Richt must win or face more questions
By Seth Emerson
STARKVILLE, Miss. — It’s a non-division game, with no particular rivalry between the schools. There are no titles on the line, and Georgia almost certainly is already out of the running for any major titles this season.
But it still may be one of the most critical games of the Mark Richt era and sets the tone for the rest of this season.
Georgia (1-2 overall, 0-2 SEC) has two different fates awaiting its result at Mississippi State today:
A loss, and the team would be reeling, with more state-of-the-program questions awaiting Richt upon his return to Athens.
But a win could be the start of a turnaround, especially with an easier stretch of games ahead.
“It definitely has to be a turning point,” cornerback Vance Cuff said. “We definitely have to take this and build off it. We’re in a position where we’ve have to win.”
So is Mississippi State (1-2, 0-2), which arrived at this point in near-identical fashion: A win over a weaker opponent, then two straight league losses. MSU coach Dan Mullen pointed out this week that between his team and Georgia, all the losses came to teams ranked in the top 15.
It can’t be thrilling to Georgia — 91-29 the past decade — to be compared to the “other” Bulldog team — which is 35-76 over the same span.
But that’s the state of the Georgia program, which started the year with hopes of winning the SEC East and is now alone in last place.
So Richt told his players this week to adopt a “Day One” mentality. In essence, act like the past two weeks didn’t happen.
“Let’s get the same feeling that we had for the first game of the year,” Richt said. “Because what I don’t want to happen is for the last couple ballgames to affect this ballgame.
“So we need to put it behind us and move forward and get that same feeling we had when we played the very first ballgame. It’s just more for everybody’s psychological attitude, I guess.”
Georgia has not lost in Starkville since 1951 and hasn’t lost three straight games since 1990. But other milestones have been broken the past few weeks: The first loss to Arkansas since 1993 and the fewest points scored against South Carolina since 1904.
That has led to plenty of carping among fans, some of whom grilled Richt on his radio show Monday night. Richt shrugged it off, while the players said they’ve heard it too, but they claim the focus is elsewhere.
“Of course, we’ve got a nasty taste in our mouth, and we’re trying to go out and get a win,” linebacker Cornelius Washington said. “But we can’t let outside stuff get into our head and cause us to play badly. We have to stay focused on ‘me.’ We have jobs to do. And, at the end of our day, that’s the main priority.”
Wide receiver Kris Durham said the players have no choice but to stay together, because “if we fall apart, then the season falls apart.” Linebacker Christian Robinson admitted that getting the losses out of mind is difficult, but it has to be done.
“When you have those setbacks,” Robinson said, “when you have those things that are disappointing, you’ve got to be realistic and look at what you can achieve and what is possible and what tools you have to getting us to where we want to be and what is capable of happening.”
Georgia is capable of winning in Starkville, even if it is considered a slight underdog in some quarters. The reason a win could propel Georgia back to good things: Star wide receiver A.J. Green returns from NCAA suspension next week, and the Bulldogs should be favorites in their next three games, if not the fourth one, at Kentucky.
But with a third straight loss, the players also know they would return to a restless fan base.
“That’s when you know your fans and your friends,” safety Bacarri Rambo said. “Fans, they’re going to be there when you’re up. But friends are going to be there when you’re down and up. We’ve just got to keep playing. We do it for the fans, but, if they’re not going to support us, we’re still going to have to play no matter what.”
Then Rambo added:
“We’re going to get back on track. We’ll get everybody back on the bandwagon.”