ATHENS – Georgia coach Mark Richt and selected players met with the media on Tuesday to preview Saturday’s game against Ole Miss. The No. 6-ranked Bulldogs (7-1, 5-1 SEC) are coming off a 17-9 win over then-No. 2-ranked Florida and will play host to the Rebels (5-3, 2-2) at Sanford Stadium in a 3:30 p.m. game that will be nationally televised on CBS.
The main question the Bulldogs were having to answer is how they can possibly replicate the high-intensity level they achieved against the rival Gators in Jacksonville in a Homecoming Game against a team over which they’re favored by two touchdowns.
“If you guys want to send a couple of tweets saying we’re soft, that might help,” senior linebacker Christian Robinson quipped.
Said Richt: “That’s a good question. You ought write a story about that, maybe make everybody mad. That’d be nice.”
The reality is, it’s very difficult for any team to play at peak level more than a few weeks a year and it’s especially difficult in consecutive weeks. But Richt and the Bulldogs believe the stakes involved — needing to win the last two to repeat as Eastern Division champions — should be enough.
“I hope they play like we did this past week,” Richt said. “I hope we continue to get after it with that kind of emotion and heartbeat.”
Following is some of the commentary from Tuesday’s proceedings at Butts-Mehre Heritage:
HEAD COACH MARK RICHT
Opening statement . . .
“Hugh Freeze has got them going there at Ole Miss. He’s doing a great job. They’re really excited right now, and they’re winning. . . .What I see is a team that has a brand new head coach that’s brought a lot of energy to the program. A lot of times, you just never know how close you are to winning and breaking through and having success. When you watched them play Alabama, they played Alabama pretty darn good. I think they might have had the best defensive performance against Alabama all year. When you watch that film, you know they can run and play with the big boys, and they did it at Alabama. You could see that they were getting better and better, and then they go ahead and beat Auburn and get their first SEC victory in a while. Then they actually go to Arkansas and win one there. It was a tight game, and a great ballgame. They also showed me that defensively they can play man coverage with a really good passing attack because we know Arkansas has a very good attack and they did a very good job of doing that and mixing coverages to try to make things confusing. So I’m very impressed with them. I know it’s going to be a heck of a ballgame. I’m glad that we’re going to be at home. I’m glad that we’re going to have our fan base there and our students there and the Redcoat Band, and everybody else that’s going to be there. We haven’t been home in awhile. We haven’t been home the entire month of October, so we’re happy to be home.”
On Ole Miss’ fast-paced, no-huddle offense . . .
“If you have 11 guys that can go 15 plays in a row, you don’t have to slow down. Now I don’t know if anybody’s quite doing that, but if you don’t substitute on offense, you can go as fast as you want to go. Those officials now are getting off the ball and letting you play. If you sub anybody, even a running back for a running back, it doesn’t have to be going from three receivers to two receivers, but if you make any substitution whatsoever, you’ll see those officials out there holding everything to see if that defense is going to sub. If they do, they’ll stay on top of that ball long enough for the defense to sub. They really don’t give the defense very long. Once they’re on the field, it’s not long before they walk away. So you’re barely on the field getting the call and trying to get lined up fast enough to play defense. A lot of times you’re not even in the stance. So yeah, that’s been problematic for defensive teams to try to keep up with that.”
On how quickly Ole Miss snaps the ball…
“They snap it faster than we do. We have times where we’ll go fast, but we have times obviously where we’ll try to make it look like we’re going to go fast and then we’ll freeze our count to try to see what they’re in, and then we’ll try to make the call from there. It becomes a little bit of a guessing game at time, but we don’t go as fast as they go.”
On whether he had anything’s of pulling quarterback Aaron Murray this past Saturday . . .
“Aaron is the guy, period. Aaron is the guy.”
On how Murray played . . .
“He could have checked it down a couple of times, I don’t think there is any doubt about that. He could have checked it down.”
On Murray’s second half against Florida . . .
“We talked a little bit about what it means to be soft position-by-position. I guess it was the day of the game. One of the things we talked about at quarterback was you’re soft if you can’t get knocked down a couple of times and get back up and trust your protection and throw strikes. I didn’t say throw picks, but that’s the same kind of thing. You’d rather get sacked than throw a pick. That’s a test of a guy’s toughness at the quarterback position. Can he have some bad plays and then shake it off and go make some plays that will help you win the game at the end? I thought he showed real outstanding mental toughness in that area. I thought Coach (Mike) Bobo did a good job of not quitting on the guy.”
On tailback Todd Gurley’s play against Florida . . .
“I thought it was probably underrated as far as what people talked about at the end of the game. There were so many things to talk about in that game. I thought it was a tremendous performance, that many carries against that physical of a defense. To average 4.4 (yards per carry) and not really have a long run, that was a heck of a game, and his ball security was tremendous. I think early in the game he got hit pretty good. Something was bothering him. It wasn’t an injury that kept him out, obviously, but he got stung pretty good early on and didn’t say much about it. He just kept going.”
