(transcript via SEC Media Relations) COACH RICHT: Of course, we had a big rival game last weekend against Georgia Tech. I think the guys did a really super job of preparing for the spread option, triple option. I thought our defense really did a good job. Offensively we seemed ready to go.
As a matter of fact, all of our phases of the game I thought really played a good game. I was happy to see that everybody could keep their minds on their business last week, and now we’re just starting to break down all the film. Coaches are busy trying to put together a plan for the guys.
We don’t meet today. We’ll meet with the players tomorrow.
CHUCK DUNLAP: We’ll start with questions for Coach Richt.
Q. After the loss to South Carolina, how did your team regroup and were able to win the rest of its games?
COACH RICHT: Well, first of all, South Carolina did a great job that day. We were at their place. They started hot. We just couldn’t stop the momentum. You got to give them a lot of credit, no doubt.
One of the things that happened was we had an open date the next week. 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 in the day 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.
We lost together, so we had to regroup together. We didn’t panic. We just went back to work.
Q. Mark, I think both quarterbacks are very similar, accurate passers, good leaders. Talk about how this game will come down to the support on both sides of the ball.
COACH RICHT: I think they’re No. 1 and No. 2 in the country in pass efficiency. They’ve both had great seasons to this point. Tremendous leaders for their programs.
No quarterback ever has success without the help of his teammates. So it will certainly come down to a lot of things. But the quarterback play, as we all know, is very crucial.
Guys can get in the middle of a game and make some great plays, but guys can get in the middle of a game, try to do too much, put their teams in a bad situation.
It’s going to be a matter of making good decisions, managing the situations as they go. I think everybody is going to have to be a little bit patient in this game. I think two really fine defenses playing. So it’s not going to be like everybody is going to have the ball offensively. Everybody is going to have to work hard to earn everything they get.
Q. Coach, would you assess Johnathan Jenkins’ ability to affect an offense from the nose guard position?
COACH RICHT: When you’re running a 3 4 it is key to have a big man inside that will force you to use more than one blocker on him in the run game. If he stays there in the passing game, his job is to push that pocket back into the face of the quarterback so when he tries to step up in the pocket there’s nowhere to go. You hope he’ll do that if he’s actually still in there in some of these passing yardage situations or certain formations.
He’s done a very good job. Kwame Geathers has done as well. Two big nose guards that can eat up a lot of space, force some double teams. We got some looks when we had both of them in the game at the same time, lost Abry Jones for the season.
You have to have some big boys inside to make it work.
Q. A key matchup will be against Barrett Jones. What is your evaluation of him?
COACH RICHT: He’s a fantastic player, obviously. You know, very versatile. All of a sudden he’s playing center when he was playing some tackle in the past. To have a guy like that, a senior leader, up front, right where you need him, right down the middle, is huge.
No doubt, he’s got the ability to block a big man like that because he’s a big man himself. A lot of centers aren’t quite as big as he is. I think it’s going to be an advantage for him to have a better chance to man up against a big nose guard like that.
Q. You are outscoring opponents in the third quarter this year. What explains that, and how big is that going into Atlanta?
COACH RICHT: I guess we’ve made some adjustments and played well coming out in the second half. I think a lot of it is the fact when we win the coin toss, we defer to the second half. We’ve gotten the ball for one more possession in the third quarter because we are the ones getting the ball first. We won a lot of coin tosses. We were getting the ball a lot in the second half.
As far as what it means for this game, I don’t know if it means a whole lot really. I think every single drive is going to be crucial. Every series is going to be very, very important.
I think it’s a game where, again, I know we feel we’re going to have to be patient offensively and understand that we are playing a defense that’s the best in the country, best in the league. We got to be able to be patient, bang away the best we can, look for opportunities to make plays.
Q. You touched on the quarterbacks ranking 1 and 2 in efficiency. Both teams have nice tailback tandems, overcome adversity at receiver. You’re getting going in your study for Alabama, but from what you’ve seen from them this year, do you see mirror images between these programs right now, similarities?
COACH RICHT: I think as far as how we approach it, there are some similarities. You mentioned a good many of them. We are running pro style attacks, running 3 4 defense. Quarterbacks, as you mentioned, that have been highly efficient, that have been around a little bit, played in some big games over their careers. Runningback tandems. All those things you mentioned, there are a lot of similarities.
