With turnovers and penalties occurring at an unsettling pace, Georgia coach Mark Richt has asked himself this question a number of times: How good could his Bulldogs become if they'd just stop helping the other team?
With Saturday's game against fourth-ranked LSU (4-0, 2-0) now just two days away, Richt would certainly like to start finding out.
"To be in this game this weekend and have it be very meaningful, that's really what we want at this point," Richt said. "Time is going to tell, a very short amount of time. But what we've done in the past is the past. We're going to have a chance to see what we're all about."
That said, Richt knows his 18th-ranked Bulldogs (3-1, 2-0) can expect to beat a team the caliber of the Tigers by giving LSU easy opportunities to score.
Through four games, Georgia ranks last in the SEC, 113th nationally, with a turnover margin of -2.25 per game. Broken down, that's seven fumbles and five interceptions, two of which have been returned for touchdowns.
Compare those numbers to last year when the Bulldogs lost nine fumbles all season to go along with 10 interceptions.
Trying to correct those mistakes has been a weekly chore.
"It's just something you keep trying to correct with practice, being confident in everything we're doing with the game and the gameplan," quarterback Joe Cox said. "It's something you work on all week."
Unfortunately, practice hasn't made perfect.
Georgia turned the football over three times against Arizona State, including two interceptions by Cox, both to Sun Devil safety Jarrell Holman, who returned one for a 47-yard touchdown.
Ironically, Cox said that both picks came on the same skinny post pattern, the only two times he attempted that pass in last Saturday's game.
"Obviously, I need to be smart about where I throw it, although I don't think I was on those two plays. I think for the most part I was smart with my throws and played loose, but those two plays - they were the same exact plays each time," Cox said. "I talked to Coach (Mike) Bobo both times on the phone. Aron (White) had a little drag route underneath and was open both times. That's something if it's hairy and you feel like it's hairy, you've got to find a guy and check it down to."
The numbers certainly haven't added up in Georgia's favor.
Opponents have scored 54 points off the 12 Bulldog turnovers while Georgia has scored just six points off three turnovers through four games.
Holding onto the ball has indeed been a problem.
Running back Richard Samuel fumbled twice in Georgia's victory over Arkansas, opening the door for Caleb King to receive some playing time. However, it was King's fumble in the third quarter against the Sun Devils that led to Arizona State scoring its first touchdown of the game.
While mistakes like this have certainly put Georgia's defense on short fields more times that Richt cares to count, defensive tackle Jeff Owens isn't placing any blame.
"As a defensive guy, you always want to be on the field. If we put the ball down, we're going to play. If it's one the 1-yard line, we're going to go out and play defense. It's something we love to do," he said. "On defense you've just got to have that mentality wherever the ball's placed, you're going to go out and play. We gave up some big plays in the past, but we're going to get better each week and just progress."
Still, the fumbles remain a concern.
Finding ways to keep them from happening is the tricky part.
"You don't want to be where every time you're in the huddle and call a play you're telling the back to hold onto the ball. They've got to run hard, wrap it up and hold on. That's something you've got to form by habit," Cox said. "It's definitely something you want to correct all week in practice but it's not something during the game that we're going to be freaking out telling the running backs that you want them to do."
Cutting down penalties would certain help Georgia's cause as well.
As is the case with the turnovers, Georgia is on pace to surpass last year's season total for penalties when the Bulldogs were flagged 112 times for 938 yards. Thus far, Georgia has been penalized 41 times for 314 yards.
Many of the calls have been due to breakdowns by the offensive line, mistakes that right tackle Clint Boling is about to drive position coach Stacy Searels insane.
"Coach Searels isn't too happy about that, and it's one of those things we've got to get better at, too. We've got to focus, I had a couple of mistakes like that," he said. "We've just got to go out and know our snap counts, things like that."
The rest, Boling said, is up to Cox and company.
"All we can do is make sure we give Joe enough time and hope he makes good decisions," Boling said. "It's just one of those things (penalties and turnovers) that you have to put behind you and just move on to the next play."
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