On offensive line play . . .
“I thought the line blocked well. I won’t say it was any kind of a dominating performance, but I thought they blocked well. I thought we pass protected a little bit better than maybe I thought we would. I thought the run blocking was what I would hope for, just a battle, creating a little space here and there and having a back that would stick it on in there. Some of our four, five, six, seven yard runs were blocked as well as they could be blocked, and their safeties came up and made the hit. I don’t know how many times their safety was the initial hit man when he was an unblocked player just because of the numbers. There were quite a few times we stuck a hat on everybody and created space and got him to the safety, but their safeties were outstanding at coming up and making tackles. Both are very physical guys and very sure tacklers. It was one of those kinds of games.”
On Jarvis Jones’ ability causing fumbles . . .
“The fumble thing was huge. We talk about it so much as coaches and you have stats to back it up. It’s amazing how much time we spend on offense, defense and special teams – so much time – but ball security is the number one stat besides the score as far as deciding who wins and who loses. Jarvis has an awareness about him. First of all, when you hustle you have a chance to make plays, just like that last fumble. If he’s not hustling, he’s not making that play. But because he’s hustling, he’s turning and running when they play is already past him, he sees the ball, he sees the guy, but the guy doesn’t see him. Here’s a guy from Florida trying to make a great play, and he’s about to make a great play, but because Jarvis hustled and was in position to see the ball as he diving, it’s hard to keep the ball tight when you’re airborne. Instead of just going to tackle the guy, he rakes the ball out of there. (David) Pollack was a guy who had a knack for that. There are just certain guys who not only want the sack, but they want the ball out.”
On where Jones ranks nationally . . .
“I don’t know if there is a better defensive football player in America than Jarvis. I know the linebacker at Notre Dame is a great player as well. They might be equally great, and they are both so important to their team. Jarvis is a pretty dynamic player to have the pass rush ability and the ability to drop back and make the pick or be the guy who mirrors the quarterback and is athletic or be the guy who stops the run two or three yards in the backfield. He can stone somebody who is trying to block him and make the play. If you take his per game statistics it’s pretty impressive. I think he’s number one in America in sacks per game, maybe forced fumbles per game and fumble recoveries. His stats are really impressive, but when you watch him play it’s equally impressive. I think he’s the best player in America.”
On whether he thinks Jarvis Jones is the best player in America . . .
“I can’t think of a better player than Jarvis in the whole United States of America. He’s the best.”
On the Ole Miss-Texas game . . .
“That game was so long ago, it’s not the same Ole Miss defense in my opinion. There are some things that you might could learn as far as some things schematically that they did, but they didn’t play that day like they’re playing now defensively. They’re playing harder, they’re playing faster, they’re believing more and they were playing a bunch of young guys. Those guys are not as young as they were. Even our freshmen, they’ve played seven or eight ballgames now, so they’re not quite the rookies they were early in the year. They’ve gained enough experience to not let some of the things that happened to them early on happen to them now. Texas absolutely had a great game against them, points and yards, but I don’t see the same defense.”
On status of center David Andrews (knee) for Saturday’s game . . .
“We think he’ll play. We don’t think we have to worry about that, but if something happened to David I’m not sure what we would do. It probably would be (Chris) Burnette. I think early in the year that would have been the answer, and since we’ve played a lot more ball I don’t know if we would change our mind. I don’t know if we would put (Preston) Mobley in there, but I think it would be Burnette. We do think David is going to play.”
On Malcolm Mitchell’s contributions to the offense . . .
“It’s helped us a lot, obviously. He’s still practicing some with the defense. He’s still meeting some with the defense. He’s trying to stay up to speed as much as possible in case of an emergency on defense. So he’s not offense in every meeting and every period of practice, but he’s mostly offense. We’re getting him going again, and having him more in tune to what we’re doing and getting the rust off – there was a little rust on the guy at the receiver position, but I think he is shaking most of it off and doing some of the things fundamentally that make you a good receiver. That touchdown, it seems pretty simple, but not many guys will run it all the way to eight yards. It’s a fade-stop type play where you have to run the exact yardage and you have to make it look like you’re going deep and hit the brakes, have a sudden stop and get your hands ready to snatch it. It’s not that easy to do. It takes time and reps. Of course (Aaron Murray) had to get it out early. There was a guy coming free. The goal is the throw the ball before they get their eyes around, so the ball is on the way and you get your eyes around. You saw it happen to (Tavarres King) one time. It wasn’t the same play, but it was the same kind where the ball is on the way and you turn around and the ball is on you. The route that TK ran, it doesn’t usually happen that fast, so I don’t want to make TK look bad. The ball was thrown early because of a protection issue again. For Malcolm to run the route the way he should, snatch it strong with his hands and have the presence of mind – Coach (Tony) Ball always tells them to get off the sideline and wheel back inside and go and see what you can get. It was a heck of a play.”
