SEC: Mark Richt
The dislike remains as strong as ever, but the rivalry has lost some of its luster since Mark Richt became Georgia’s coach in 2001. The Bulldogs (9-2) are 12-1 against the Yellow Jackets (9-2) under Richt, and it will be an upset if they lose this week. Richt’s tenure is full of close games, however, and it wouldn’t be much of a surprise to see another hotly contested matchup between the two rivals.
ESPN football writers Matt Fortuna and David Ching break down the classic ACC-SEC rivalry below:
Key to victory for Georgia: Sure, Tech is more versatile on offense this season, but the No. 1 task in beating the Jackets is slowing down its option rushing game. Tech ranks third nationally with 327.9 rushing yards per game. Tech is better at passing -- Georgia learned that lesson the hard way last season -- but the Jackets won’t bother putting the ball in the air if their running game is moving the chains and eating clock. Georgia has to keep Justin Thomas, Synjyn Days and Zach Laskey on the sidelines as long as possible.
X-factor for Georgia Tech:Georgia Tech's offense is typically capable of beating you with its arm when you least expect it, but this year's outfit can do some serious damage in the passing game. Thomas has surprised everyone under center, and a big key to that has been his favorite target: DeAndre Smelter, a 6-foot-3, 222-pounder who is second in the ACC in yards per catch (21.0).
X-Factor for Georgia: It’s not only on the defensive front to slow down Tech’s running game and keep the Jackets’ offense on the sidelines. If the Bulldogs’ offensive line gives freshman sensation Nick Chubb (161 carries, 1,152 yards, 11 TDs) room to run and quarterback Hutson Mason can put together some long scoring drives, that would be another way to neutralize what Tech does best.
Fortuna’s favorite moment from the rivalry:It's not every day you lose the passing game battle by a 407-19 margin and still win, but that's exactly what happened to Georgia Tech in its 2008 trip to Sanford Stadium. The Jackets beat Matthew Stafford, the No. 1 pick in the following spring's NFL Draft, 45-42 behind 409 yards on the ground. It was coach Paul Johnson's first game in the rivalry, and his team came back from 16 down at the half to pull off the upset and break a seven-game losing streak in the series. It is Georgia Tech's only win in the rivalry in the last 13 years.
Ching’s favorite moment from the rivalry: I covered this game nine times and there were plenty of memorable moments on the field: Tony Taylor, Paul Oliver and Mohamed Massaquoi’s heroics in Georgia’s 2006 comeback win; the “We Run This State” game where Georgia backs Caleb King and Washaun Ealey combined for 349 rushing yards in 2009; a wild 2010 contest that Georgia eventually won 42-34; last year’s double-overtime classic where Tech broke out to a 20-0 lead and the Bulldogs rallied back to win 41-34. But the moment I remember most probably also came in the 2008 game. It was when beloved radio announcer Larry Munson -- who had retired earlier that season -- made his final appearance at Sanford Stadium and Georgia’s fans chanted the 86-year-old legend’s name during an in-game ceremony honoring his four decades as the Bulldogs’ play-by-play man. It was cool to see the fans show their appreciation to a man who had enriched their lives for so many years.
His plan worked like a charm, as the Bulldogs stuffed Auburn's rushing offense in their 34-7 win on Saturday, allowing the Tigers to leave with just 150 rushing yards. That was the second-lowest output of the season by Auburn, and its lowest in conference play.
"Most of our defenses were designed to try to stop the run, and that was it," coach Mark Richt said after the game.
When facing a Gus Malzahn offensive attack, there's never really a clear answer on what to do. Honestly, you hope for Auburn to make a mistake. But under the bright lights of Sanford Stadium, the Dawgs imposed their will on an Auburn offense that registered Malzahn lows in points (seven) and total yards (292).
Georgia forced seven third downs with 5 or more yards to go, and held Auburn to just 17 total first downs.
Richt said there were some formations implemented to defend the pass, but for the most part, Georgia's defense was set up to take the run away, which in turn took Auburn's offense away. Instead of letting quarterback Nick Marshall, the offensive catalyst, hurt the Dawgs with his legs on the zone-read, they made sure to force the give on the read as much as possible. That meant the Bulldogs could stack the box consistently with someone setting the edge and taking Marshall out of the play.
"We emphasized keying in on them and running up field to set the edge," linebacker Lorenzo Carter said. "That's what Coach Pruitt really put a big emphasis on this week in practice, and we hunkered down and made plays."
Marshall walked away with only 153 total yards and zero touchdowns, while the Bulldogs strutted away with arguably their best defensive showing of the season. Richt described the play of his defense as "up and down" this season, but the constant has been that it's improved in some way just about every week.
For as young as this defense is in spots, it has continued to evolve under Pruitt, who is in his first year as Georgia's defensive coordinator. Of course, this defense would like to have the South Carolina and Florida games back, but the reality is that it takes time with a new coordinator to gel with players in his schemes. When you look at the overall statistics, Georgia's defense has been impressive for most of the season. Putting everything together? Well, the Dawgs finally did that against a top-notch offense Saturday.