One thing they’ve done is they’ve been national champions and we’ve not. They’ve been SEC champions and we’ve not during the timeframe of these kids’ careers. That’s the biggest difference I see right now.
Q. The 2008 game, when you think about the pre season No. 1, you were like third going into that game, the way the ’08 season didn’t go as well, then you had two years you didn’t like, now you’ve bounced back, did that game have a lasting effect on the program looking back?
COACH RICHT: Not that I know. You take one game within itself. The bottom line was we didn’t play well that day. We played a much better second half. I think we scored I don’t know in the second half, scored a good many, but not enough to overcome what had happened in the first half.
But we just got whipped obviously. I mean, I don’t think how it might have affected anything other than that day.
Q. Mark, did you ever find out what the deal was with Aaron after the game?
COACH RICHT: He told somebody he just wanted to hook up with his family. I don’t know if his family was going to try to drive home after the game because it was not a late game or what. I think he wanted to get out and spend some time with his family before they took off.
Q. Specifically looking at this game, a lot of people are going to focus on Gurley and Marshall. What are a couple of things you look at that makes it more capable of winning this thing?
COACH RICHT: Well, I don’t know. I think we’ve been playing pretty solid football on both sides of the ball. I think our special teams have been solid. Certainly not spectacular, but they’ve been solid. I think that’s what you got to do. You got to play a good, solid game. You got to be able to run the ball good enough to make your play action pass worth it, you got to be able to reduce some yardage on first or second downs. Defensively you got to be able to get after people and you got to be able to get in the red zone area and force some field goals instead of touchdowns. We are doing a lot of the things you need to do. We’ll have to wait and see what happens Saturday.
But we’ve been doing some of the things I think you need to do to play well.
Q. You have one ‘Bama boy on your staff. It appears he’s done quite a good job for you guys. Can you touch on Will.
COACH RICHT: Will has done a great job. He’s really taken a bunch of guys, when you looked at them in the spring, really we had a lot of work to do, had a long way to go. They’ve come a long way.
Again, I’m not going to sit here and say, and I’ve never said they’ve become a dominating bunch of guys. I think they’re a bunch of guys that know what they’re doing. They know who to hit. They get after it, play hard.
When linemen know who to hit and play with effort, it usually buys you enough time to throw a ball and get enough space to get a back started.
We’ve done a good job. Will has been a big, big part of it. I’m glad he’s on our staff.
Q. Speaking of similarities, have you had any time to reflect on the parallels of this season and 1980, Notre Dame waiting in the national championship game, this run of last season wins? Do you have any thoughts on that?
COACH RICHT: Not really. That’s really the first time anybody has brought that up to me. I can’t worry about all that stuff. We’re just working like mad trying to get a game plan ready to go this week. That’s all I can say.
Q. What do you see out of Alabama’s offense that is different that you haven’t seen from other teams that you’re concerned about?
COACH RICHT: Well, you know what, it’s still pretty early. We spend time knocking out the last ballgame that we just played. We have a staff meeting. We have a little family night coming up, going on right this minute, at 6:15. I talk to the special teams coaches about what happened in our game yesterday.
Hadn’t had enough time to study everything. A lot of people might be thinking I was watching a bunch of Alabama film last week, but I was getting prepared for Georgia Tech.
Q. I know Alabama has always recruited the state of Georgia, but have there been more of those in the last few years?
COACH RICHT: I think there is. There certainly has been lately. More so maybe in the last few years.
A lot of us in Auburn, a lot of us in Tennessee at one time. But now it just seems like it’s us, Auburn, Tennessee, Alabama, Florida, Missouri, now Texas A&M, everybody is coming from all over the place. There’s no secret now that the state of Georgia really produces an awful lot of SEC talent.
I believe even as early as a year ago there were more Georgia players on SEC rosters than there were anywhere else. Kentucky, Vanderbilt, you look at those rosters, they’re full of Georgia players. I think that’s part of the reason why we have these rival games. South Carolina, bunch of them.
We’re going to play all these teams that surround us. Then you realize that maybe 25% of their starting roster is Georgia boys. They get excited about playing the Dogs and put it to us. We have a bunch of that going on.
Q. Aaron has been playing at a different level the last several weeks. Do you do what you’ve been doing offensively or is this different with Alabama?
