ATHENS – Georgia coach Mark Richt and selected players met with the media on Tuesday to preview Saturday’s game against Auburn. The No. 5-ranked Bulldogs (8-1, 6-1 SEC) are coming off a37-10 win over Ole Miss and can clinch the SEC Eastern Division title with a win over Auburn (2-7, 0-6) on Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Of course, the main topic of the day was how the Bulldogs are going to go about replacing senior wide receiver Marlon Brown. The split end from Memphis was tied for the team lead in receptions with 27 and second in touchdowns (4) and yards (469) when he was lost to a season-ending knee injury in the third quarter this past Saturday. Brown is the second wideout lost for the year to a torn ACL. Sophomore Michael Bennett, who was Georgia’s leading receiver at the time, went down in practice the week of the Oct. 6 South Carolina game.
“We’re going to miss them (Marlon Brown and Michael Bennett),” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “I’m not saying that the other guys aren’t physical, but they’re not as physical. Marlon was a guy that liked contact. He’d get out there and block, and he was very difficult to cover because of his physicality getting off the jam or separating at the end of a route or whatever it might be. Michael Bennett was very much like that as well. . . . So it’s not a good thing for us, but we have some other outstanding players.”
Richt went on to list the qualities of Georgia’s remaining receiving corps, including senior Tavarres King, junior Rantavious Wooten, sophomores Malcolm Mitchell and Chris Conley, redshirt freshman Justin Scott-Wesley and former walkons Taylor Bradberry and Rhett McGowan
“I think a year ago we weren’t really sure what a Bennett could do or a Conley could do, but when you’re talking about the Florida game (from last year), they really came through in that game,” Richt said. “That was a little bit of their coming out party, as far as making some big plays in big games, so I think they’ve got some confidence to be able to do that.”
Here’s more of the commentary from Tuesday’s session:
HEAD COACH MARK RICHT
Opening Statement . . .
“There are 22 Georgia boys that play for Auburn. Auburn tends to recruit really hard in our state, and they get a lot of the really fine players out of the state of Georgia. I think that’s one of the reasons why it’s such a tremendous rivalry game. This is the 116th time that we’re going to play Auburn, and they lead the series 54-53 with 8 ties. That’s an awful lot of games to have that even of a series, and it’s for good reasons because it’s a very heated rivalry. We don’t expect anything different. We know that we’ve been recruiting against Auburn for years. We know they’ve got great players. We know that they have outstanding coaches, and we have a lot of respect for them. We know that the rival game certainly brings the best out of both teams, so we’re expecting quite a challenge and quite a battle. Going to Auburn, it’s a great atmosphere. It’s a great tradition and a great rivalry for us. It’s a game that we know we’re going to get into another 60-minute war, so we’re looking forward to that opportunity.”
On Malcolm Mitchell’s practice time with defense . . .
“It’ll be diminished just a little bit more. When I say diminished, it’s just that he’ll spend less field time with the defense but there are still some things defensively that we want him to be prepared for.”
On whether any other defensive players will move to offense . . .
“Not really. Branden Smith of course has given us some offensive firepower in the past. That’s something we haven’t done much of this year because we felt like we have some guys who are able to do those types of plays. Wooten is a guy we didn’t have last year and we have this year, and Malcolm Mitchell. Those two guys do the types of things that Branden Smith could do. If we had lost those two guys and not the bigger guys, it might have been the time to grab (Smith) and put him in there with some of those things. I think with Wooten and Malcolm we can pretty much do those things.”
On the status of RG Chris Burnette (left shoulder) . . .
“Burnette, we’re just not sure. I don’t think Burnette will go today. It’s not out of the question this week for Burnette, but I don’t think he’ll go today.
On the consistency of play for offensive line . . .
As far as our consistency of our offensive line play, I guess you could say we’ve been inconsistent, because we did start out pretty strong in the first five games and ran blocked pretty well and definitely protected well and scored a lot of points. We played a really good South Carolina team and they exposed some things for us as far as some pass protection issues. We just didn’t run it quite as well. We were running the ball better early on than I thought we could. Early on I just didn’t think we could run the ball that well. We’re still running it pretty good now – it’s not been awful by any means. I think we’re still effective at running the ball, but just not getting the big numbers and the big, long home run plays. I think they’re doing a good job overall considering where we started and where we are. I’m very thankful for the job Coach (Will) Friend has done, and I think it will only get better too in time. There’s not a senior in the bunch, and I think we’re going to end up being pretty good before it’s over.”