"Matchups don't mean anything," cornerback Damian Swann said. "If we go out and do what we do every play, week in and week out, we can be very good, we can be one of the best in the country."
ATHENS, Ga. -- In what was supposed to be a rousing homecoming for Todd Gurley, the Georgia Bulldogs' chilly, late-night celebration felt a little more subdued after their star went down in the fourth quarter.
Gurley's late-game knee injury, which came with Georgia's dominating win over Auburn well in hand, has many wondering if the Bulldogs will yet again have to move on without their best player.
"You never want to see a guy like that go down," cornerback Damian Swann said of Gurley's injury. "We know how much that guy means to our team. … Hopefully, everything will be OK and he'll be back."
For now, Gurley's prognosis is unknown. Coach Mark Richt didn't have an update on the junior after the game, but expects him to take X-rays on the knee soon.
The hope is that Gurley, who rushed for 138 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries in his first game back from his four-game NCAA suspension, will be fine, but if No. 15 Georgia (8-2, 6-2 SEC) has to continue without him for any amount of time, it's clear that this team is more than prepared for such a challenge.
Before the game, Gurley stalked the field during warm-ups, as cheers bellowed throughout Sanford Stadium whenever his face appeared on the scoreboard. You got the sense this would be a storybook comeback for the former Heisman Trophy favorite.
And we almost got it when he took a kickoff 100-plus yards for a touchdown, only to have it called back because of a penalty.
That's how Gurley's return went, but it didn't hurt the Bulldogs one bit. Not with true freshman Nick Chubb -- who more than filled in for Gurley during his four-game absence -- playing out of his mind, and Jeremy Pruitt's defense executing a near-flawless game plan.
With Gurley more the appetizer than the main course, Georgia turned Auburn into a cupcake on a frigid night between the hedges. The Deep South's Oldest Rivalry was hardly close, as Georgia scored 34 straight points after Auburn's opening drive.
Like the Bulldogs had done in three of their past four games, they found ways to dominate opponents without Gurley leading the way. And that's not taking anything away from Gurley, but it was clear he was rusty after not playing in a game in 42 days.
As Gurley slowly regained his football legs, Chubb chugged away to 192 total yards, including a game-high 144 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns. He bounced and bullied his way over the 1,000-yard mark for the season and continues to play at superhuman levels despite his age.
"Once he gets a little bit of a head of steam up, I tell you it's just so difficult to get him down with just one person," Richt said of Chubb, who has now rushed for at least 143 yards in each of the past five games. "You see it all the time, guys are just bouncing off of him. You can go low, and you're going to get punished down there, too. He's about as strong as Todd is. ... Guys don't like to go high or low on those guys because they are like a little locomotive going through there."
When Chubb wasn't rambling through or around Auburn's overmatched defense, Georgia's own defense was slowing down one of the SEC's most explosive units. Entering the night, Auburn ranked second in the SEC with an average of 506.9 total yards of offense per game, including an SEC-high 286.44 rushing yards.
Against the Bulldogs, Auburn totaled just 292 yards of offense and 7 points -- the lowest in either category for Gus Malzahn as Auburn's head coach.
A defense that a couple of weeks ago was gashed for 418 rushing yards by Florida made Auburn look nothing like, well, Auburn.
"Coach [Pruitt] put together a great plan and after we executed it, it was hard for those guys to do anything," Swann said.
This was supposed to be a barn burner, but Georgia pushed Auburn around in every phase of the game, showing it has the talent to hang with any of the top teams. When this team is clicking, watch out.
Georgia is now 2-0 against the SEC West, and a Missouri slip away from heading back to Atlanta for the SEC championship game.
But that's where frustration sets in for the Dawgs. Their life is in the hands of a Missouri team they waxed on the road by 34. A Missouri team that has been incredibly inconsistent on offense and lost at home to Indiana, yet just walked out of College Station with a shootout win over Texas A&M.
Georgia needs only one Mizzou loss to get to Atlanta, but after losses to South Carolina and Florida, the Dawgs can only hope.
It's a shame with how well this team has played outside of those two blunders, but if the Dawgs find a seam to Atlanta -- and maybe even the playoff -- quarterback Hutson Mason likes his team's odds.
"The one thing about this team that's special about it is we get better every single game," Mason said.
"When you have a team like that, that's pretty dangerous, because you're gaining a lot of momentum and you're improving every week and you're gaining a lot of confidence. We have a lot of that right now."
With an assist from ESPN’s Stats & Information group, here are four key storylines to watch on Saturday night.
Gurley’s return: ESPN’s Football Power Index shows Auburn has a 50.3 percent chance to win on Saturday, so this is truly a pick-’em game. The main reason for those even odds is that Georgia running back Todd Gurley will be back in the Bulldogs’ lineup after serving a four-game suspension for accepting money to sign memorabilia.
