Richt said the game takes on added significance for the Bulldogs (2-2, 1-1 SEC) because of Georgia's 24-12 loss to Mississippi State in Starkville, Miss., a season ago.
"For me it does personally," Richt said. "I don't know if the players are looking at it that way, but I do."
Georgia had chances to win the game, but former tailback Washaun Ealey fumbled inside Mississippi State's one-yard line. An interception also was called back on a penalty.
"It was a frustrating day because it seemed like every time something really good happened to us that could have sparked us, we ended up with either a penalty or a turnover," Richt said.
The Bulldogs, coming off a 27-13 win over Ole Miss, hope not to make the same mistakes on Saturday. Georgia needs a win to keep pace with Florida and South Carolina in the SEC East. Georgia sophomore quarterback Aaron Murray said he felt like the Bulldogs lost some positive momentum following the Mississippi State loss last season.
"We weren't having the best start to the season last year," Murray said. "We weren't on the right path, and it was definitely a big upset for us, to feel like our chances of winning the SEC were slipping out of our hands last season. Right now, we're still 1-1. We feel like we're still contenders in the East."
Lack of a vertical passing game keeping MSU down
It's gut-check time for Mississippi State, thanks to an early season schedule that saw the Bulldogs play the defending national champion and one of this year's national championship contenders in the first three games of the season.
But at 2-2 (and 0-2 in the SEC) heading into the Oct. 1 game at Georgia, Mississippi State fans are potentially doubting their team because of what happened in one of those other games. No, not the 59-14 drubbing of Memphis. It's the 26-20 overtime win over Louisiana Tech that has State feeling shaky going to Athens.
But it's more of the future schedule that makes the game at Georgia more a gut-check than anything else. After a visit to UAB, the Bulldogs host South Carolina and then travel to Kentucky before closing SEC play against Alabama, Arkansas and Ole Miss.
At this point, it's a legitimate question to wonder where the SEC wins will come from.
Why? Thank State's offense, which doesn't appear to have made many strides from week one, when it throttled a hapless Memphis team 59-14. State can run the ball well but has yet to develop a vertical passing game. Against Georgia, which is certain to score plenty behind Aaron Murray's arm, this is something to watch.
GEORGIA NOTES, QUOTES
--Richt said he has been pleased with the production of TEs Orson Charles and Aron White. Charles and White both caught TD passes last week against Ole Miss. "We are using our tight ends pretty well compared to everybody else in the country," Richt said. "They are a big part of what we do. I don't know if we've ever had a set this year where we didn't have at least one tight end in the game. A lot of people go three receivers and two backs and not even have a tight end in the game. We hardly ever snap the ball without a tight end or two in the game."
--Richt said that Georgia has worked extra time this week on special teams. The Bulldogs have allowed two special-teams touchdowns this season, one on a fake punt and one on an 82-yard punt return last week against Ole Miss. "We're taking some extra time, meeting and field time, (Monday) and (Tuesday) and maybe even Thursday we'll do a little bit of that too. We just have to make sure we have the right people on it, and we are doing things the way we need to be doing them."
--Freshman RB Isaiah Crowell has eerily similar stats in the first four games of his career compared to former Georgia standout Herschel Walker. Crowell has 411 yards rushing on 77 carries in his first four games this season. In Walker's first four games of his freshman season in 1980, he rushed for 419 yards on 77 carries. Walker had five TDs in his four games, while Crowell has three.
MISSISSIPPI STATE NOTES, QUOTES
--Mississippi State will play at Georgia for only the 12th time on Oct. 1. State has only been to Athens twice since the Southeastern Conference expanded to 12 teams in 1992.
--State will face four teams in 2011 that are ranked in the top 18 of this week's polls. Both of the Bulldogs' losses this year are to ranked foes.
--State is 14-0 under coach Dan Mullen when winning the turnover battle. When it has tied or had a negative margin, it's 2-13.
SERIES HISTORY: Georgia leads 22-16, six ties (last meeting, 2010, Mississippi State 24-12)
SCOUTING THE GEORGIA OFFENSE: Richt has been pleased with the progress of Georgia's no-huddle offense. The Bulldogs moved the ball well last week against Ole Miss. For the season, Georgia has shown good balance with 1,028 yards passing and 726 yards rushing. Georgia's banged-up offensive line needs to do a better job in pass protection. Georgia has given up 11 sacks this season, an average of close to three per game.
SCOUTING THE STATE DEFENSE: Aggression has become a trademark for the Mississippi State defense, and it's paying off with big plays. State is fifth in the Southeastern Conference in tackles for loss (6.8 per game). And the Bulldogs have already intercepted five passes in four games. They returned one for a score. Credit a ball-hawking secondary and a linebacking corps that is young but salty.