On having two former Georgia assistants on the current Auburn staff (defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder and secondary coach Wille Martinez . . .
“There aren’t many secrets out there in the college football world and the SEC world. First of all, every little bit of film that there is is given to each other freely. It’s just how we exchange film. It’s not like you can’t get film on anybody and study what they do. Are we different offensively today than we were back when (Brian) VanGorder was here? Yeah, we’re very different. Maybe not as different as when Coach (Willie) Martinez was here, but for the most part it’s changed a good bit, just as far as little things and the fact that Mike (Bobo) is calling the game and not me. There’s a difference there too. I think everybody gets enough information to put a good plan together and play good defense.”
On how Auburn could be winless in the SEC two years after winning a national title . . .
“I think the big thing is just our league itself. There is truly a very, very fine line between winning and losing. There are a lot of good teams in our league in my opinion that still might have a losing record in league play. You lose some close games and sometimes you win the close games. Sometimes you get a break here or there and you grab momentum, and it serves you well for the rest of the year, and sometimes you don’t ever find it. Obviously I’ve been coaching going into 12 years now, and it is a very fine line. Even the year we went 6-7, how much of a different team did we have than some of the teams that might have gone 10-2? Probably not a whole lot different. Not making a play here or making a bad decision there as a coach or the other team just making a play that day. It’s not all that mind-boggling to me because it’s just a really tough league.”
On how fleeting success can be in SEC . . .
“It’s a business where there’s a lot of people who are very passionate about what we do. Everybody knows football to a certain degree, but not everybody understands exactly what it takes to put a team together and to put a game plan together and try to get players in the right frame of mind to play every single week, and even as players to try to do it themselves. We’re all human and there are ups and downs. There are probably more variables in the college game than in the pro game because we are dealing with young people. It’s kind of exciting. It is kind of a roller coaster, and sometimes you do go up and down, and you just don’t know how close you might be to having a really good football team if you’re just patient for one more year. I think a lot of teams go backwards because they make changes when maybe they are on the verge of something good happening and then if you make change and you start over again, it’s hard for all the cumulative reps that you’ve had to all of sudden blossom. I would imagine it’s hard to try to figure out as a decision maker if that team is close or if they are not.”
On how he views the ups and downs of college football as a coach . . .
“I just think you know it’s part of the business. You just understand that’s the way it is and that’s why you have to keep believing in what you do. You have to keep grinding. You have to keep evaluating what you do, because if you need to make change, you need to make change. If you need to recruit differently or train differently in the offseason or try to do something different schematically, you have to always be looking for ways to get better on a yearly basis. But I think if you just totally abandon what you believe in and try to be something you’re not, then you’re done.”
On what it would mean to get back to the SEC Championship Game . . .
“I look at everything on a year-to-year basis. This is this season, what is our goal, what do I think we can accomplish? What kind of a team can we become? If we make it in 2012, then we accomplish what we set out to do in 2012. Have we reached our full potential as a team yet? I don’t know. I think at times we’ve seen the best of what we can do offensively and defensively and maybe even in kicking. But have we done it all on the same day? Not very often, and that’s still a goal for us to try to get to a point where everybody can play their best week in and week out.”
On Georgia’s defense . . .
“I envisioned a defensive team that was going to get after them like they’ve been getting after them the last two weeks. That’s for sure. Yeah, that’s been exciting for me to see it happening during the game, but even more so to go back and watch coaches’ tape on Sunday and just go, ‘That’s more like it.”
On the affect suspensions may have had on defense’s play . . .
“We never wanted to make excuses, and we still don’t want to make any excuses for what happened in the past, but if you have everybody from the very foundation of the spring and the offseason and the fall and the communication, obviously the more they play together, the better they are going to play and the better they’ll communicate and the fewer mistakes they’ll make. It has been a little bit of a juggling act, and we certainly know that either through injury or suspension, or sometimes something happens to a kid personally and they can’t be there, things happen. We know we have to deal with it. It’s part of coaching. We can’t expect a perfect ride and a perfect season where nothing ever goes wrong. It’s been our job to try to overcome it the best we can. I’m just glad that now it looks like everybody is really gaining confidence and everybody is playing with a lot of intensity. There are guys flying to the ball. We’re getting more turnovers because of it in my opinion. We’re just having more fun.”
On progress of redshirt freshman wide receiver Justin Scott-Wesley . . .