On play of NG Kwame Geathers . . .
“My best image of Kwame in the last two weeks was in the Kentucky game when he had that big sack and I saw this giant athlete work up the field and change direction and just reach out and snatch the guy. He didn’t go very far once Kwame got his hands on him. He’s playing extremely well. We probably played more of him and John Jenkins in the game at the same time due to Abry (Jones’) injury, and they’re both playing well. Kwame does stay in there at the nose, and John will move outside, but I think it’s the time of year when the weather is pleasant enough to play more snaps without the heat issue, because the heat does hurt the big guys a little more I think. He’s been great. He’s kind of an unsung hero. He does his job and does it well, doesn’t say a whole lot, works his tail off and does what he’s supposed to do in school. He’s just a great kid.”
On status of Michael Bennett’s recovery from ACL injury . . .
“Michael understands what happened to him. He’s kind of over the shock and the initial pain of it, knowing that you can’t play the rest of the season. There are going to be long days of rehab and maybe even wondering what could have been. I don’t know if he’ll go there, but I think he knows he has a great future ahead of him. He still has two years of eligibility and people recover quite well from that type of surgery. He’s walking around without crutches and he feels like he’s ahead of the game right now in the rehab process.”
FULLBACK ALEXANDER OGLETREE
On the Florida win . . .
“It felt great. It’s a great win. It’s always good to beat Florida – that’s a big-time game and we knew we needed it. We all went out as a team and played really hard.”
On the performance of Todd Gurley . . .
“Todd’s a work horse. He just went out there and got it done on Saturday. I told him before the game to go out there and play hard – I knew he hadn’t played in a game like that before and I told him it was going to take all of our ability and heart if we wanted to win. And he went out there and got it done.”
WR TAVARRES KING
On the Florida win . . .
“This one was a lot more sweet. Being my last go-around it meant a lot to me. It’s crazy to beat those guys twice in a row – that’s something that hadn’t been done in a long time. It just topped everything off being my senior year. The defense was lights-out. It was a fun game to watch and it was awesome to be a part of it.”
On Todd Gurley . . .
“The kid is phenomenal. I’ve never met anybody like him. He works extremely hard, and he’s very poised. He’s a guy who’s just way ahead of his years. I don’t feel like he’s a freshman. He doesn’t act like it, doesn’t play like it.”
QB AARON MURRAY
On Florida game . . .
“It was an unbelievable experience on the field and in the locker room celebrating afterwards. It was a lot of fun to get that victory – this was probably the biggest Georgia-Florida game I’ve been a part of and it feels great to be on top of the SEC east again and maybe be able to compete for an SEC Championship if we do our part these next two games.”
On how his experience helped him respond with a stronger second half . . .
“It would’ve been rough [if he were younger player]. I think having played in a lot of big games helps. And with our defense playing so well, it gave some more confidence. If I was playing poorly and then Florida goes down and scores a bunch of points, it would’ve been a lot different.”
On getting ready for Ole Miss…
“We want to play every week with that intensity [that we did vs. Florida]. We are capable of playing with that emotion and intensity every game. Being back in the lead in the East is big – it gives us the chance to play in Atlanta. Like Jarvis [Jones] said after the game, that wins meant nothing if we don’t win the next two.”
CB DAMIAN SWANN
On Ole Miss’ offense . . .
“They’re very good; they have a veteran offensive line, a pretty good quarterback and good receivers. We just have to play well fundamentally and be ready for when they take shots on offense and play fast.”
On keeping up with the up up-tempo offense . . .
“It’s going to be a challenge. You never know what they’re going to do and you just have to make the right call. We know that sometimes they’re going to catch you a little off guard. They had a few big plays against Alabama because they caught Alabama lined up off guard.”
On coming into his own as a defender . . .
“It’s just a confidence thing. I’m starting to build my confidence pretty high and playing with all of the veteran guys really help me. They all have my back when we’re out there and trust me to make the right plays.”
DL GARRISON SMITH
On motivating the defense . . .
“I think it’s always just the challenge that motivates us. When someone challenges our manhood or says anything to take a shot at us then we want to respond. We try not to get too caught up in it but we’re going to respond. We’re motivated for every game, but some games have a different effect than others. We’re going to be motivated every time whether we get called out or not.”
On Ole Miss up-tempo offense . . .
“This is a real big challenge for us because of the way they run their offense. They have a great coach that has done a really good job of putting players together in a way that they feed off of each other. It’s going to be a big challenge just to keep guys fresh going against an up-tempo offense. That’s a challenge for any defense, just to get lined up and play against a good offense with good players.”
On whether fatigue will be a factor . . .
“Fatigue plays a very big part in the game but that’s why we condition and run during practice. We want to keep up and practice in the game tempo and hopefully that conditioning will help out on Saturday.”