ATHENS - A day after Georgia's best season-opening win in 32 years, which has already led to murmurs of a national title chase, Mark Richt did what a head coach is supposed to do: He threw cold water on it.
Richt was asked Sunday night if his team was mature enough to handle the praise suddenly coming its way after a 45-21 win over No. 16 Clemson.
"I don't know," Richt said with a laugh. "I just think we're really young in so many ways, and there are a few veterans that understand the deal. But I don't know how good we are, quite frankly. We had a good performance, we had one good game, and even in that one game there were some things that need to be corrected. So I'm not gonna get too excited yet."
Still, the win equaled Georgia's most impressive win to open a season, at least going by the rankings, since it beat Clemson - also ranked No. 16 at the time - in 1982.
Georgia's most recent season-opening win over a ranked opponent was in 2005, a home win over then-No. 19 Boise State, 48-13. Prior to that it was 1988, when No. 18 Tennessee fell 28-17 in Sanford Stadium. Georgia came into that game ranked No. 12, the same spot it held in both polls to start this season.
That Georgia team, the final one under Vince Dooley, only finished 9-3 and made the Gator Bowl. The expectations are already higher for this team. In an extreme case of "if the season ended today," ESPN put Georgia as the No. 1 seed in the projected new four-team playoff. The other three teams that won also beat respected opponents this weekend.
Richt, as one would expect, laughed when asked about the early playoff projection.
"I think we've played one game and we've got a long way to go," Richt said. "The old saying's probably true: You're never as good as you think after a win, never as bad as you think after a loss. When you watch the film there's so much to correct. We've gotta get better in a lot of areas or we could get exposed."
Along those lines, there were a couple areas of potential concern as Georgia moves the focus to the Sept. 13 game at South Carolina.
- The secondary, which was the focus of new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt's defensive overhaul, had a good second half. But it was helped by the pass rush, and there were some rough moments in the first half, when Clemson amassed 174 yards through the air.
"As the game went on everybody settled down and began to take better angles and began to tackle better. And the communication out there got better as we went," Richt said. "You know there were a lot of young guys, a lot of anxiety out there, and when they all settled down they played better."
- The offensive line also had a strong finish after an inconsistent beginning. The line was also considered the weakpoint of its unit last year and entering this season, but the coaches felt good about the new starting five, including two new starting guards. The line only gave up one sack, and blocked for an offense that had 459 total yards, including 328 on the ground.
Much of that yardage, of course, could be credited to the excellence of star tailback Todd Gurley (198 rushing yards). And Georgia's offense only had 113 total yards in the first half before catching fire late.
Asked about the line's performance, Richt called it "resilient," saying it "won some and lost some" in the first half.
"In the fourth quarter really started to knock some people down and get our hat on everybody and get enough space for those backs to gain enough momentum to break some tackles and go to the house," Richt said, pointing out that three offensive plays in a row resulted in touchdowns. "It was pretty good by the time it was over. You've gotta remember sometimes it's a 60-minute game, and even though in the beginning it doesn't always go perfect, I thought by the time it was over our guys had a really good day."
About those tailbacks
Saturday's game was a coming-out party for Georgia's tailbacks, and not just Gurley, whose star ability was already well known.
Freshman Nick Chubb had 70 rushing yards, including a 47-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. Freshman Sony Michel had 33 rushing yards and 20 receiving yards. The pair combined to average 10.3 yards per rush.
Throw in Keith Marshall, who is Gurley's junior classmate, and the marvel nationally is Georgia's ability to convince highly-recruited prospects to come in together.
"These guys are smarter than they used to be," Richt said Sunday in answer to a national writer asking how he was able to recruit the four tailbacks. "They want to share the load with somebody. I don't think anybody wants to carry the ball 30 times a career for their career. I don't think anybody wants to take that kind of pounding. ... Those guys, they want to have a running buddy for them, so to speak. I think it's been healthy for them, and it's been good for us."
Marshall health update
The only down note for Georgia's tailbacks was Marshall, who had eight yards on six carries in his first game back from ACL surgery. Richt said the team gave Marshall "a couple tests" after the game to "reassure" that the knee was fine.
"He's fine," Richt said. "Coming off an injury like that, if there's any little thing that gets tweaked you wonder if there's anything going on in there. So we had a couple tests to reassure and he's fine. He's good."