Richt, Bulldogs preview Auburn game
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Richt, Bulldogs preview Auburn game

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Photo: John Kelley/UGA

ATHENS, Ga. – Georgia head football coach Mark Richt, along with several players, addressed the media on Tuesday ahead of Saturday’s game against SEC rival Auburn at Jordan-Hare Stadium. They offered the following comments:

Head Coach Mark Richt

Opening statement…
“Looking forward to playing Auburn this weekend, playing for the 119th time. That’s a lot of ball games. I know both teams would like to take the lead in that series. I know that’s our goal.

I want to talk a little bit about their offense under Coach (Gus) Malzahn, and of course, the whole team is under Coach Malzahn, but he’s right in the middle of that offense. Right now they’re averaging 27.1 points a game, 379 yards per game, 188 of it rushing, 190 passing. That’s as balanced as you can get. They’re very up tempo, very creative in a lot of the things they do, a lot of plays that create confusion and create big plays for them.

One interesting stat they have, I think they lead the nation in fumbles lost. They’ve only lost two fumbles all year long. That’s a tremendous job they’ve done. I think the first three games they started out minus five in the turnover ratio, and since that time they’re now plus 10, so that’s a 15-point swing in that category. So they’ve done a great job of taking away the ball and securing the ball. They really look like they’re hitting their stride to me. I watched them on TV this weekend after our game, and just came out guns blazing and really look like they’re hitting their stride, as I said.

Another interesting stat I read, since Coach Malzahn has been there, they’re averaging 23 first downs a game, which is a massive amount of first downs. They do a great job of winning first and second down, reducing that yardage on third down and converting third downs.

Talk about some of their players, at the quarterback position, whether it’s Sean White or Jeremy Johnson, I don’t know for sure. Jeremy obviously started the last game and played most of it. He’s got 600 — I think it’s 640 yards passing and 133 yards rushing, six touchdown passes, and he’s 5-1 as a starter. Pretty significant stat right there. Sean has thrown for over 1,000 yards, done a very nice job of moving their offense over the last few weeks. I’m not sure if he’s healthy or if he’ll play or not. I guess we’ll find that out as we go. (Peyton) Barber has 850 yards rushing, averaging 92 yards a game. I think he’s fourth in the league. He’s got 12 touchdowns. Very impressive for him. (Jovon) Robinson has got 274 yards rushing, just kind of hit the scene as of late, six foot, 230-pound. Both backs, 225 and 230, guys that can pound the ball. Very impressive there. Their No. 1 receiver is Ricardo Louis. He’s got 36 catches, 563 yards, averaging over 15 yards a catch. No. 2 in that category is Marcus Davis, 16 catches. Melvin Ray has got 15 catches. Melvin and Ricardo both are over 6′ 2, 215-pounders, big, physical receivers. They’ve got three returning linemen up front, and they’re all averaging — they average over 300 pounds. There’s a couple just under 300 pounds. But very athletic guys up front. So they do a great job on the offense.

Defensively, under Coach (Will) Muschamp, giving up 27 points a game, 430 yards a game, 191 rushing, 239 passing. That was kind of before Carl Lawson got back, and I know he’s only played two games, but since he’s been back, they’re only giving up 18 points a game. So I think his presence is being felt already. I know it takes more than one guy to play defense for sure, but he’s a guy that is very dynamic as a pass rusher and run stuffer and everything else that you’d want in a guy playing that position. So they’ve got him back healthy.

Some of the standouts, in their secondary, Johnathan Ford is leading the team in tackles, 96 tackles. He’s actually got 194 career tackles. They have four guys that are over 100 tackles in their career, and Johnathan is one of those, No. 23, 6-foot, 203-pound junior. Jonathan Jones has also got over 100 tackles in his career. 113 career tackles. He’s fourth on the team with 53 tackles, and he’s first on the team with nine pass breakups; No. 3, Jonathan Jones. At the linebacker position you got Cassanova McKinzy in the middle. He’s No. 1 on the team for tackles for loss. He’s No. 1 on the team for sacks. He’s No. 1 on the team for quarterback hurries, and he’s third on the team with tackles with 59; but 6’3, 255, senior. He’s got 248 career tackles. So he’s played a lot of ball, doing a great job there. And then Kris Frost, No. 17, has also got a lot of tackles in his career, 225 career tackles. He’s No. 2 on the team with 74 and playing really good.

