ATHENS – Georgia coach Mark Richt and selected players visited with media on Tuesday to discuss Saturday’s game between the No. 5-ranked Bulldogs and No. 6 South Carolina in Columbia.
Following is some of the highlights from the news conference. . . .
COACH MARK RICHT
Opening statement . . .
“Here we go. We used to play South Carolina earlier in the year, and now it’s game six for both of us. Normally when we play South Carolina, both teams are undefeated in league play because it’s always been the first one, but this year both teams have found a way to stay undefeated. So I know it’s definitely an exciting time for their program and for our program. We all know that ESPN College Game Day is going to be there, so that’s usually a pretty good sign that it’s a big ballgame. A lot of people are going to be watching and are going to be very interested in what happens, so we obviously have a lot of respect for South Carolina.”
On Spurrier going for 250th career victory . . .
“That’s a lot of ballgames and a lot of victories. He’s one of the best coaches in the country, and he has been for years. I’ve got a lot of respect for Coach Spurrier.”
On dealing with the big-game atmosphere Saturday . . .
““It’s going to be our job as coaches to try to get them to focus on the things that will help us win, which is the game plan, playing hard, and just being very fundamentally sound with blocking and tackling. We’re just trying to keep the focus on the process of getting better like we’ve been trying to do all season long and not focus too much on what the game means. I don’t think I’ll have to say too much about that, but I think it’s going to be pretty obvious to them how big of a game it is, so let’s focus on the things that can help them play well.”
On Georgia’s defense against the run . . .
“If you look at Tennessee’s line, they are pretty stout. They are big, they’re physical, they have a bunch of starts under their belt. A year ago they didn’t have a lot of experience, now they do have a lot of experience. They executed well and they physically took it to us to a certain degree. Do I wish we would have played the run better? Yeah. If I thought we were playing a team that didn’t have the ingredients to run the ball well I would have felt even worse.”
On Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray . . .
“We have a lot of confidence in him period, and we’re going to call a game that’s going to put a lot in his hands like we have been. Even at the end of the first half of this last ballgame, there wasn’t a whole lot of time. They decided to kind of have a squib kick, and we got the ball around the 35. At that point with 37 seconds you might say let’s not throw a pick and give up another turnover. They are scoring 20 points in the second quarter and things are going bad, so you might say we’ve had enough. Let’s just go to halftime and regroup. I told Coach (Mike) Bobo, let’s go try to score. Murray did a really nice job of moving us down the field and getting us in position to get those three points. I think psychologically those were important points for us. I don’t know if I would have done that last year. I definitely wouldn’t have done it his freshman year. I guess that gives you an idea of the faith I have in him as a head coach.”
On being able to recruit both Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall to Georgia . . .
“They almost sold us on it. I think they had the thought of playing together and being roommates and being friends throughout college. They got to know each other, they liked each other. They weren’t afraid to be on the same team, and I think they had a dream of maybe one day sharing the load wherever they went. For it to happen the way it’s happened so far this year I can’t imagine them dreaming it up any better than it’s been. The reasons why it’s happening, of course some if it was the attrition that we had, but some of it is the fact that they’re very coachable, teachable. They are very serious about learning what to do. They know they have a great talent base. They are different in their styles, and I think that’s effective. I would imagine that they could only get better at what they are doing. I don’t know if the results will be better, but they’ll definitely become better players as time goes on.”
On Rhett McGowan taking over as punt returner . . .
“Rhett will start out as our punt return man in all situations. He was kind of our midfield punt returner. If the punt was somewhere around midfield, he’d get his heals at the 10-yard mark and be the guy to decide whether to fair catch it or let it go over his head. He’s got some reps doing that, and he’s had a couple of reps out in the middle of the field. We’re going to allow him to be the primary punt return man in this game and see how it goes.”
On Georgia’s special teams play . . .
“We’ve blocked two punts, we had a fake tried on us and we stopped it, we have had excellent kickoff coverage. Our punt team, if you go strictly by statistics as far as net punt, it’s not that impressive, but that first punt of the year where we knocked it about 57 yards and they had a 20-something yard return, since that time there have only been 18 return yards for the next four games. We’re not allowing big returns. We’re punting the ball high and getting guys under it and getting a lot of fair catches, which is outstanding. We’ve made all but one field goal, two over 50. I know our extra points have been an adventure. No doubt we have to get better at that. Kickoff return has actually been pretty solid other than the one kick where the ball ended up on the one-yard line last week. Other than that we’ve fielded it pretty well. We’ve had people bloop-kick it to us, and a lot of times your average goes down when they bloop it to you and you get a five-yard return, but you get good field position. I think the special teams as a whole are getting a bad rap. . . . Overall it’s been pretty solid.”
