COACH RICHT: Okay. It was a long, hard fight for us. We lost our first game, obviously, in league play to South Carolina and was just kind of stuck behind them for quite a while. We knew, if we kept battling, we had a chance. So week by week, we tried to improve. We tried to keep pace. And then we were hoping we'd get some help along the way. Thankfully, we did, and we were able to finish out the rest of the league play undefeated to get us in the game.
We're really excited about it. We truly did focus completely on Georgia Tech last week. That was something that is just so important to our program and important to our team. Then, of course, when that game was over, there wasn't a lot of celebrating in that locker room. You could quickly see our young men and our staff getting their focus ready for this game this weekend.
Q. Coach, can you just talk about the way that Aaron's played since the Florida game and what's been different about him toward the end of the season compared to the beginning and the task that he has playing this LSU secondary.
COACH RICHT: Right. Well, he has ‑‑ he's played pretty good all year long. I mean, there's been some moments in time when he hasn't played as good as we would like. But I like what he's done all season long. You wish your quarterback would be hot as a firecracker every time he drops back and throws it. I don't know if anybody is that accurate.
He does hit some streaks where he's on fire and he'll make a lot of outstanding throws, and he's had a lot of help from his receivers too making plays. But without question, LSU's secondary is fantastic. I've been watching film all day. They are very athletic. They're very aggressive. They play a ton of man coverage.
The other thing that helps them out is the pressure that's put on all the quarterbacks from the down linemen and linebackers. Coach Chavis has a great blitz package. So sometimes it comes from pressure, sometimes it just comes with guys individually whipping a lineman and putting pressure on the passer.
So it's going to take everybody to have some success in the passing game for sure.
Q. And also, your running defense is top ten nationally, but to go up against this LSU rushing offense, which it seemed like it ran over Arkansas, just the depth that they have, how much of that is a challenge?
COACH RICHT: Well, they do have a bunch of physical backs, and to run the power play, which they do love to run so much, you want a physical back to do that. They're blocking great up front. Their linemen do a super job. They're pulling a back side guard on that play. They've got a lead blocker in their fullback, who's just a beast.
So it's just a very ‑‑ they're very well equipped to run the football and to run it in such a way that they're just ‑‑ they wear you down as the game goes on from what I've seen.
Q. Coach, can you just talk about LSU's ability to go on runs. They closed the Arkansas game on a 41‑3 run. I think they led Auburn 20 minutes in 7‑3, and 20 minutes later it was 42‑3. As a head coach, if a team strikes for a couple of touchdowns or grabs the momentum, what is the biggest key to help minimize that damage before it gets out of hand?
COACH RICHT: Oh, man, I don't know. I think everybody's got to keep their composure and just keep fighting. I think what happens, from what I've seen, not only the offense for LSU makes some plays but the defense will make some plays, the special teams will make some plays. Before you know it, all three phases of the game has made a big play, and it might result in 21 points in a very short amount of time.
If something bad happens, you've just got to be able to shake it off and regroup and get back to work. If you let it get in your head, then you've got problems.
Q. As a followup, unrelated, DeAngelo Tyson, have you talked with Ron today, and do you know his chances of playing this week?
COACH RICHT: Right now, I don't know for sure on him. I don't think he'll be practicing ‑‑ I know he won't be practicing tomorrow. That's all I know at this point.
Q. You said about a week ago that LSU, Alabama, Arkansas may be the three best teams in the country, and the way the schedule is set up, that you didn't have to play any of them in the regular season. How do you think you stack up now after winning ten straight against a team of LSU's caliber?
COACH RICHT: I really don't know. We're going to find out this Saturday. We're going to be ‑‑ we're a team that certainly improved as the season has gone on, and we've done ‑‑ we've done a lot of good things since game two. Until you play a team, you really don't know how you match up against them.
I've spent most of the day watching them, mostly on defense. They're just very, very strong and quick and physical up front. The front seven is very, very tough, very athletic. Their DBs are very fast, great cover guys, guys with a lot of confidence, and they'll hit you. Everyone on that defense is going to hit you good.
I've seen enough film of them on offense as we watched other people's defense throughout the season, that they tend to wear people out by the end of the game. So once the resistance has been broken down a little bit ‑‑ their goal is to break the spirit of whoever they play. They've been successful most of the time.
Q. And one unrelated followup. Richard Samuel, do you expect he might be able to go this week? What's the status with him?
COACH RICHT: We're hoping. I don't know. I don't think he'll practice tomorrow. I wish that I could say that he would. He was going to, but I don't think he will.
We had this long weekend, so to speak. He was on ‑‑ he did not travel with the team. So he went home after practice on Thanksgiving, and then when he came back today, not having a treatment for a day or two, I don't know ‑‑ it's hard to say if he's getting better or not. Ron hasn't done anything with him yet. There's no way to know what kind of progress he's made.