And then up front they’ve got a bunch of guys they rotate, Montravius Adams, about 300 a pounder; (Dontavius) Russell, just under 300 pounds. They’ve gone (Maurice) Swain. They play (Devaroe) Lawrence up front. That’s the two inside guys, the two edge guys. (DaVonte) Lambert and (Carl) Lawson they have. Also (Byron) Cowart and (Dontavius) Russell play a good bit as well. So just really do a good job of rotating those guys around.

In the kicking game Daniel Carlson is having an unbelievable year. He’s 18 for 21 on field goals. His longest is 56. I’m pretty sure he leads the nation with field goals made over 50 yards. He’s got four of those. He’s made the last 12 in a row. On kickoffs, he’s had 35 touchbacks. There’s an interesting statistic they have in the kickoff coverage and the punt coverage is they’ve only given up 10 kickoffs all year and only four punts have been returned on them all year. And that’s No. 1 in America, with the least amount of kicks returned, kicks and punts returned combined. So they’re doing a super job on placing the ball in the right spot as far as their punter and their kicker and also doing a great job of covering those kicks.

Kickoff return, (Johnathan) Ford and (Kerryon) Johnson combine for around 29 and a half yards per return. They’re fourth in the nation in that category. They’re second and third in the Southeastern Conference as kick return men. And their punter, Kevin Phillips, is averaging about 42 yards a punt, and has had 17 that have been fair caught and 13 inside the 20, which is pretty impressive, and that’s why they’re not returning many because he’s forcing fair catches with the height that he gets on those punts. And then their punt return man, Marcus Davis, averages 7.3 a return.

So that’s the report on Auburn. It’s certainly going to be a great challenge for us to go to their house. I guess the third time in four years. But it gets very loud there. You could see on TV copy the teams that are playing them at their house having a terrible time trying to get off on the snap count. And we gotta work hard on that, be able to get that ball snapped and get off on the snap.

And then they’re just — they’re playing with a lot of confidence that I see right now. So it will be a great battle. We’re looking forward to it, and with that I’ll open it up for comments, or questions.”

On his team’s mindset and if he plans to stick with the ‘wild dog’ formation…
“Well, first of all, I think the mindset of the team is pretty healthy right now. I think that they handled last week well. I mean I don’t know what everybody thought the entire time through, but I saw how they acted in practice and meetings, even — you know, when you — we have a lot of — what’s the best way to say it? We have a lot of expectations academically, to be a certain place on time, to be prepared, to make sure you’re going to class, making sure you’re taking care of your business. If you happen to have a discipline run for missing something or whatever, you know, guys are there, they’re on time. You know what I mean. So it wasn’t — I didn’t see a lot of guys going and starting, well, I’m not going to class today or I’m not going to study hall today or I’m not going to — if I happen to miss something, I’m not going to just say, I’m not going to my discipline run or whatever it is. So I think everybody handled that well. I thought they practiced with a purpose.

I think in the game, you know, our big thing in the game was to really and truly focus on what we’re responsible for and then try to encourage everybody else, and I saw a lot of that from the team. I saw a lot of it from the coaching staff, because in some ways we are all we had, you know, that day, to a certain degree. Not to belittle our fans. I mean everybody was at the Dawg Walk. It was fantastic. The students were there; it was fantastic. The fans that were there, considering the weather report and what’s been going on, I was really happy and thankful for what our fans did. But kind of all week long we tried to just say, hey, let’s focus what’s happening in this building, on this practice field, try to take care of all your responsibilities academically and then when it comes time to play the game, let’s do it together. And I was pleased with that. And the message this week is, you know, we can’t let up. We gotta build on this past week. We can’t go backwards. We can’t relax in any way, shape or form. We gotta keep the sense of urgency to get better. And that’s the greatest focus this week.