COACH RICHT: I think you try to do what you do. We’re not going to reinvent the wheel by any means this week. There’s got to be a patience level. Understand that it’s important at the end of every drive to have a kick. If it’s a punt, it’s okay. Punting’s okay.
We just got to make sure we’re not trying to do more than any play is set up to do. If something is there, we got to be able to hit it in the passing game. If it’s not, we got to be able to throw it away. We got to be able to manage the game well, be wise and patient.
Q. Has he tried to do too much sometimes in these big moments?
COACH RICHT: Well, I think all QBs want to make a big play in a big game. All players want to make a big play in a big game. There’s a time and place for everything. You have to understand when a play presents itself, then you make the big play. If it doesn’t present itself, burn the ball, get rid of it.
Q. Mike Thornton’s availability and injury this week?
COACH RICHT: You know how we do it, I’m meeting at 6:15, we have an injury report at that time, so I don’t know.
He got it sprained pretty good, I know that. Whether or not he’ll make it to the game or not, I’m not certain. My guess is if we were playing a game tomorrow he wouldn’t be able to do it, but we’ll see how he recovers.
Q. Ankle or knee?
COACH RICHT: I think it was an ankle.
Q. Other than Thornton, are you pretty healthy?
COACH RICHT: Well, I think we are. From the last game, we know we lost a couple receivers, Jones. That’s kind of been out there for a little while. But just from this game yesterday, I think that’s the only thing that I heard that could possibly become a problem.
Again, we’ll talk with Ron here in a little bit and get a better idea.
Q. You didn’t play Alabama last year. They had that awesome defense. They lost a lot of that personnel, now they’re back with one of the best defenses again. How do they do it? What impresses you the most about that defense?
COACH RICHT: Well, they’ve done a good job of recruiting obviously. They run a system that they believe in it. It’s very sound what they do. They do a good job of preparing those guys for the moment when they take over. That’s what you’re seeing right now.
Q. It seems they’ve been vulnerable to that no huddle approach. Is that something you can take advantage of?
COACH RICHT: Well, I don’t know if they’re vulnerable to that or not. When the ball gets snapped, you got to execute. I really haven’t watched all the film of all the teams they played. Sometimes you have to watch TV copy to get a feel for the tempo that you’re talking about. When you look at coach’s copy, you don’t see what kind of tempo an offense is playing, whether they’re huddling every down, going from the line of scrimmage fast or slow. There’s different tempos and paces. I like to watch a couple TV copies to give me a feel for those types of things. I’ll be watching a little bit of both.
Q. There’s a lot of relationships between the coaches on both staffs here. Does that add to the chess game element of schemes or subtract from it?
COACH RICHT: I’m sure it adds to it. We’re all very competitive guys. I mean, we all want to win. We all have competitive juices that flow. Everybody’s going to want to do the very best they can.
Sometimes when you know the guys across the way a little bit better than normal, it can add to it. Bottom line is, we’re both working like mad to get our teams prepared to go to battle. The best team will win.
Q. As far as the competition you have played this year, you haven’t had to play LSU, haven’t played at Alabama, and Texas A&M. They played two ranked teams, South Carolina and Florida. Do you feel your team is untested?
COACH RICHT: We’ve already played the No. 2 team in the country once this year and had a good day against Florida. We can only play who’s on our schedule.
We’ll be prepared. We’ll be well prepared. But they will, too. That’s why you kick it off and play. We’ll just have to see how it goes.
Q. As far as the adversity you’ve had to face, lack thereof, how do you feel your team will respond in this moment with the national championship trip perhaps on the line?
COACH RICHT: Again, all we can do is prepare our boys to get after it and play the best they can. We’ll see where it goes.
Q. Obviously at this point you’ve won multiple SEC titles, division titles. When you’re in a position like this, when this opportunity is on the other side of this game, what does this mean to you and what do you think this means to your career with the possibilities going on?
COACH RICHT: First of all, all you can do is, again, get your staff and your team as prepared as possible to go play a game. That’s what we’re going to do. If you think about what the game means, this, that and the other, it doesn’t really help you win the game. The only thing that helps you win the game is preparation and getting your mind ready to go to battle. That’s what I got to do, physically, mentally be ready to handle your business when the ball gets kicked off. That’s my only focus. I don’t really worry about all that other stuff.
Q. I know coaches are just in the moment week to week in terms of game plan. If you could take a little bit of a step back, how does it feel to look up and see Georgia back up there in the BCS rankings again at this time of the year?
