HURT: Richts plan against Tide is to stay calm
Mark Richt is a cool customer under most circumstances, but on Sunday he was able to explain how his Georgia football team bounced back from what could have been a crushing defeat and made it to Saturday's SEC championship matchup against Alabama.
The Bulldogs lost to South Carolina 35-7 in late September in a game that could have defined a season, but now has the possibility of being a historical footnote.
If Georgia wins in the Georgia Dome against Alabama and advances, as the winner is expected to do, into the BCS Championship Game, it will match the record for the worst loss ever by an eventual BCS Championship participant. Oklahoma advanced to face LSU in the 2003 BCS title game despite losing to Kansas State, also by a 35-7 margin.
Richt, while complimenting his team's maturity in coming back from the defeat, also pointed out that, despite losing to the Gamecocks, Georgia never had to take the field wondering if they were still in the hunt for an SEC title.
"One of the things that happened was we had an open date the next week," Richt noted. "They played and got beat the week of our open date. By the time we played the next week, we played a night game, they played an earlier game and they lost again. By the time we played again, we were already back with the ability to control our destiny.
"That helped a lot. We knew it was just one game. We also knew that everybody was responsible for that. It wasn't like the offense had a bad day or the defense had a bad day or the special teams had a bad day and everybody else pulled their weight. It was one of those days where we all didn't do a good job, including the coaches."
The schedule helped. Florida's self-destructive play in the East Division's decisive game helped. But Georgia did regroup and win six games in a row, apparently peaking at the right time with a roster loaded with talent.
That stretch has put the Bulldogs into their biggest game as a program since Herschel Walker was toting the ball. Richt, though he notes Alabama "has won national championships and we haven't" in recent years, said their approach this week will be based on confidence.
"I think you try to do what you do," Richt said. "We're not going to reinvent the wheel by any means this week. There's got to be a patience level. We have to understand that it's important at the end of every drive to have a kick. If it's a punt, it's OK. Punting's OK.
"We (have) just got to make sure we're not trying to do more than any play is set up to do," he added, keeping his cool demeanor. "If something is there, we (have) got to be able to hit it in the passing game. If it's not, we've got to be able to throw it away. We've got to be able to manage the game well, be wise and patient."
"Wise and patient" are ironic words in a league that may have five coaching vacancies by Tuesday morning, but that has been the approach at Georgia in the Richt administration, and it has worked in every way short of the national title.
Alabama may well continue that streak. It may replicate the dominant start of the last meeting between the two schools, a 2008 blowout win for Alabama in Athens. But whatever happens, don't look for this Georgia team to react with panic.
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Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or 205-722-0225.