Richt: ‘We’ve got a long way to go’
By David Hale
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — For six weeks, Georgia has been plugging holes in virtually every aspect of its game, just hoping to survive. Saturday, the dam broke open.
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The Bulldogs failed to find the end zone on offense, turned over the ball three times, couldn’t generate any sort of ground game, missed numerous tackles and were thrashed by one of the SEC’s most underachieving quarterbacks as Tennessee rolled to a 45-19 win.
“They played better, they coached better, and it was just very obvious their team was the better team today by a long shot,” Georgia head coach Mark Richt said. “We’ve got a long way to go to become a good football team right now.”
Johnathan Crompton threw four touchdown passes and became the third quarterback this season to top 300 yards passing against Georgia (3-3, 2-2 SEC), while the Bulldogs’ offense remained listless for the third straight week. Georgia produced just 89 yards on the ground, and quarterback Joe Cox threw two interceptions in the game as Tennessee (3-3, 1-2 SEC) dominated the game from the outset.
After the game, Richt was defiant in preemptively defending his team against the inevitable onslaught of criticism following its second straight loss and its worst record through six games since he became head coach in 2001.
“If you’re a leader or a player and you are brave enough to be in the arena, there’s going to be people outside the arena that want to throw things at you and say things about you,” Richt said. “But there’s honor in being in the arena, and a lot of people don’t understand it because they’ve never been in there.”
Georgia’s players found plenty to criticize themselves.
After completing his first six passes, Cox quickly fell apart. He threw two interceptions, one on a play when he simply lofted the ball to the sideline, hoping to avoid a sack. He missed on 15 of his final 28 throws, botched a one-minute drive to end the first half and failed to lead the Bulldogs to a touchdown in the game. Georgia has reached the end zone only once in its past 11 quarters.
“We’re not doing the things we need to do as players,” Cox said. “We practice all week, we put in a good game plan, and the plays were there to be made. We made some, but nothing that did anything for us as far as putting points on the board. It was just a bad game of execution. We didn’t do much of anything right.”
While Georgia struggled to move the football, Crompton carved up the Bulldogs’ secondary, completing 20-of-27 passes for 310 yards and five touchdowns — all career highs for the quarterback who entered the game 97th in the country in passer rating.
The majority of Crompton’s success came via the play-action pass. Tennessee ran bootlegs repeatedly, and Georgia never adjusted. The result was wide-open receivers.
“We were trying to bring pressure at times, but it seems like they were doing a great job of mixing it up,” Georgia defensive coordinator Willie Martinez said. “We weren’t able to get off the field and make plays. They out-executed us, out-coached us and out-played us, bottom line.”
Martinez summed up the sentiments of many of the Bulldogs. There wasn’t much to build on Saturday. Every aspect of the game was a disaster for Georgia, with the exception of two big plays: a 100-yard kick return for a touchdown by Brandon Boykin and an interception return for a score by safety Baccari Rambo.
But even when the momentum seemed to swing in Georgia’s favor, the Volunteers didn’t appear fazed. Crompton followed Boykin’s score with a 33-yard touchdown pass to Denarius Moore, and tailback Montario Hardesty answered Rambo’s interception — which had made it a five-point game with 8:21 to play in the third quarter — by capping an 80-yard drive with a 39-yard touchdown run straight down the middle of the field.
“When you’re not playing fast and disciplined, there are going to be guys open and making plays, even if they’re not the best offense,” said linebacker Rennie Curran, who missed a key tackle on Moore’s touchdown catch. “You’re going to make them look good when you’re not disciplined and playing fast.”
When it was over, Georgia’s players had no more answers than they did during the game.
Asked if he thought Georgia was as bad as its 3-3 record indicated, receiver A.J. Green had few words. “I don’t know, man,” he said. “We’re just going to have to keep fighting and see what happens.”
Asked how Georgia responds on defense, Curran didn’t know where to begin. “It was a lot of things that added up to have us have the game we had,” he said. “It’s a huge mix of things.”
Asked what Georgia needs to fix on offense, Cox was succinct: “Everything.”
The Bulldogs have lost two straight games and have been outscored this season 189-154. They had three turnovers in five of six games, rank last in the SEC in rushing yards and have allowed teams to throw against them with ease.
“We didn’t play very good today,” Richt said, “and we haven’t had a game this season where we played a really solid football game, so I’m concerned about that.”