Freshman Nick Chubb was phenomenal as Gurley’s replacement, ranking 10th in the FBS in rushes per game (25.5), fourth in rushing yards per game (167.8) and tying for fifth with 17 runs of 10-plus yards during his time as the Bulldogs’ starter.
But former Heisman Trophy frontrunner Gurley brings an entirely different level of production to the offense. In case you forgot, here is what the junior star had accomplished before Georgia coach Mark Richt benched him prior to the Missouri game.
Not only is he a home-run threat -- Gurley (8.2 ypc) is on pace to become the third SEC player with at least 100 carries in a season to average at least 8 yards per carry, joining Arkansas' Felix Jones (8.7 in 2007) and Auburn's Brent Fullwood (8.3 in 1986) -- but he also possesses a remarkable ability to make something out of nothing.
That’s where the veteran Gurley truly separates himself from freshman Chubb. On runs where he is hit at or behind the line of scrimmage, Gurley still averages 4.0 yards per carry, where Chubb averages just 1.0. The average against Power Five opponents on such carries is 0.5 ypc.
Efficient Tigers offense: This isn’t just the Todd Gurley Show, however. Auburn’s offense is every bit the machine that Georgia’s is.
According to ESPN’s team efficiency rankings, Auburn has the third-most efficient offense in the FBS, trailing only Oregon and Baylor. Georgia is fifth.
That’s largely because of quarterback Nick Marshall -- a former Georgia cornerback -- Cameron Artis-Payne, Corey Grant and the other Tigers’ abilities on outside runs. On runs outside the tackles, Auburn leads the SEC in rushing yards per game (149.1) and runs of 10-plus yards (49) and is tied for the lead in touchdowns (13).
That’s an especially interesting matchup on Saturday because of Georgia’s problems against outside runs, particularly in its upset loss to Florida. The Bulldogs are allowing 6 yards per carry on runs outside the tackles (third worst in the SEC) and surrendered 392 rushing yards outside the tackles combined in their losses to Florida and South Carolina. In Georgia’s seven wins, they allowed a total of 364 yards on runs outside the tackles.
Will Georgia pass?: Largely because of its success running the ball, Georgia hasn’t shown much interest in putting the ball in the air. The Bulldogs have run on 62 percent of their offensive plays, and probably won’t alter that philosophy much with Gurley back in the lineup.
It might be a good idea for Hutson Mason to let it fly a bit more often, however. Auburn’s passing defense has been spotty at best in the last four games -- particularly last week, when Texas A&M freshman Kyle Allen tossed four touchdown passes in the first half of his SEC starting debut.
The Tigers have been especially atrocious defending receivers after completions, allowing 150.8 yards after the catch this season, the most of any SEC defense.
Mason (140-203, 1,515 yards, 15 TDs, 3 INTs) has been the definition of a game manager at quarterback, but Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo might need Mason to complete a few more passes this week and see if wideouts Malcolm Mitchell, Chris Conley and Michael Bennett can make something happen after the catch.
Tigers’ turnover trouble: Auburn coach Gus Malzahn spoke of attempting to shake things up in practice this week in an effort to get the Tigers off to a better start.
The Tigers turned it over on their first offensive play in both of their losses this season (to Mississippi State, where it actually lost turnovers on its first two plays en route to an early 21-0 deficit, and last week against Texas A&M, when the Aggies led 35-17 at halftime) and lost five fumbles in their games against Mississippi State, South Carolina and Texas A&M.
Auburn has allowed an SEC-high 35 points off turnovers in its last four games and has a 2-2 record in that period. During their 5-0 start, the Tigers did not allow any points off turnovers.
Georgia is tied for the SEC lead with a plus-13 turnover margin, which is fourth nationally, and has outscored opponents 62-6 off turnovers. Only Arizona (three points) has allowed fewer points off turnovers than the Bulldogs.
With his suspension taking four games away from him and there not being any guarantee Georgia would be crowned SEC East champs or make the College Football Playoff, ending his Bulldogs career and getting a head start on his NFL training would have been a very viable option. In fact, he probably wouldn't have received a ton of backlash because he's putting millions on the line by stepping back on the college field for the Bulldogs.
But Gurley didn't want to go out like that. After putting himself before his team and taking $3,000 for autographed memorabilia and other items over the course of two years, Gurley is now putting his team ahead of his own eventual personal gain in an honorable move to play out his junior season.
“No matter what people were telling him, it showed that Todd had something in his heart where he cares about others and cares about these guys and he cares about finishing off right.”
Gurley certainly wasn't the same team guy when he broke NCAA rules and accepted money for his likeness, but he's served his time away from the field and he's coming back. It's a more respectable exit for a player who has meant so much to his university in the last three years.
But is it risky? You bet.
It's obvious this is Gurley's last year on campus. He's arguably the nation's best running back and, despite missing four games, could still rush for more than 1,000 yards after accumulating 773 before his suspension with a ridiculous 8.2 yards per carry.