SCOUTING THE GEORGIA DEFENSE: Georgia's defense is holding opponents to a 25-percent conversion rate on third down, fifth best in the nation and second best in the SEC (behind Florida at 21 percent). Georgia coach Mark Richt said the Bulldogs will need big days from inside LBs Michael Gilliard and Amarlo Herrera to stop Mississippi State's rushing attack. "They are a very physical team," Richt said.
SCOUTING THE STATE OFFENSE: State won't make its offensive mark with a high-flying attack from QB Chris Relf and his wide receivers. Not by a long shot. State's bread and butter is with Relf as a runner and Vick Ballard as a running back. State ran for 176 yards against Louisiana Tech, and it was the 27th time in 29 games under coach Dan Mullen that State had rushed for 100 or more yards.
GEORIGA QUOTE TO NOTE: "We need to realize our dreams and hopes are still alive. Beating Ole Miss last week, we've just seen a lot more people smiling, and we're not used to seeing that right now. I want to keep that feeling." -- Georgia TE Orson Charles, on his team heading into Mississippi State with some positive momentum.
STATE QUOTE TO NOTE: "He is still a young player. He is only a second-year starter, so even though he has experience, he doesn't have a lot of experience, and we've just got to coach him through those situations." -- Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen, to The Clarion-Ledger, on fifth-year senior QB Chris Relf.
GEORGIA'S KEYS TO THE GAME: Georgia will need to keep a spy on dual-threat Mississippi State QB Chris Relf. Relf has four 100-yard rushing games in his career, including one last season against Georgia. Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen's spread offense creates lanes throughout the field which can result in big plays in the running game. Georgia must also be strong against Mississippi State RBs Vick Ballard and LaDarius Perkins. Ballard rushed for 20 TDs last season. On offense, Georgia QB Aaron Murray must be careful and avoid mistakes against a talented Mississippi State secondary. Junior CBs Jonathan Banks and Corey Broomfield have combined for 19 career interceptions.
STATE'S KEYS TO THE GAME: That tough Mississippi State secondary must live up to its billing against Aaron Murray, who is perhaps the SEC's best quarterback. Chris Relf and Vick Ballard must prove their rushing worth. And Mullen needs to make the right decisions in a close game late, something he hasn't yet proven he can do.
BULLDOGS TO WATCH:
QB Aaron Murray -- Murray leads the SEC with 11 TD passes and is second to Tennessee QB Tyler Bray in pass efficiency. Murray, who is throwing for 235 yards per game, will need to continue his strong start to the season while avoiding mistakes. Murray has thrown just three interceptions this season, but one against South Carolina was returned for a touchdown.
RB Isaiah Crowell -- Crowell earned SEC Freshman of the Week honors after his 147-yard, 30-carry performance against Ole Miss. Crowell has rushed for 411 yards on 77 carries this season, for an average of 5.3 yards per carry.
TE Orson Charles -- After being held without a catch against South Carolina, Charles has become more involved in the Georgia passing game. For the season, Charles is second on the Bulldogs in receiving yards (210) and tied for first in TDs (10).
FS Bacarri Rambo -- After sitting out the Boise State on a disciplinary suspension, Rambo has recorded three interceptions in three games. He's coming off a two-interception game last Saturday against Ole Miss.
STATE PLAYERS TO WATCH:
QB Chris Relf -- The senior had a poor game against Louisiana Tech but did throw the winning touchdown pass in overtime. If he's to prove in his final year that he is one of the SEC's best quarterbacks, Relf needs to do something Saturday against a tough Georgia defense.
CB Johnthan Banks -- He is no stranger to interceptions returned for touchdowns. The latter part would be nice against Georgia, but the former will be critical against the SEC's top quarterback, Aaron Murray.
LB Brandon Maye -- The linebacking corps, which is young, needs some help. Maye, who transferred from Clemson in the offseason, could be the leadership it needs. But he's been battling a concussion, according to The Clarion-Ledger, and may not play.
GEORGIA ROSTER REPORT
--Freshman CB Chris Sanders will undergo season-ending surgery. Sanders is eligible for a redshirt.
--CB Damian Swann (groin) is doubtful for Saturday.
--ILB Christian Robinson, who has missed the last two weeks with a chipped bone in his left foot and sprained left ankle, is holding out hope to return this Saturday against Mississippi State. Robinson said he is rehabbing extensively and feeling better every day. "I might end up playing," Robinson said Monday night. "Who knows?"
STATE ROSTER REPORT
--LB Brandon Wilson had 18 tackles in Mississippi State's win over Louisiana Tech, which is the highest total recorded by an SEC player this year. Can he top it against Georgia?
--CBs Johnthan Banks and Corey Broomfield each have three interceptions returned for touchdowns, tied with two other players for the national active career lead in that category.