Richt, Saban talk up their team's similarities

semerson@macon.comNovember 25, 2012 

ATHENS - Mark Richt was asked about Georgia's schedule, and bristled a bit. Nick Saban bristled about what will happen to loser of this game.

But in general, the two talked about the similarities between their two football teams - and the one big difference.

The two head coaches who will meet in the SEC championship game were on a conference-sponsored media teleconference on Sunday night. Richt went first, followed by his counterpart from Alabama.

Here's a theme you'll hear a lot of this coming week: The first question, from an Alabama-based reporter, was on how Georgia recovered from the loss at South Carolina.

Richt didn't really say anything new, or at least new to Bulldog fans. He did mention the usefulness of having a bye week after that, but it bears noting that they emerged from that bye and had a lackluster win at Kentucky.

Later, a reporter asked Richt about Georgia's schedule - he didn't come out and say it was weak, but he didn't really have to - then asked about now having to face the No. 2 team in the land. As is often the case, a question that may be perceived as a bad one produced the best response.

"We've already played the No. 2 team in the country once this year and had a good day against Florida. We can only play who is on our schedule," Richt responded. "We'll be prepared. But they will be too. That's why you kick it off and play."

Richt was also asked about what it means to see Georgia up there as a national championship candidate, after the struggles and heat of the past few years. Actually, Richt wasn't asked specifically about the hot-seat stuff of last year, but he did touch on it.

"It's not about me. It's about Georgia," Richt said. "It's about this program, this team and these young men. ... I don't worry about this personal stuff."

Then there was the Xs and Os of the game.

"I think it's a game where again, we feel like we're going to have to be real patient offensively and understand that we are playing a defense that's the best in the country, the best in the league," Richt said. "We've got to be patient, bang away the best we can and look for opportunities to make plays."

Richt also talked about the similarities between the two programs - which isn't much of an accident on the defensive side, with Todd Grantham being a Nick Saban protege'.

"We run pro-style attacks offensively, run a 3-4 defense," Richt said. "The quarterbacks have been highly efficient and have been around a little bit and played some big games. RB tandems ... There are a lot of similarities."

But there's one big difference.

"One thing they've done is they've been winning national championships, and we've not," Richt said. "That's the biggest difference I see right now."

The last time Georgia met Alabama was in the infamous "black-out" game, when Georgia was blown out at Sanford Stadium. Considering what happened the next few seasons - 8-5 in 2009, 6-7 in 2010 - Richt was asked if that loss to Alabama had a lasting effect on the program.

"Not that I think. You take one game and look at itself - the bottom line is we didn't play well that day," Richt said. "We just got whipped, obviously. I don't think how it might've affected things other than that day."

Finally, Richt was asked if the many relationships between coaches on the two staffs - Grantham and Saban, Kirby Smart and many Georgia assistants - would add something to the game.

"I'm sure it adds to it. We're all very competitive guys," Richt said. "We all want to win. We all have competitive juice that flows. So everybody's gonna wanna do the very best they can. Sometimes when you know the guys across the way it's a little bit more than normal."

When Saban came on, the first thing he was asked about was the fact that the loser of this game is likely to be left out of not only the BCS championship, but also a BCS bowl. Saban's opinion on it was clear.

"For either one of these teams, it's not a great scenario," Saban said, then pointing out that each team played good enough to win its division, and that should count for something. "It doesn't seem quite right, but it is what it is."

From there, Saban did the customary heaping of praise upon an opponent. And that includes Grantham, who spent three years on Michigan State's staff when Saban was the head coach there.

"I've always been really close to Todd professionally and personally. I think he's done a phenomenal job there. There are similarities in system and scheme in relation to what we use. But I think his own ideas in method and how they use it," Saban said. "If you're gonna rank assistants, he's one of the two or three best that I've had on my staff."

Saban also expressed admiration for Richt, whom he called one of the best coaches in the SEC, and said he liked the way Richt went about running his program.

"His record speaks for itself," Saban said.

A media member pointed out that Alabama and Georgia could almost be mirror images of each other, as both play a 3-4 defensive scheme and have pro-style offenses.

"I think you just pointed out all the similarities, I don't know what I need to add," Saban said, laughing.

But Saban did add that Georgia and Alabama both try to win with offensive play-calling balance, physical play on the line.

"There's not a lot of tricks or gimmicks with us and them," Saban said. "(It's about) execution. I think players like that, play with more confidence in what they're supposed to do."

Saban also sees a similarity between Georgia nose tackle John Jenkins and one of his former players: Terrence Cody, who helped Alabama win a national title a few years ago and went on to be a high first-round pick.

"He's really a hard guy to block," Saban said.

And Saban also had kind words for Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray.

"Everybody thinks when I say a guy is a good game manager, everybody thinks it's a negative. But I think it's a real positive," Saban said. "He's done a phenomenal job of that for their team."

Follow Seth Emerson at @sethemerson.

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