October 15, 2010

Richt focused on the future

As the team gathered around him in the locker room following last week's win over Tennessee, head coach Mark Richt offered a little piece of advice.

Sure, the 2010 campaign has been a disappointment. But instead of worrying about the past, Richt urged his players to focus on the future, beginning with Saturday's Homecoming game against Vanderbilt.

"I said it because it crossed my mind. I can't focus on what might have been or what could have been, we have to focus on what can be and that's what has to motivate us from this point forward," Richt said. "There are still a lot of things to be fighting for. When you think about how hard you work, how long you work, all the preparation that goes into a season and you're only really guaranteed 12 games, so you really do need to treat all of them like they're special, treasure them and take advantage of them. Regardless of the record, these games are a special opportunity to play between the hedges, this weekend in particular, play before the fans, all those type of things. We need to take care of business."

Saturday's game against the Commodores (2-3, 1-1) won't be lacking in storylines for the Bulldogs (2-4, 1-3).

One of the biggest will be the pre-game introduction of new mascot Uga VIII, who will take over for interim mascot Russ during a "collaring" ceremony shortly before the 12:21 kickoff.

Of course, there's plenty of on-the-field drama as well.

The Bulldogs will play the game without the services of running back Caleb King, who was suspended for two games following his arrest last Monday for failing to appear in a Walton County traffic court to answer a speeding ticket he received over the summer.

With King out, sophomore Washaun Ealey returns to the starting lineup after seeing his playing time cut due to some untimely fumbles against South Carolina and Mississippi State.

Richt admits the off-the-field incidents this year have been a distraction.

"It's hard to have great continuity week-by-week if a young man has done something to keep himself from being on the field. Again, it's our job also to deal with those things, but also not take away from the preparation and not take away from the focus of the team," Richt said. "It's something I'd prefer not to have to manage, but we've been managing it. This week, I don't think there is any doubt our guys will be focusing on Vanderbilt."

Commodore coach Robbie Caldwell said his squad has its own issues.

After dropping a 23-21 decision to Northwestern to open the season, Vandy split its first two SEC games (losing 27-3 to LSU and beating Ole Miss 28-14). After losing to Connecticut 40-21, the Commodores rebounded with a 52-6 thrashing of a winless Eastern Michigan team last week in Nashville.

"Georgia, it's going to be rough. Both of us need one. I'm glad to see them get on track; it just always seems to be at the wrong time," Caldwell said. "They played extremely well on Saturday. Of course, we have to go into their house so it's going to be quite a challenge. It looks like they are getting to full strength and it's going to be quite a task for us but I'm certainly looking forward to it. Can't wait to load up and go down there."

Defensively, the Bulldogs played arguably their most consistent game of the year against the Vols.

Although there were still a couple of breakdowns that led to Tennessee's two scores, defensive coordinator Todd Grantham thought for the first time all year his squad played with the type of relentlessness and enthusiasm it takes to ultimately be successful.

"I think it was just a case of us finally becoming comfortable and realizing we are capable of being good," linebacker Darryl Gamble said. "I think everybody was finally on the same page. We still had guys out of position from time to time, but the fact that guys played hard the entire time and didn't take plays off, just allowed us to be more consistent than what we have been."

Quarterback Aaron Murray continues to make huge strides.

The redshirt freshman enters Saturday's contest as the third-rated quarterback in the SEC behind Arkansas' Ryan Mallett and Kentucky's Mike Hartline.

In six games, Murray has completed 97-of-157 passes for 1,366 yards and nine touchdowns with just three interceptions, which is tied for the fewest in the SEC.

For good measure, Murray's 248 yards of total offense ranks him third in the SEC behind Mallett (344) and Cameron Newton of Auburn (301.7).

"He seems to have a great grasp of what they are trying to do. He has a good command of the offense it appears. They've been scoring points," Caldwell said. "They've just had some tough luck and have come up short just a couple of times, but against Colorado they fumbled and had a chance to kick a field goal and win the game. He's a great player who commands the offense and can throw the football. I think he sees the big picture of what they are trying to do."

The big picture is exactly what Richt is focusing on.

With Saturday's game the official midway point of the season, Georgia travels to Kentucky next week before the yearly battle in Jacksonville against Florida before finishing against Idaho State, Auburn and Georgia Tech.

"It's our job now to hopefully build off of the momentum that we've created with last week's victory. I think when you lose games people tend to think that everything is going wrong and not much is going right," Richt said. "Then when you win games maybe they think everything is going right and not much is going wrong. I think as we were going through that losing streak we were improving in a lot of areas. We just didn't finish really like we should and this game, even though a lot of things did go well we still have more to correct, and that's our job as coaches to continue to try to improve and again build off the momentum that we created."

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