ATHENS - Mark Richt was asked a couple fairly direct questions about his beleaguered defense and its staff on Sunday, and the head coach had a fairly stock answer. He clearly didn't want to get into it.
First, Richt was asked his level of satisfaction with his defensive staff.
"Well, here's what I say: I say we're a team here at Georgia, and we're going to keep coaching and keep trying to make improvements and corrections on everything we do in all phases of the game," Richt said.
He left it at that.
Then the defensive stats were pointed out to him: On track to give up the most points in program history, and the most yards-per-game since 1994. Given that, Richt was asked, did he expect it to be this rough given the youth, or was he disappointed in how the defense has played?
"Bottom line is at Georgia we're a team, and we win together, and we lose together, and we're always watching film after every game to make sure we make corrections on offense, defense and special teams," Richt said.
And again, he left it at that.
Auburn had 566 yards in its 43-38 win on Saturday, after coming in averaging 493.3 yards per game.
Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham is in his fourth season at Georgia. The Bulldogs had one of the nation's top defenses in 2011, but slipped last year with a veteran-laden unit. The defense only returned four starters this year and has started a number of freshman, but has continued to struggle. Grantham has one season left on his contract following this season. He received a $25,000 raise after last season, to $850,000.
Richt was also asked about the defensive play call on Auburn's final touchdown, the 73-yard pass, tipped by Georgia safety Josh Harvey-Clemons and then caught by Auburn's Ricardo Louis. Georgia went with a three-man rush on the fourth-and-18 play, after seeing Auburn in mass protection before a timeout. Richt said it was the right call, just not executed properly.
"I didn't want to reduce the game, we didn't want to reduce the game to just a one-on-one shot," Richt said, alluding to single coverage. "Even if they got a first down they still had a ways to go with only 36 seconds to get into field goal range. They still had to make the kick. ... We could end it with a sack, or pressure, something like that, but you could also get in a situation where the quarterback could lay it out there for a one-one-one shot and possibly get a touchdown.
"I mean we never would've dreamed that what happened would happen. I'm real comfortable with the call we made, when we made it, when it was called. And looking back it was the right thing to do, we just didn't execute it properly."
After the game, Grantham assessed the performance of his defense, which struggled in the first half, then forced three punts in the second half, playing perfect in the fourth quarter until the hail-mary.
"I didn't think we did a good job in the first half on the edge runs. You've gotta set the edge on the defense and they got to the edge too much," Grantham said. "Guys kept battling and did a better job in the second half. And then really in the fourth quarter did a good job of doing what we had to do to get us back in the game. So there's some credit to be done for that. But you've got a chance to win the game on fourth-and-18 and we didn't do it."
Rome could return for bowl
Tight end Jay Rome will miss the final two regular season games with his foot injury, but could be back for Georgia's bowl game, whenever that is.
Rome suffered a foot injury against Appalachian State and missed the Auburn game. He tweeted that he was done for the season, but Richt said Rome won't require surgery and they're holding out hope for the bowl.
"I don't know if a bowl's out of the question or not, but we don't think he'll be back in the last week or two," Richt said.
Just let Murray throw it?
Given that Aaron Murray pretty much single-handedly led Georgia's fourth-quarter comeback, Richt was asked if it might have been better to just start the game that way.
"There may be some truth to that," Richt said, chuckling. "But a lot of times as the game wears on you've gotta decide what's working best. There's been games we've run the ball extremely well. Now being behind like that it kind of forced us to throw the ball down after down."
Tailback Todd Gurley carried the ball 15 times for 80 yards, and had 10 catches for 77 yards, catching a lot of screen passes down the stretch as Georgia rallied.
"He did a good job," Richt said. "Certainly, we know he's not 100 percent. But he's really gutting it out for the team and playing real hard, and he's a real motivator for his teammates."
Richt also credited receiver Chris Conley for playing through his ankle injury, which cost him the previous two games. Conley caught two passes for 24 yards, and Richt praised the junior's downfield blocking.
"There's other guys hurting, no doubt," Richt said. "But those two particular skill guys, a little bit gimpy, got their blood flowing and played hard for Georgia."