The wild dog, wildcat. We call it the wild dog. It was effective in a lot of ways. Of course, that first touchdown we hadn’t had in a while. Thankfully that thing opened up so big we were able to fumble it, pick it up and still score.

But that was not the only play that had success. Between Sony and Terry, they did a nice job there. He Terry Godwin) handles the ball well, and he played a little bit of that kind of thing in high school, a little bit of quarterback in high school. So it was kind of natural for him.”

On Auburn’s offensive approach…
“Well, they’re more of a — they will spread you and they’ll go fast, but a lot of teams that spread and go fast want to throw it, or throw little bubbles and all that kind of thing. They want to spread you out and still pound you with power game runs, you know. It’s not just zone red here and there. I mean they’re running power. They’re running a lot of things that they’ll pull linemen and fold them up inside. They like to run the ball in a very physical manner, and when you got a guy like (Jeremy) Johnson, who’s a big man, who can be that guy who can run those types of plays, you add a blocker to the scheme. In a system more like ours when our quarterback hands the ball off, and he might fake a bootleg or this or that to try to hold somebody at bay a little bit, and we do some zone read, too, but not as much as other teams, or quarterback — we don’t do a lot of quarterback run. That’s really why we’re doing more of the wild dog stuff because that gives us the same type of thing. The only problem is, you know, Sony Michel is not a threat to throw the ball with a cast on his right hand, you know. Terry (Godwin) could be a threat to throw it to a certain degree, but not like Johnson who can run and throw. And he is truly their quarterback running their system. So that’s the advantage of that.

But it is — you know, the thing about teams that have a QB run or even the wild dog, wildcat kind of thing, somebody’s gotta defeat a block. First of all, you gotta be gap sound. Everybody’s gotta be where they’re supposed to be, but the reality is they’re going to have a hat, a blocker for just about everybody in the box, if you keep a safety deep. So the only unblocked guy you got is a deep, one-high safety. So somebody’s gotta whip a block. You can’t go — we use the term you can’t go one for one on a block because they’ll run all day. So somebody’s gotta win. Somebody’s gotta win.”

On if he still talks to his team about goals…
“Yeah. Right this minute Auburn being Auburn and us being Georgia is enough, in my opinion. And that’s what we’re focusing on. We’re focusing on getting ready to play one well of a football game versus a team that’s going to have a tremendous fanbase ready to get after us, you know. It’s going to be a war; it’s going to be a battle. And if you’re a competitor, that’s usually enough to spark your blood, you know, get your blood pumping.”

On comparing the 2011 Georgia team to this year’s team…
“Yeah, we talked a little bit about that, and we probably — I don’t know if it was 2006, not that our guys remember 2006, but you could — I think 2006 was the year we started out like 5-0. Then, I think we lost 4 out of 5. And you know, the sky was falling and all that kind of thing. And then we battled back to beat, I think, No. 5, Auburn. Georgia Tech was a ranked team. Then we ended up playing Virginia Tech, who was a ranked team in a bowl game. I think we were down 18, 21 points, something like that, at half, came back and won it.

Just sometimes things don’t go the way you want in life, and so what are you going to do? You got two choices. Are you going to quit? Are you going to cry or are you going to fight and are you going to do it the right way? And we tend to grow through adversity, and we tend to learn a lot about ourselves as a person when things are tough. And those are the kind of things that we talk about. You know, not only football lessons, but life lessons, too, because the reality is all those guys are going to run into some things down the road that are going to be tough, and they gotta figure out, what do I do now. It’s just going back to what I said a week ago, when I talked to the team, I was like, all you guys know how you feel in this room, but maybe you don’t know how to act right now. We’re going to try to help everybody know how to act, and that is to stay positive, stay together, fight like mad and turn the thing around. So that’s what we’re working on.”