On plans for Malcolm Mitchell this week . . .
“Monday and Tuesday are offense, and Wednesday was kind of the defensive day and it still is. There may be a couple of times when he may do some offense if the defense is working on base defense and he’s not getting any reps at that moment. Thursday we’ve kind of tried to split some of his reps. He’s primarily an offensive player and he’s in a state of readiness on defense. Not only has he been a kick returner, punt returner, but he’s also on our punt team. He’s been running down there trying to force fair catches too. . . . We do think Malcolm has the potential to be a big [kickoff] return man as well. We think he and Gurley both have big-play potential as kick return men, so we’re just kind of letting them share the load a little bit.”
On Georgia’s offensive play . . .
“We have executed well. We haven’t had a lot of missed assignments. The majority of our guys have played or at least practiced a while in our system. When your quarterback can get you in the right play most of the time or the right protection most of the time or if he reacts property to a blitz and gets it to the right guy without a chance of getting a sack, or guys are mostly catching the ball, you have a chance to be efficient. If you have a young QB and you have to call a play and kind of live with it sometimes, you have to guess right sometimes and sometimes you guess wrong. You run into some bad situations if you can’t trust your quarterback to get you in the right stuff. Murray is a guy who gets us in the right plays most of the time and the right protections most of the time.”
On the Bulldogs’ offensive line . . .
“This game will definitely be the best gauge. South Carolina’s defense is playing great. They are not playing good, they are playing great. They are kind of used to playing great. They were pretty darn good last year and the year before and the year before that. They’ve just got a tradition now that has built up over time that they believe. It’s obvious that they believe, and they should. They are really good at what they do, so our guys will be challenged with the edge players, the rush. They are also very physical against the run. Their inside guys are physical and their outside guys are physical and their linebackers are big, strong and experienced. Then you have a guy like (D.J.) Swearinger, who is a big hitter at safety, so without a doubt this is the biggest test for our offensive line.”
QB Aaron Murray
On the importance of the South Carolina game …
“We’re excited. This is one you circle on your calendar in January. Watching the film of last year’s [loss to the Gamecocks] is one of those things than makes you want to push through the spring and summer workouts. It still hurts. I think we’ve picked up some momentum the last five games and we need to keep working just as hard in practice and make sure we’re ready to go.”
On South Carolina’s defense…
“They’ve got talent all over the board, especially in that front four. Watching them on film, you can see they don’t do too much in terms of blitzing. Those are the best defenses – when you trust your players to just make plays and they do that. They do a great job of getting pressure on the quarterback without blitzing and with just those four guys. We’ve got our work cut out for us this week when it comes to preparation and making sure we’re ready.”
On the Georgia offense…
“We’ve been pretty balanced all year long when it comes to running and passing and quick passes and cutting guys. Right now as an offense it’s probably hard to get a grasp on what we’re going to do. I think Coach Bobo and Coach Friend will make sure our guys are ready to go.”
On last year’s loss to USC…
“That was a tough loss last year, but this is a new season and a new team and a completely different look. We’re a heck of a lot better than last year in every way. We need to put that behind us and go back and watch film in preparation of this Saturday’s game. It’s painful to watch that but this is a new team and we’re ready to go forward.”
WR Tavarres King
On South Carolina’s defense…
“They have a chippy defense and guys who are going to get after you. They have a great defense, and it’s going to be a challenge for our offense this weekend. We’re looking forward to it. It’s why you play the game.”
On Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley…
“They are doing a phenomenal job, especially being as young as they are and not knowing what they are getting into. They have handled it well, and they are very mature for their age. They are going to have extremely successful careers here.”
On whether last year’s loss to South Carolina still stings…
“It stings a lot. I feel like we had a lot of self inflicted wounds. It hurts, because we hurt ourselves so much. We made so many mental errors. That’s something we are trying to eliminate this year – mistakes and errors and not beating ourselves.”
CB Sanders Commings
On having the whole defense together for a second week . . .
“The amount of time we got to practice together was limited because we had to get the guys ready that were going to be playing in the games. But now we’ve got that first game together under our belt and it’s only going to get better from here. We’re not going backwards.”
On the magnitude of Saturday’s game . . .
I like it a lot. This is why I came to Georgia, to play in games like this, to in the top 5 in the country and to play other SEC teams in the top 10 in the country. This is why I came to Georgia.”