For his career, Gurley has 3,147 rushing yards, 35 rushing touchdowns, 17 100-yard rushing games and a career average of 6.5 yards per carry. He's too good and too accomplished not to head to the NFL early, but his return this season comes with caution, especially if there's nothing really to play for after this weekend's bout with Auburn.
We've seen players return to college after more than proving their NFL worth and suffering physical or statistical setbacks. The recent news of former South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore's sudden and unfortunate retirement from football before even playing an NFL down had to have spooked Gurley, who is risking millions by playing out his Georgia career.
Lattimore was arguably the nation's best running back while he was at South Carolina but suffered two devastating knee injuries that his body never fully recovered from. Freak accidents and injuries happen all the time, but it only takes one.
Still, it sounds like Gurley never considered taking the easy way out.
“It may have crossed his mind, but he didn’t act like it was crossing his mind," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "He wanted to be with his teammates from the very beginning.”
And after previously putting his team second, Gurley should be commended for playing instead of souring his squad's season and his own legacy. Georgia can still win the SEC East, and the Dawgs have an outside shot at the playoff. Having Gurley with them makes them legitimate contenders for both, again.
"I think he’s a guy that is a very good teammate who made a mistake," Richt said. "He cares about his teammates, he cares about his team and he loves playing football for the University of Georgia.
“And he can’t wait to do it again.”
Tennessee coach Butch Jones and his family tried to have some pleasurable non-football time during the Volunteers' off week but couldn't quite pull it off. The family went to a dinner on Saturday night with a no-cell phone policy but before long, Jones discovered them all checking their phones under the table for college football score updates. "I think we're kind of a messed-up family," Jones joked. That story could probably apply to a lot of coaching families across the county. When in a demanding, high-profile position like Jones is, it's hard to unplug, even for those around the coach whose lives are affected by his career.
Mississippi State might be the No. 1 team in the College Football Playoff rankings, but oddsmakers see them as an underdog. The Bulldogs don't seem to be bothered by the label. This is a big-time "prove-it" game for this program. Two years ago they also went into Tuscaloosa undefeated and left with a convincing defeat that sent their promising season south. Now they are eyeing a different ending, with the stakes much higher this time around.
Around the SEC
- Leon Orr, who left Florida's team on Saturday before its game vs. Vanderbilt, tweeted remorse about his decision. Gators coach Will Muschamp says "nothing has changed."
- Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said star receiver D'haquille Williams is "week-to-week" after suffering a knee injury Saturday.
- An ongoing civil suit filed against Denzel Nkemdiche and Robert Nkemdiche could stretch into next year.
- The Twitterverse broke down the crucial Nick Marshall/Cameron Artis-Payne fumble that Texas A&M recovered in the fourth quarter of its upset win.
- Alabama linebacker Reggie Ragland said strangers have seen his rear end more than he has after he was pantsed vs. LSU.
- A unique map showing where college football means the most in the United States.
Evan Boehm says he took a campus trip with his younger brother, Tyler, to "that school on the other side of the line that I will not name."— David Morrison (@DavidCMorrison) November 11, 2014
Boehm: "I did not wear any of those God-awful colors." But he did want to help his younger brother through the recruiting process.— David Morrison (@DavidCMorrison) November 11, 2014
As is often the case, the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry will impact the SEC divisional races. It’s the rematch of last season’s “Miracle at Jordan-Hare” when Ricardo Louis caught the game-winning touchdown pass off a deflection from two Georgia defenders. It will be former Georgia cornerback and current Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall’s first game back in Sanford Stadium since Mark Richt kicked him off the team after the 2011 season.
And in case you hadn’t heard, Saturday night’s game will mark the return of Georgia tailback and former Heisman Trophy front runner Todd Gurley.
Bama is still alive but needs work: It wasn’t pretty, but Alabama’s playoff hopes are still intact after the Crimson Tide survived a thriller in Death Valley 20-13 in overtime. Despite a critical T.J. Yeldon fumble in the final minutes of regulation, the Tide were able to hold LSU to a field goal then benefited from a special-teams miscue as Trent Domingue booted the ensuing kickoff out of bounds. Blake Sims came up big by directing a game-tying drive then threw a picturesque pass to DeAndrew White for the game-winning touchdown in overtime. With No. 3 Auburn losing on Saturday, Alabama looks poised to move into the top four of the College Football Playoff rankings, and with No. 1 Mississippi State coming to town next week and the Iron Bowl in three weeks, the Crimson Tide control their own destiny. One thing is clear though: They can’t make the mistakes they did Saturday if they’re going to win out. Sims has to be better in the earlier portions of the game (he missed some open receivers), they can’t drop the football (Amari Cooper had one in crunch time) and surviving a late turnover like the one they had Saturday is hard to replicate against elite teams. They were fortunate to win Saturday; now they must turn the page and improve before the Bulldogs come to Tuscaloosa.
