ATHENS -- One of Mark Richt’s celebrations was premeditated, and there was no way it could be a disappointment. The other one was spur of the moment, and didn’t go as well. Not that the once-beleaguered Georgia head coach cared.
Before Saturday’s 19-10 win over Kentucky, with the SEC East title on the line, Richt told his Georgia football team that if they got him a win, he was going to find wife Kathryn and plant a kiss on her on the field.
Richt followed through with the display of public affection, on the Georgia sideline in front of thousands of cheering fans. It was a heartfelt moment, a culmination of good feelings after so many rough times the past few years.
It was a different story a few minutes later, when the doors to the locker room closed, Richt encountered a wet plastic tarp. He reacted by taking a dive across the room. It wasn’t as fun as a kiss.
“He went running full-belly out,” linebacker Christian Robinson said. “He went from here all the way to the other end. Ask him about his ribs.”
“I don’t think I broke any ribs, but I might’ve,” Richt said. “It did hurt, and I couldn’t breathe for awhile.”
There were times during Saturday’s game that Georgia fans might have had similar breathing problems, as they saw their team struggling against woeful Kentucky, a 30-point underdog.
The Bulldogs were sputtering on offense, their backfield gutted again by injury and suspension. They had failed to take full advantage of four Kentucky turnovers in the first half.
But riding their stout defense and doing just enough on offense proved to be enough to clinch Georgia’s spot in the SEC championship game. The 13th-ranked Bulldogs will now face either No. 1 LSU, No. 3 Alabama or No. 6 Arkansas.
Georgia (9-2 overall, 7-1 in the SEC) certainly will not be the favorite in that game, and critics will say it is a product of its schedule. But considering where it was last year and the 0-2 start to this season, players and coaches didn’t seem to care.
“We’ve seen this team go from a losing season to SEC East champs,” said place-kicker Blair Walsh, who kicked four field goals Saturday. “There’s been some wild up and downs here. I’m just glad we’re on the up.”
Said Richt, “Right now I don’t know that we’re great. But we’re SEC East champions, I do know that.”
This was the kind of day it was for Georgia: On its only touchdown, a 7-yard catch by Marlon Brown from Aaron Murray, Brown actually messed up.
“It was actually the wrong route,” Brown said. “I don’t want to tell everybody that. But it was the wrong route.”
Murray, who had an uneven day otherwise, stayed patient and found Brown when he got open in the back of the end zone.
The score, on the first play of the fourth quarter, basically put the game away. Prior to that, Georgia had failed on numerous red zone opportunities and for a time trailed against one of the SEC’s worst teams.
“Coming into halftime with a 12-10 lead is kind of scary,” senior cornerback Brandon Boykin said.
The lack of a consistent running game was the main problem. Starter Isaiah Crowell hurt his ankle after two rushes and never returned. Top backup Carlton Thomas was suspended for the game.
Still, Georgia knew it could ride its defense, which entered the weekend ranking fourth in the nation.
“It’s a great feeling to know that you don’t have to go out there and start chucking hail marys or throwing 40 or 50-yard passes down the field,” Murray said. “To know you can grind it out, burn some clock, punt the clock, give them bad field position and really play a field-position game.”