ATHENS — It’s only the third game of the season. It’s not a division opponent. Yet, Georgia head coach Mark Richt seemed to be setting the stakes pretty high for Saturday’s game against No. 12 Arkansas.
“We have a very big game this week. I don’t know how big a game can get, but this is big,” Richt said. “We know that and our coaches know it, our players know it, I think the Bulldog nation knows it. It’s big.”
Last week at this time, most figured that the next two games would have a huge effect on the rest of Georgia’s season: Two wins would set the Bulldogs on a collision course with Florida for the SEC East title, a split would leave things status quo, and coming up empty would be near-disastrous.
After a listless performance at South Carolina last Saturday, the Bulldogs are approaching the worst-case scenario.
In the days after the loss to South Carolina, fans ran to message boards and talk radio to verbally jump off cliffs. Some players said there was a lack of effort at South Carolina, with safety Bacarri Rambo even accusing himself of “loafing.”
But Richt had a different impression. He said the coaches actually add up loafs, and that didn’t stand out.
“I don’t think there was a lack of effort,” Richt said. “If anything, a guy might have gotten tired from the heat and maybe not subbing as freely as we wanted to or should have in a couple of instances, but nothing real flagrant in that area. We got knocked back. That was the biggest problem, we got knocked back.”
Meanwhile, Richt’s two coordinators were still dealing with questions regarding the South Carolina loss — and the fixes they were making for Arkansas.
Both coordinators pointed out that it wasn’t all negative for their units: Mike Bobo pointed out that the offense kept the penalties and turnovers low, with one notable exception. Todd Grantham cited his defense tightening up in the second half, adding that he was “disappointed” with South Carolina’s late final drive.
The offense only produced six points, the least against South Carolina since 1904. Georgia had 253 yards of total offense and only 61 on the ground.
“Our whole goal going into this year was to reduce the penalties and not give the game away by turnovers,” Bobo said. “Despite how the game went last week, obviously it wasn’t how we wanted. But you’ve still got a chance there to tie the game at the end if we don’t turn the ball over. You just gotta keep playing.”
Richt had said he wanted to “open up” the offense more for freshman quarterback Aaron Murray. But Bobo sounded unsure.
“I don’t really have the answers on how you’re gonna open it up with him,” Bobo said. “Just allowing him to make more plays, I guess, would be the answer.”
Grantham thought the defense’s struggles were “a combination of a couple things,” including a lack of physical play.
“That’s more to me of a mentality,” he said. “That’s a toughness thing. I think we’ve got guys that want to do it. We’ve got to show guys how to do it, and work to get the job done.”
Grantham did add that Tuesday was a “spirited” practice and hoped it carried into Wednesday.
Richt, ever the optimist, took that approach earlier in the day.
“There’s a lot of things we need to do. Everything’s correctable,” Richt said. “I think our guys will be very anxious to play.”