ATHENS Call it an ugly win or a gutsy one. Call the Georgia Bulldogs lucky or call them good. Chalk up the close calls as intense drama or fatally flawed performances.
The bottom line is, Georgia has three wins in its past three games, culminating with Saturdays final-second 20-17 victory over Arizona State, but even head coach Mark Richt isnt quite sure how to assess his team at this point, and the biggest concerns have all been self-inflicted wounds.
Id like to remove some of the drama if possible and just play a solid 60 minutes of football, but we just have not found a way to do that yet, Richt said. But thats coaching, too. Ive got to do a better job of getting these guys prepared. Its not only what I might say before the game or at halftime. Its what we demand of them throughout the week, and maybe we need to do a better job of that.
Just how much more the coaches can do, however, is hard for Richt to say. Georgia now ranks 115th out of 120 FBS teams in turnover margin, despite Richts repeated warnings of just how costly giveaways can be.
Perhaps the problem then is that the turnovers havent had the effect expected. Despite giving up 12 turnovers this season compared with just three takeaways, Georgia has managed to overcome the miscues to still escape with wins.
Its not a trend quarterback Joe Cox thinks can continue, but hes also at a loss as to how to negate the problem.
Its crazy because we talk about it every week that we need to cut out turnovers and penalties, Cox said. It just seems to be something that happens anyway. It gets frustrating. Im glad our defense bailed us out (against Arizona State). We left them in a couple tough spots.
Georgias offense has repeatedly left the defense with short fields, and 14 of Arizona States 17 points Saturday came following Bulldogs turnovers, including the second interception return for a touchdown of the season thrown by Cox.
Overall this year, opponents have scored 54 points off Georgias 12 turnovers, which doesnt include a safety by South Carolina following a special-teams miscue in which a snap sailed over the punters head and out of the back of the end zone.
The numbers would be even worse had A.J. Green not battled away a 37-yard field-goal attempt by Arizona State following Coxs second interception of the second half, preserving a tie and eventually giving the Bulldogs a chance to emerge with a win.
Youd like to think youd progressed some in the last three weeks, but I almost feel like were like that record that gets stuck, Richt said. The same thing keeps happening over and over again, but the good news is weve been winning.
Its hard to pin the blame for the turnovers on one player or one position.
All three of Georgias primary tailbacks have given up the football this season, including two fumbles by Richard Samuel a week ago and another by Caleb King against the Sun Devils. Richt said Kings fumble came after center Ben Jones fell into him on a run, knocking the ball loose.
Georgia has twice turned the ball over on special teams, with Prince Miller mishandling a punt when he ran into one of his blockers against Arkansas, and Branden Smith allowing the ball to slip out on a kick return against South Carolina.
Even Green, Georgias Superman through the past three games, has fumbled away the football once.
The problem is, if every one guy takes a turn, thats a whole lot of turns, Richt said of all the turnovers. Thats a whole lot of issues. Hopefully the guys who have had the issues, it wont happen again and well get it narrowed down here.
For all the fumbles, however, its Cox who has been Georgias biggest culprit. Through four games, Cox has turned the ball over six times, including five interceptions.
The senior quarterback threw two picks in the second half against Arizona State, both coming on the exact same play call. Cox said the Bulldogs ran the play just twice in the game, and Sun Devils safety Jarrell Holman intercepted Cox both times.
Obviously I need to be smart about where Im throwing it, and I dont think I was on those two plays, Cox said.
Of course, the final results thus far have more than made up for the occasional ugly plays during the game.
While figuring out whether Georgia is simply a good team with a nagging flaw or a flawed team with a lot of luck on its side remains a mystery to most observers, tight end Aron White said hes focusing on the silver lining.
Theres something to be said for a team that can shrug off its own mistakes and rebound on its next opportunity. So while the true identity of Georgias team may not be known, White said there should be little doubt about the Bulldogs character.
Last year, we might have gone in the ditch a little bit after turnovers, White said. This year, weve had some turnover issues early on, but we take it in stride and come out the next series with something to prove.