On comparing the two Auburn quarterbacks…
“Much more threat of a QB run with (Jeremy) Johnson. Johnson seems more demonstrative. He’s more of a guy that’ll just kind of get pumped up emotionally. I don’t know if I see the exact same with Sean. Not saying he’s not excited about playing, but there’s a little different body language there. He seems a little bit more controlled in what he’s doing. But both of them got plenty of arm to do the things they want to do in the passing game. I think Johnson just got started off, it just was a rough start. And they felt like they needed to make a change, and they did, and to Johnson’s credit, he didn’t go in the tank and just say, forget this, you know. Even I heard his comment after this last ballgame when they were interviewing him. No, I was actually listening on the radio, and I heard his interview after the game and when they’re talking about who’s going to start next week and all that, he said, “I just want what’s best for Auburn.” And I think the guy meant it. So there’s a lot of credit to those guys that have been the guy and then they’re not the guy and then they get another chance. But he probably wouldn’t have been ready for this last ballgame if his attitude went in the tank, if he decided he wasn’t going to work hard, if he decided he was mad or bitter. Sounded like he didn’t do that. Sounded like he just kept banging away, kept fight for his team, kept fighting away with his teammates and had a great performance.”

On how QB Greyson Lambert’s experience at Virginia helped prepare him…
“He’s been great. I was bragging on Jeremy Johnson over there, but Greyson’s been the same way. Faton’s (Bauta) been the same way. I told the story about Faton somewhere along the way, but he gets the chance to start; it doesn’t go the way he wants. We change back to the Greyson-Brice combination, and instead of going in the tank, the guy says, well, maybe I can go to the scout team and help us win by giving a good look as a free safety back there. And whenever I get a chance to get offensive reps, I’ll just come on over and get offensive reps, but when I’m not getting offensive reps, instead of standing around, I could go there and help the team. That says a lot about a person. Very impressed with all of our QBs and how they’ve handled everything to this point.”

On why Trenton Thompson did not play much last week…
“No. I think it’s more of his ankles. We thought he could play, but we didn’t want to go the whole game with him if we could help it. Try to keep him going and learning and getting better and all that, but also try not to put too much stress on his ankles. He’s getting better. He’s still not 100 percent, but he’ll be practicing and he’ll be ready to play. That’s not just him in general, but that’s part of the reason why we went inside yesterday, just for the whole team’s sake, to have one more day of rest without, you know, just getting on it and moving, changing direction fast and all that kind of thing. If you’re an offensive lineman or defensive lineman, every day there’s helmet and shoulder pads on, there’s contact and there’s pressure put on your joints and put on your ankles, so we were trying to have a day yesterday where we could get some mental things done, but not so much physically.”

On Georgia’s last trip to Auburn and the miracle play that ended the game…
“That would have been the greatest comeback in the history of Georgia Football. It actually was. We were down 20 in the fourth and came back and took the lead. So we did erase the deficit. But we lost the game, obviously, on that ball they launched out there. But I mean that one, I mean I literally — I mean I hit my knees and then I my chest hit on the ground, I was like, what in the world is going on. But gosh, you see so many of those — I mean the very next time they played, the game against Bama, what happened there; and then what happened at Florida State and Georgia Tech and what happened to Michigan and what happened to — how about Arkansas/ Ole Miss?

I mean unbelievable stuff that happens, and it just seems to happen in college football more than the pros; just wild stuff. But that’s why everybody loves college football, man. You hate to be on the other end of it, but, you know, just like even this year, Ole Miss one time Chad Kelly is getting hit in the mouth and just launches it up in the air and bounced off somebody’s head and the guy catches it for a touchdown, and it helps them win the game. Then it looks like they got a stop, the guy flips it over his head and then lands into one guy on the whole team that could probably outrun the defense. He gets a first down. Then he tries to give it away at the end of that run. I don’t know if he thought it was the last play of the game or what, but he’s lateraling it back and trying to find a way to lose it. Then they go for two and get sacked, but there’s a facemask, get another shot. I can’t imagine the emotion that everybody was going through at the end of that one. I was watching it just thinking it was wild as a fan, but I can’t imagine being a coach of either one of those teams and not have a heart attack.”

