Richt asks for team to ‘stick together’
By Seth Emerson
STARKVILLE, Miss. — Mark Richt sat down in the small interview room at Mississippi State, the place where losses have doomed previous SEC coaches. Richt, the Georgia coach, looked and sounded stunned.
He kept many of his answers short. The task now, Richt said after a deflating 24-12 loss Saturday, was for his reeling team to “stick together.”
“We also have to look within, starting with me, to the things that have kept us from having the success that we want,” Richt said.
As he spoke, an official from the Citrus Bowl was a few feet away, leaning against a wall. Georgia, a team that has become used to better bowls, now seems only an even-bet to make a bowl at all.
The Bulldogs (1-3, 0-3 in the SEC) have lost three straight for the first time in two decades. It was their first loss in Starkville since the Truman Administration, and the first to Mississippi State since 1974.
The loss — also the third straight game in which Georgia never held a lead — will lead to more stories about Richt’s job security. Now in his 10th year at Georgia, he has three years remaining on his contract and a substantial buyout.
There is help on the way, with star receiver A.J. Green due back from suspension. And the schedule does get easier, with a trip to Colorado on tap, followed by struggling Vanderbilt and Tennessee.
But Mississippi State (2-2, 1-2) was supposed to be an easier opponent, too.
It’s not that Georgia was routed, in fact it finished ahead in total yardage, but failures in the red zone were the root of the offensive woes.
The second half, however, belonged to Mississippi State. And only a late touchdown made the score look a little more bearable.
“We’ve just got to make sure that everything we’re doing is the right thing to do and that we’re doing it well,” Richt said. “That’s just part of my job as a head coach, and I’m responsible for everything that happens. I’ve gotta make sure that every part of our football program starts to do the things that we need to do to win.”
What immediate changes might that mean?
“I’m not going to say anything right now, because I’m not sure,” Richt said. “I need time to watch and reflect.”
There are plenty of areas for Richt to look and review.
The offense had the ball inside the opponent’s 20 three times in the first half but produced only six points. The mistakes abounded for the Bulldogs.
There was Washaun Ealey’s fumble at the Mississippi State 1 after a 20-yard catch-and-run. That ended Georgia’s second drive and was Ealey’s second fumble inside the 5 in the past three games.
Bacarri Rambo also had a punt carom off his ankle, allowing MSU to take over at the Georgia 45.
Near the end of the half, Kris Durham had a catch-and-run into the end zone from 40 yards out. But fellow receiver Marlon Brown was called for holding near the end of the play, pushing it back to the 19.
The mistakes carried into the second half. An interception by Vance Cuff, returned into MSU territory, was negated by an offside call.
But from there, Georgia’s problem was not getting its defense off the field.
By the time Georgia’s offense took the field for its third drive of the half, there were less than five minutes left and it trailed by two scores.
MSU converted 6-of-10 times on third down in the second half and once on fourth down. A 33-yard touchdown pass with 4:22 left essentially put it away
“People are not honed in on what their assignments are and what to do,” Georgia defensive end Demarcus Dobbs said. “It’s a team effort. One guy messes up, and it’s a big play for the offense. We had opportunities to get off the field, and we just couldn’t capitalize on it.”
Freshman quarterback Aaron Murray passed for 274 yards, rushed for 32 and didn’t turn it over. But the red zone issues were pervasive.
“We could’ve won the last three games if we knew what our issue in the red zone was,” Murray said. “We did a fine job of moving the ball the past three games — all three losses — and then we have this little spell when we get inside the red zone. So we’ve got to figure out something to get over that. Because we’re doing the hard work, we’re getting in there; we’re just settling for field goals, which we can’t do.”
Dobbs, a senior, was asked where the team goes from here.
“All you can do is just go back and look at yourself in the mirror and see what you could do better as the season goes on,” Dobbs said. “There’s nowhere to go but up from here. You could lose more games, but you still have to strive to play the next day, to play the next week.”