“Justin has a great opportunity. He was of course eligible to play this year; he wasn’t redshirted or anything, but he hasn’t had a lot of snaps. Sometimes guys will say I’m not playing this year so I’m just going to go over here and feel sorry for myself and wait until the spring. Justin has not done that. He’s come to work every day to improve. We watch film as coaches and his effort hasn’t gone unnoticed. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I think he’s going to play more than he’s played, and if you are in the game you could get a ball. We’ll call a play and we don’t know who it’s going to go to a lot of the time. It just depends on the coverage and the protection, so he may get his hands on the ball a couple of times and maybe something good will happen and give him some confidence too and give us more confidence in him.”
On the play of tight end Jay Rome . . .
“Jay has done well. He has gotten a few balls here and there. Our tight ends in particular I think are doing a good job. We haven’t really spent hours planning and figuring out ways to get the ball to our tight ends, but they are part of our progression. Sometimes they get it and sometimes they don’t when the ball is thrown to them. I think Jay is becoming a much better blocker as well. He’s getting pretty serious about becoming a good player. His production has been pretty good.”
QB AARON MURRAY
On the injuries at receiver . . .
“It’s tough losing those guys. Michael [Bennett] was our leading receiver in touchdowns and receptions I believe when he was injured, and then Marlon, he was having an unbelievable year and an awesome game. It’s tough losing both of those guys, especially because they’re so physical. Those are guys you can play on the weak side, in the slot, in both slots on the weak side. You can move them around, which was huge in our offense. I feel bad for Marlon, it being his senior year. It’s not the way he wanted to go out. But I know we have guys who can step up like Chris Conley, and Rhett McGowan and Justin Scott-Wesley. They’ve got to be ready to go.”
On Auburn’s defense . . .
“They’re going to come out and be pumped. It’s a 7:00 game, the crowd will be rowdy and we’ll be dealing with crowd noise. Those guys are playing for respect and they’re trying to ruin our season, so I know they’ll be excited. We’re definitely going to have to be ready to go and we know we have a huge challenge ahead of us.”
On Auburn’s season . . .
“In the SEC, teams are rarely consistently successful every single season – there are too many good teams. You are going to have up and down seasons. I don’t believe Auburn’s record reflects the talent they have on that team. There were only one or two games they didn’t play up to their potential, but every other game they’ve played really well. We have to be ready.”
WR TAVARRES KING
On Damian Swann’s play this season . . .
“He’s upped his level of play immensely. He’s a great corner. He’ll continue to progress and get better. He reminds me of an Asher Allen type corner. He’s always around the ball. It always seems to fall in his hands.”
On Justin Scott-Wesley’s chance to step up . . .
“I talked to Justin yesterday and told him it was time to step up. He’s gotta be someone we can depend on. He’s up for the challenge. Losing a guy like Marlon is huge to this offense and our receiving corps. Justin has come a long way since fall camp – he knows it’s his time.”
CB DAMIAN SWANN
On his role this season . . .
“I’ve improved a lot in terms of getting accustomed to the game speed and getting in the film room every week, and I think that comes with learning from the other guys and players that have played here before me. It really comes with the small things and being able to pick up on certain schemes throughout the course of the game.”
On what former players have influenced him the most . . .
“Once I got here I was behind [Brandon] Boykin, and that was one of the guys that I studied a lot. That was a guy that I learned almost everything from, outside of what I was getting from the coaches. I think that really helped me separate myself from some of the other guys.”
On the improvement of the defense as the season has progressed . . .
“We’re having a lot of fun. We’re winning and we’re playing the defense we know that we’re capable of playing, and that comes with taking things more seriously. We’re getting in the film room more, and practicing harder and really paying attention to detail. It comes with everybody doing their job and doing everything that we’re supposed to do.”
LB AMARLO HERRERRA
On Auburn’s struggles . . .
“When you have nothing to lose, you can throw everything you’ve got at the team you’re going against to try and upset them. That’s your main goal in that situation, to upset their season just like your season has been upset. You always have to play hard against a team like that because they’re going to lay it all out there.”
On the importance of setting the tone early . . .
“You always have to try and set the tone early. You have to come out and start quick, and set the tone fast so you won’t help them out in anyway. It’s very important for us to go out and play hard right off the bat so that we can set the tone for the rest of the game.”
On going against a freshman quarterback . . .
“You always have to get in a freshman’s face and put pressure on him so that you put him in a position to make bad decisions. I don’t think that freshmen really understand the game the same way that the veterans do, so we have to try to get in his face and confuse him so that we can rattle his cage.”