On TB Sony Michel…
“He’s always been a very well-grounded person, I think, very mature guy, hard worker, just team guy, all those kind of things, but the one thing I think that’s maybe a little bit different is just the physical nature of being the lead back and not only being the lead back, but continuing to run what we run, you know, the lead, which is a physical, inside run. Sometimes it bounces, cut back, whatever. The power, physical, inside run. Obviously we got our outside plays as well. And he’ll run routes and catch the ball in space and all that. So his role has changed to be — he’s running a lot more reps, but he’s probably hammering it inside a little bit more than he would have been if (Nick) Chubb was around. And I think he’s taken to it pretty darn good. Alright. Thank you all.”

Senior ILB Jake Ganus

On the play of the defense against Kentucky…
“I think we played pretty good and we’re starting to play some good ball. We just have to keep building off of that and just continue to get better. This is a good time to peak and start getting better, so we just need to keep building off that and get some momentum going.”

On the Georgia-Auburn rivalry…
“I know it’s one of the oldest, if not the oldest. I know (the record) is 55-55-8. They’ve been playing football a long time around here and around there, so this rivalry goes back really far. Obviously it’s dead even so it’s been an evenly-matched rivalry, so we’re looking to gain an edge on Saturday.”

On Georgia’s last trip to Auburn…
“I was on an airplane home (with UAB’s team) from Marshall. I remember that very, very specifically. We were about to take off when Georgia had just scored to take the lead. When you take off you can’t watch TV. Once we got into the air, the game was over and Auburn had won. We were all freaking out, we didn’t know what happened. Once we all got to see the highlights, we didn’t get to see it live so it was weird how that happened, but I do remember that.”

On using the last game at Auburn as motivation…
“It hasn’t really been talked about. I think that game’s probably one of the toughest games to be a part of, especially for the Georgia players. It hurt me, and I was in no way a Georgia fan at that time. Just to lose like that, on a play like that, that’s tough. I know that all those guys that were there are going to want to get that taste out of their mouths, but for me I’m just trying focus to do the best I can.”

Senior DE Josh Dawson

On Auburn’s offense…
“It’s a lot of misdirection. You have to play assignment football when you’re playing Auburn. You just have to do your job, not try to make anything outside the normal. Just do your job and good things will happen. That’s what we’re going for this week.”

On the difficulty with facing Auburn’s offensive scheme…
“It’s about the same (difficulty). You’re going to get your quarterback runs, you’re going to get your gap runs and everything, but just doing your job and keeping your eyes on your keys, it’s just like every other game. It’s a pretty normal game for us.”

On what the team has left to accomplish…
“Just pride, just playing Georgia football, ending the season how we want it to end. This season has had a lot of ups and downs, but some things you can’t control. These last three games we can control with how we want to finish. As a senior you want to come out a winner, and that’s something we talk about.”

On the ending of the last game Georgia played at Auburn…
“Nobody saw it coming but it was a lesson learned for us. That’s all life is about- lessons learned. Hopefully it won’t happen again.”

Senior TE Jay Rome

On if he pays attention to the SEC East vs. the SEC West…
“To be honest I didn’t even know what the record was. We just look at every game as another opportunity to come out and play and try to get better and try to get a W. We’re just going to try to come out and execute the game plan and try to put another W in the win column.”

On the Georgia vs. Auburn game in 2013…
“We try not to really talk about it. I feel like we made a really good push in the fourth quarter and just a play went up that happened and we couldn’t really do anything about it. I wasn’t at the game because I was injured at the time. I didn’t make the trip, but I watched it on TV and it was definitely a really tough thing to watch. It’s over and in the past and we really don’t think about it anymore. We just have to work on what we have to work on for this year.”

Sophomore TB Sony Michel

On the Wild-Dog formation…
“It’s almost like getting a handoff. It’s just a direct snap, there’s no real difference. You’re still running the ball so there’s no real difference.”

On if he’s concerned with the SEC Easts’ performances against the West this year…
“It’s not really that much of a concern. We just look at it as another SEC opponent and another team that we are about to face. We’re going in with the mindset that we are just trying to get the victory.”


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