No hangover for Georgia: If you thought the Bulldogs were going to let the upset loss to Florida affect them moving forward, think again. Mark Richt’s crew responded emphatically, jumping out to a quick three-touchdown lead in Lexington and rolling to a 63-31 win over Kentucky. Georgia had success in all three phases, rolling up 559 offensive yards, holding Kentucky to 139 passing yards on 16 of 31 attempts and scored two special-teams touchdowns -- a kickoff return (90 yards) and punt return (59 yards) for scores by Isaiah McKenzie. Nick Chubb had another great performance at running back (13 carries, 170 yards) and Hutson Mason threw for four scores. The Bulldogs still need help from Missouri in the form of a loss, but they’re still very much alive in the SEC East.
Treon Harris can throw it around: Last week, the Florida quarterback attempted only six passes versus Georgia but on Saturday, the Gators trusted their true freshman more and Harris delivered, completing 13 of 21 passes for 215 yards. There were no touchdown passes, but more importantly, no interceptions and Harris was accurate and showed off his deep ball with this 59-yard beauty to Quinton Dunbar. Harris did solid work on the ground, too, rushing for 49 yards and two touchdowns in Florida’s 34-10 win over Vanderbilt. The Gators need to continue to win and need help from others, but they still have a pulse in the SEC East race.
Kevin Sumlin can still pull a rabbit out of his visor: Texas A&M was a 23-point underdog going into Jordan-Hare Stadium, lost its past three SEC games, had a true freshman quarterback, a beat up offensive line and a defense with a lot of youngsters starting. All the Aggies did was jump out to a 35-17 halftime lead and hang on for dear life to upset the No. 3 team in the nation in its own house. Sumlin’s Aggies pulled off a similar stunt almost two years to the day when they went into Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and took down the No. 1 Crimson Tide 29-24 behind freshman quarterback and eventual Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel. Is Kyle Allen (four touchdown passes) the next star quarterback in Aggieland? It’s too early to say but he had a memorable performance on Saturday at Auburn and he gives the seemingly left-for-dead Aggies some reason for optimism in the final weeks of the regular season. Sure, Auburn made a lot of mistakes, but Texas A&M played better than it had in more than a month, showing flashes of the team that started 5-0 this season.
Here's an advance look at Saturday's slate. All times Eastern.
No. 20 Georgia at Kentucky, ESPN: Georgia had a clear path to the SEC East title before its face-plant last week against Florida. Not only did the Bulldogs lose to a program that was flatlining, but they were beaten handily. Kentucky has lost three straight and seems to be in the middle of a late-season fade after getting off to a 5-1 start, but Georgia frequently struggles in Lexington. It wouldn't be a huge surprise if this game remains close in the second half.
Texas A&M at No. 3 Auburn, CBS: In the last month, some of the shine has come off of Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin's diamond. The Aggies started October ranked sixth in the Associated Press Top 25 before a three-game losing streak dropped them all the way out of the poll. Thanks to their recent offensive struggles and underwhelming defense, they're a three-touchdown underdog as they travel to Auburn. Sumlin could prove a lot about his leadership skills by pulling the upset -- or even keeping this one competitive. They have the offensive firepower to give Auburn's defense problems, but freshman quarterback Kyle Allen still has a long way to go.
Tennessee-Martin at No. 1 Mississippi State, SEC Network: This is another well-timed FCS game. The Bulldogs limped past Arkansas 17-10 last weekend when Will Redmond picked off a pass at the goal line in the closing seconds. This will be a good opportunity to rest up in advance of a closing stretch that features road games at Alabama (where Mississippi State almost never wins) and Ole Miss (home-field advantage is typically a big deal in the Egg Bowl). The Bulldogs need to be as close to 100 percent as possible to retain that No. 1 ranking.
Florida at Vanderbilt, SEC Network: Florida and Vandy both cruised to wins last week. The Gators' win came against then-No. 11 Georgia and the Commodores' victory was over Old Dominion, which is in its first true season as an FBS program. Florida ran straight over Mark Richt's Bulldogs, providing a rare happy moment for embattled coach Will Muschamp. Surely the Gators will try to turn this trip into the second installment of the Matt Jones and Kelvin Taylor Show. Vandy has played better since redshirt freshman Johnny McCrary took over at quarterback -- he tossed five touchdowns last week against ODU -- but the Commodores are still underdogs to notch their first SEC victory.
No. 5 Alabama at No. 16 LSU, CBS: The conference's marquee game comes Saturday night at Tiger Stadium, where meetings between Nick Saban's Crimson Tide and Les Miles' Tigers have all become instant classics. Alabama has won two of those three meetings in Baton Rouge -- and three straight in the series -- so it enters as the favorite. However, LSU's young roster has finally seemed to settle into place as the Tigers ride a three-game winning streak. If they can move the ball effectively on the ground against Alabama's SEC-best run defense, this could be another memorable installment in the series.
Hope sank at the bottom of the St. Johns River after Florida shellacked the once 11th-ranked Dawgs 38-20 in the World's Largest Outdoor Surprise Party. I'm not sure any cocktail could really lessen the pain Georgia fans, players and coaches must be feeling after watching that absolute debacle at EverBank Field Saturday.
