back from this loss.”
Said White: “We catch a good bit of it, now more than ever. I remember coming in in ‘07 and they were coming off disappointing season and there were a lot of people saying a lot of crazy stuff back then. It just comes along with the territory. You have a bad season, you lose games and people are going to talk. You’ve just got to rise above it. You’ve got to tune it out and realize you’re playing for the guys in that locker room.”
Regardless, the players insist fan sentiment and negativity won’t have an effect on how they play against the Gamecocks. As always, it will come down to blocking, tackling and execution.
“We’re not trying to worry about that,” quarterback Aaron Murray said of the hot-seat talk. “We’re just taking it one game at a time. We just know it’s a big game just for ourselves, to get back rolling in the right direction, to get a win under our belts and to get a big win against a great opponent in an SEC game. It’s a huge game. We definitely don’t want to start 0-2 an you don’t want to start 0-1 in SEC play, especially against a team like South Carolina that’s predicted to win the East. We just want to get the ball rolling and get a big win this weekend.”
– Chip Towers