COACH RICHT: It’s what you always hope for. It’s what you want. We know pre season rankings are for the fans. Where you’re ranked at the end of the year is the most important. The season is not over. There’s a lot of ball to be played still.
Just going back to the last question about my career, it’s not about me, it’s about Georgia, it’s about this program, this team, these young men, this coaching staff. I don’t worry too much about all the personal stuff.
But it is great to be in this position at this point. You fight like mad every year to get your team in a position like this. It certainly is a good thing.
Q. I know you’ve spoken before about how fragile winning is. A coach got let go today who won a national title a couple years ago. Given the way you finished off last year, what you’ve done this year, have you gotten any sense of you’ve figured it out, any sense of permanence?
COACH RICHT: The day I took the job, my goal was to be here till I retire from coaching. Like I said from the very beginning, I wanted to make Georgia my home. I wanted to make it a place where I could coach for the rest of my career. It’s a great place. Athens, Georgia is as good as it comes for family. University of Georgia has all the potential in the world to have great success.
I just don’t have a desire to do anything other than be here, be the coach here at Georgia. That’s been that way for the last 12 seasons. That hasn’t changed.
Q. Mark, a little bit of an unfair question. Alabama has lost three receivers for the season, you’ve lost a couple good ones, too. Have you seen much from what they have?
COACH RICHT: The one you notice is Cooper, obviously. He’s the leading receiver. He’s definitely the go to guy, the deep ball guy, made some wonderful plays. Some of the long yardage receptions have been just launching it out there deep and him making a play. He’s also caught a couple balls, shorter range balls, made people miss, has taken it to the house or had some big plays.
He’s very versatile.
They have a couple other guys that have been outstanding for them, as well. So, like you say, you have Norwood and Jones and Williams. All those guys are contributing at receiver. They do a great job. Let’s face it, they’re the highest team in the SEC as far as pass efficiency. They’re just ahead of us in that category.
We think we’ve been throwing and catching it pretty good, too. They’ve just been very impressive. To run the ball the way they do, be that efficient throwing the ball, they have to have a bunch of good receivers, and you can see it.
Q. Paul Johnson said earlier said this is the best team he’s seen at Georgia. Would you agree with that?
COACH RICHT: We’re playing good right now. We have a very good talent base right now. I think all of our coaches are working together well. We’ve had some continuity. We didn’t lose a coach in the off season. There wasn’t a lot of learning that had to be done by a new coach coming in to learn the Georgia way, for players to have to figure out a new assistant coach or coordinator.
I think that’s helped a good bit.
We’re playing good. But there’s a lot to be played left. I think we got to just wait a little bit before we decide how good this team is. We got ourselves in this position, we’ve been good enough to do that, so that’s a positive thing.
Q. Is anything different about the way you go about preparing for this year’s game compared to last year?
COACH RICHT: Because it’s a normal week of school and we have the 20 hour rule in play, we really can’t do anything different. We have it all planned out to the minute. We think every minute we use is very crucial, whether it’s strength and conditioning, meetings, practice time, whatever it may be. So if I change in one area, I’d be robbing one spot to give time to another.
We’re going to keep the same exact routine we normally do. I plan on being in shorts and helmets tomorrow, full pads Tuesday, shells on Wednesday, backs to shorts and helmets on Thursday. I believe we’re going to be in the Dome, I don’t believe we’ll practice on Friday, but we have to make an appearance on Friday. Other than that, it will be a normal week.
Q. How much concern is it going to be after back to back weeks preparing for the triple option to prepare for what Alabama does?
COACH RICHT: The one thing about playing that offense, it is a face the issue kind of offense. You must take on a blocker every single play. You can’t jump around the block. You can’t figure out a way to get an unblocked player to the play. Every single defender had a blocker to deal with and shed a block, go make a play. You had to be extremely disciplined in what you were doing.
It was a different scheme. But the habit of having to face the issue every play, having to deal with the blocker down after down after down, shed that blocker to try to go make a play, go pursue, things like that, I think in some ways it sharpens you a little bit.
Now the scheme is certainly different. We have to go back to playing a more conventional look. That will be a little bit of a challenge. I think it will probably come back to them pretty quick.
CHUCK DUNLAP: Coach, thank you for your time today. We’ll see you on Friday in Atlanta.
COACH RICHT: Thank you.