Florida manhandled the Dawgs up front on both sides. Florida threw the ball six times, but ran for 418 yards and averaged 7.0 yards per carry. And Georgia's offense was bottled up for most of the day.
Not even Todd Gurley could have saved the Dawgs.
Unfortunately for Georgia fans, they've seen this before. Too many times, and it makes you wonder why "Georgiaing" hasn't caught on among the masses like "Clemsoning" has.
Yet again, when everything looked so secure and simple for the Dawgs, they lost a game that should have been theirs inside a season that put everything in front of them and for the taking. With the East so bad this season, Georgia appeared to be the clear favorite after winning five straight following a 38-35 loss to a South Carolina team that has fallen asleep at the wheel ever since.
If you've kept up with Georgia fans in the past few days, they're livid. It's a despondent, frustrated fan base that is once again directing much of its ire toward longtime head coach Mark Richt.
Once again, his coaching has been called into question. Even with eight double-digit-win seasons and two SEC titles during Richt's 14-years in Athens, the Bulldogs have lost too many of these games and never played in the BCS title game, despite being stationed in one of country's most fertile recruiting areas and owning some of the nation's most talented teams year in and year out.
With two teams ranked inside the top five in 2002 and 2003, Georgia lost to inferior Florida teams both years. In 2004, his third-ranked Dawgs lost to No. 19 Tennessee at home. There were the back-to-back losses to Florida and Auburn in 2005 after starting the season 7-0. In 2007, there was the first loss to South Carolina and a rout by Tennessee.
We saw 6-7 in 2010 and a blowout loss to LSU in the SEC title game in 2011, thanks to mistakes ruining any chance of an early lead expanding. In 2012, South Carolina routed the Dawgs in October before Georgia came up about 5 yards short against Alabama in Atlanta. Last season brought five losses, including one to Vanderbilt, for the preseason East favorite.
A lot of players have played in these losses, and Richt has coached all of them, so I understand fans' frustration with him. Big-game losses and inexplicable losses are sprinkled throughout Richt's tenure, and it's incredibly agonizing for fans. It doesn't help that all of this has happened when the East has been incredibly weak.
With ample opportunities to take the division by storm, the Dawgs have found ways to lose. Since Urban Meyer left Florida and Tennessee's continued to struggle with reaching relevancy, Georgia has zero SEC titles, and with the East hemorrhaging this season, the Dawgs are in trouble of missing out on a trip to Atlanta.
It's easy to call Richt out, but it's been a collective collaboration by the Dawgs. Defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, who appeared to have most of the holes on this defense sown up before Saturday, stood in front of the media and took the blame for the Gator gashing, but neither he nor Richt were out there getting thrown around by Florida linemen. They weren't the ones missing tackle after tackle or getting pushed over with ease.
Richt isn't the one limited in what he can do throwing the ball. Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo has been ridiculed for years by Georgia fans, both justly and unjustly, but neither he nor Richt got blown off the line by Florida's pass rush. They are the ones developing these guys, and have to be held accountable, but there also comes a point where the players have to accept blame and outrage.
Remember, linebacker Ramik Wilson said players "underestimated" Florida. That's on everybody.
The underachievement is real. Georgia is a top-10 job surrounded by platinum talent, but for whatever reason, this program has been held back from breaking through to achieve consistent championship success.
No matter who you point the finger at, it's baffling.
2. The other big SEC game from this past weekend came down in Jacksonville, Florida, where Florida stunned No. 11 Georgia. It might have saved Will Muschamp’s job, at least for the time being, but what’s it say about this Georgia team? The Bulldogs had everything in front of them and still came out and laid an egg. On Sunday, Travis Haney asked the question, is Mark Richt underachieving? It’s a fair question. He’s won a lot of games (132), but in 14 seasons with Georgia, he hasn't won a national championship and has won two conference titles. The SEC East is still in play even after Saturday’s loss and with it, a chance to win the league. But don’t expect the Dawgs to get back in the playoff race.
3. It’s never too early to start looking ahead, and though Saturday’s Alabama-LSU game isn’t the colossal matchup it’s been in years past, it still looks like it will be a dandy. LSU is playing better each week, and with Auburn’s victory at Ole Miss, the Crimson Tide control their own destiny again in the SEC West. Three of the past four regular-season games between these two have been decided by less than a touchdown. It’s always fun, too, when Nick Saban goes back to Louisiana. But how about what Les Miles has done since Saban left? Not bad. He can be quirky, but his players sure do love him. They showed that when Miles’ mother passed away the day before LSU’s victory over Ole Miss.
Tweet of the day
Injuries part of the game we love to play, god has a plan for everyone & with that plan come obstacles. Keep your faith & jump the hurdle!— Laquon Treadwell (@SuccessfulQuon) November 2, 2014
2. Tennessee offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian echoed Volunteers coach Butch Jones' prediction that senior quarterback Justin Worley will not be available Saturday against South Carolina. Maybe that won't be such a bad outcome. Sophomore Josh Dobbs offered reason to believe he might be the Vols' quarterback of the future with a strong performance off the bench last Saturday against Alabama. But the Crimson Tide had not prepared for the youngster. South Carolina will have the entire week. He might be the X-factor in Saturday's game at Columbia. Or for the superstitious Gamecocks among us, maybe it will be South Carolina's uniforms. South Carolina will wear black jerseys and black pants on Saturday for the first time since losing 24-14 to Florida in 2009.
3. Georgia (6-1, 4-1 SEC) is clearly the favorite to win the SEC East, but Missouri (6-2, 3-1) can still make some noise if the Bulldogs fall into any sort of slump. The Tigers haven't played particularly well lately, but they have only one conference loss as Kentucky (5-3, 2-3) prepares to visit on Saturday. Both teams will be looking to get back on track for the stretch run. Perhaps Mizzou quarterback Maty Mauk found his stride last week against Vanderbilt after several rocky games in a row. Meanwhile, Kentucky needs just one more win to achieve bowl eligibility, but it hasn't won a true road game since the 2010 opener. Not the greatest sign, particularly since its previously productive running game has underperformed lately and coaches are questioning whether they should use fewer backs in the regular rotation.
Around the SEC
" The State asks how South Carolina's disappointing season might impact its 2015 recruiting class.
" Formerly suspended safety Jermaine Whitehead does not appear close to returning to Auburn's starting lineup.
" Derrick Henry is leading an unusually thin group of Alabama running backs this week in practice with an open date ahead.
" LSU is focused on cleaning up its mistakes from last Saturday's Ole Miss game with Alabama ahead next weekend.
" John Kadlec, better known as “Mr. Mizzou” after serving the school as an athlete, coach, administrator and broadcaster, died Wednesday at age 86.
Tweets of the day
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- The ginormous question surrounding Georgia's football team after news broke of Todd Gurley's suspension has been whether the Bulldogs could win without arguably the nation's best player.
Well, after two games sans Gurley, who still leads the SEC with 773 rushing yards, the Bulldogs haven't really needed him. In two convincing wins -- on the road, mind you -- the Dawgs have put the running game squarely on true freshman Nick Chubb and he's, well, run away with that responsibility.
"Nick's gonna be special. We know that," senior cornerback Damian Swann said. "Right now, he's taking on a very big load and he's handling it well. ... You've seen him on the past two Saturdays. He's got a bright future in Athens."
Unfortunately for the SEC, the future is now, and Chubb has been amazing filling in, especially with how much he has played. In the past two games, Chubb has carried the ball 68 times, eclipsing 30 carries in each outing. Gurley has never even carried the ball 30 times in a single game at Georgia.
After carrying it 38 times for 143 yards at Missouri, Chubb turned right around and ran 30 times for a career-high 202 yards and two touchdowns. How good was that? Chubb became just the third freshman in Georgia history to rush for more than 200 yards in a game (Herschel Walker, Rodney Hampton).
Chubb has five touchdowns and is eighth in the SEC with 569 rushing yards.
"He's taken the majority of the carries and it doesn't seem to faze him," quarterback Hutson Mason said. "The guy's a special cat. He's got to be the best freshman running back in the country. You give it to him 20 or 40 times and it just seems like he's going to keep pounding it. It's awesome."
That's all fine and dandy now, but it certainly begs the question. With Gurley out and running backs Keith Marshall and Sony Michel nursing injuries, are the Bulldogs running their young thoroughbred, who already had thumb surgery, too much? Does the colt need to take some plays off and rest his body with Gurley's return uncertain?
"He's built for it," coach Mark Richt said. "He's very, very tough physically and mentally. He's strong. He came from high school in Cedartown [Georgia] where they're just tough. They coach tough. Their offseason's tough. He didn't get babied in high school at all. He was not one of those guys where you could sit there and say he was given anything because he was a very good football player. He had to earn it every day in practice and every offseason workout."
The bye week will certainly help any sort of fatigue Chubb has, but with the way he has played in back-to-back weeks -- remember: On the road -- I don't know if another game would slow him down. He looked like he was shot out of a cannon on his 43-yard touchdown run midway through the second quarter on Saturday, and then he just went back to bulldozing guys for the rest of the game.
If he needs a rest, he isn't showing it.
"It's super impressive because that guy's durable," wide receiver Chris Conley said. "He doesn't complain, he does what he's told and he puts his head down and grinds for the team."
Players aren't surprised at how well Chubb has played. They saw the chiseled snapshots of him running track in high school before he enrolled. They saw him pulverize teammates during offseason drills. They watched him lift, cringed as he squatted ungodly amounts and saw the pain he inflicted during practice.
This was what the Bulldogs expected, and they haven't missed a beat without Gurley leading the pack.
"We know how special that kid is," Swann said.
Yes, and so does the entire country.
Speaking of up-and-down quarterbacks, Missouri's Maty Mauk knows the feeling. He had a solid start to the season but had a dismal day in a 34-0 loss to Georgia last week. After a five-turnover performance against the Bulldogs, Mauk said he's aware of the criticism from some fans, who wanted Gary Pinkel to yank him, but it doesn't faze Mauk. Pinkel said it never crossed his mind and offered a vote of confidence to the quarterback, saying "He's our guy." Mauk and the Tigers will have a chance for redemption when they head to The Swamp to take on Florida. The Gators know firsthand that Mauk can play after going for 295 passing yards against Florida last season.
The Todd Gurley autograph saga continues. Georgia officials met with NCAA officials in Indianapolis on Thursday and gave us an update -- in the form of no real update. In a statement, Georgia said "there is no news at this time and no further comment necessary." An NCAA spokesperson did note that it is awaiting a request for reinstatement from Georgia. If the Bulldogs are to make such a request, they have to resolve any issues surrounding his eligibility before doing so. For what it's worth, coach Mark Richt tweeted early Thursday morning that he's "not anticipating [Gurley's status] to change this week."
Around the SEC
- So where did Bo Wallace's game ball from the Alabama game go? Follow its journey.
- Former South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia said he saw players take money for autographs "all day, every day."
- Nick Chubb isn't the only freshman making an impact at Georgia.
- LSU's running game poses a big challenge to Kentucky's defense.
- Tennessee's beat-up backfield hoping to step it up this week.
- Nick Saban talks about Alabama's offensive line issues.
Nick Saban smiling. pic.twitter.com/7Cz5NhKalb— TexAgs (@TexAgs) October 16, 2014
The same can be said for the maturation and development of Georgia's defense, as communication has been the key to the vast improvements we have seen in the last couple of weeks.
Since closing the month of September by allowing 401 yards of offense and 32 points in a three-point win against Tennessee, the Bulldogs' defense has been outstanding the past two games. Georgia held Vanderbilt to 320 yards and 17 points, then went on the road to shutout Missouri, allowing -- wait for it -- 147 yards. Yes, the Bulldogs, who were dealing with the emotions of not having top player Todd Gurley, went into a hostile SEC environment and completely shut down the Tigers.
"The communication in the back end is getting better and better," Georgia coach Mark Richt said about the defensive improvements. "I just think they’re understand more what [defensive coordinator] [Jeremy] Pruitt wants back there, and they’re just doing a good job of getting each other on the same page."
Pruitt, in his first season at Georgia, hasn't been afraid to constantly change things up this season, as Georgia has displayed six different starting defensive lineups in six games. But what has remained constant is the goal to get tighter, more concise communication throughout the defense. The evolution of that has helped players know exactly where they should be and where others should be, defensive end Sterling Bailey said.
What has been so great about a more talkative defensive unit is that even when plays get called wrong or offenses throw some shifts or motions out there, guys are moving together in order to be on the same page. Players are starting to learn how to change at the last minute together.
"You’ve got to be able to make adjustments on the fly," Richt said. "If you don’t, you’ll get exposed."
Through the first four games, Georgia's defense was allowing an average of 338.8 yards per game, 4.7 yards per play, 22.8 points per game and had three interceptions. Take out that 66-0 win against lowly Troy, and yards per game increases to 379.7 yards, and points per game shoots up to 30.3. South Carolina and Tennessee averaged 6.2 and 5.1 yards per play, respectively, against the Bulldogs.
Since then, the Bulldogs have given up 233.5 yards per game, 17 points, 4.2 yards per play, and the opponents' third-down conversation rate decreased from 31.7 percent to 10 percent. Georgia also has five interceptions.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, opponents' points per drive against the Dawgs is down from 1.65 through the first four games to .65 in the past two.
Players are evolving within the defense, but they are also using their words more to make things work. They are asking teammates and coaches more questions. Guys are getting calls right more often. The Dawgs are now performing well, both physically and vocally.
"We know that when we communicate, we execute," Bailey said. "When we don’t, things fall apart.
"It’s helping us learn his defense a lot better."
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema, who has the pleasure of facing Georgia's improved defense on Saturday, has been very impressed with the improvements made under Pruitt, because Pruitt has been able to mold his defense around the talent of the players he has. There is no 'square peg, round hole' in Athens.
"He’s built a scheme there at Georgia that fits his personnel there," Bielema said.
It has only been two games, but Georgia's defense is thriving and generating a ton of momentum for a second-half push. Saturday presents the task of stopping an Arkansas offense averaging 278.7 rushing yards per game and 6.2 yards per carry. That sounds intimidating, but Bailey said this unit isn't worried about numbers anymore. It's concerned with talking itself into a dominating frenzy each week.
"We are not taking any steps back," Bailey said.
12:00 PM ET South Carolina 21 Clemson 12:00 PM ET 16 Georgia Tech 9 Georgia 12:00 PM ET Kentucky 22 Louisville 3:30 PM ET Florida 3 Florida State 3:30 PM ET 4 Mississippi State 19 Ole Miss 4:00 PM ET Tennessee Vanderbilt 7:45 PM ET 15 Auburn 1 Alabama