Q. Mark, you talk about LSU's propensity to wear people down. When you look at their depth ‑‑ and I know the best teams in this league have always been typically the deepest teams. When you see guys just coming, rotating eight, nine guys on the defensive line ‑‑ they played four running backs ‑‑ are you pretty ‑‑ is it pretty staggering how deep these guys are?
COACH RICHT: They are deep. They're deep, and they're talented. Everybody's got first, second, third string, but if your second and third team aren't that good, you're not going to play them much. These guys with LSU, they're all playing, and they're all playing for good reason. All that does, it creates better morale because everybody's playing. Usually it takes pressure off of guys as far as injuries are concerned, and it keeps everybody fresh.
They are playing hard. They're playing fast every single down. I've been watching them all day, and I haven't seen one guy loaf yet. I haven't seen one guy look tired yet. That's been real helpful for them.
Q. I wonder about your seniors. You talk about the way you guys went in there and starting off 0‑2. Guys like Brandon Boykin and Ben Jones, Mark, what was their role in helping hold this team together and keeping the focus?
COACH RICHT: First of all, those guys decided to stick around for their senior year, just their decision to stay was big. Boykin and Ben Jones and Cordy Glenn and guys like that, they had the opportunity ‑‑ they knew they were going to be NFL players or have a shot at that, but they chose to stay and wanted to have a special season.
First of all, just the fact that they stayed was big, and then in the off‑season they had to make a decision ‑‑ when they made the decision to stay at Georgia, they also made the decision they were going to buy into everything we were doing in the off‑season and get everybody else to make sure they were buying in too. I thought they did a super job of that.
Because of the unity of the team and the work ethic of the team and what we built during camp, when we did go 0‑2, we were still a strong bunch of guys. We weren't by any means in any kind of a panic mode or finger pointing mode. They just kept working hard. They kept everybody focused and kept everybody working. They're a big part of the reason why we're able to weather the storm and start winning.
Q. Obviously, this will be your second trip to the Dome this year. Do you think having the experience of that big game atmosphere three months ago, that there's some benefits for the players this week?
COACH RICHT: I think there might be. I think there might be. Bottom line is, when the ball is snapped, you've got to get after it. We're playing a great opponent. Whether or not you've had experience in the dome or not, I don't know that matters. They went to Jerry Dome. They've had a bunch of big game experiences too.
For us, I think it's probably not a bad thing that we've already been there, and we've experienced the stadium and realized, it's not so much where you're playing, it's how you play when you get there.
Q. How did you think, particularly in the pregame last time ‑‑ how do you think the team reacted to the environment?
COACH RICHT: We got in there a week prior, and everybody got a taste of it. I don't know if the pregame was any different than any other game really.
Q. Hello, Coach. How gratifying is it for you and your family and those close to you to win ten straight after the 0‑2 start when people were saying and writing that your future might be in doubt?
COACH RICHT: Right. Well, we didn't worry too much about it. I know that's kind of hard to believe, but we just really got a lot of faith in the Lord, and if He wants ‑‑ we feel like, if He wanted me to be at Georgia, I'd be at Georgia. If He didn't, then we'd move on and do something else.
Even knowing that and feeling that in our hearts, we still wake up every morning with the idea of doing the very best we can on a daily basis and doing it in such a way that it would be pleasing to Him. It's just kind of how we operate. We're not like ‑‑ we're just thankful. We're thankful every day, win or lose.
But it's been fun. I mean, it's been fun to turn it around and see these players and these coaches enjoy the fruits of all their labor. It's a battle. It's a grind whether you win or lose. When you win, it's a lot more fun. Even last year, as we all know, we were 6‑7. That wasn't a whole lot of fun either. That wasn't a great experience at all. And then to start 0‑2 on top of what happened a year ago, it made it very difficult.
It's probably more difficult for our players than it was for me personally and even the coaches because we can come in the Butts‑Mehre building and close the door and go to work. Leave here early in the morning and pitch black dark, and we're really not out and about like the players every day, got to go to class and do the things that they do on a daily basis. They probably have to hear it and live it out more than we do.
So I've got a lot of respect for those players and how they handled everything. I'm really proud of them. They really held everything together, and they just did a great job. It's fun to watch that.
Q. All four of those LSU running backs and the quarterback too, Jefferson, is over 200 pounds. How important is it for the defense to lock up? That's something that Arkansas had trouble with on Friday.
COACH RICHT: Everybody's having trouble with it. That's why they're undefeated. They're big and physical. When you block as well as they block and you get a back just a little bit of head of steam, when he's a big strong guy like these guys are, you're just going to get yards after contact. That's all there is to it. They're getting them to the point where they get a little momentum going and ‑‑ sometimes all a blocker needs is a little bit of push from a back. When these guys come blasting in there, sometimes it opens up to where they get a big run, but sometimes it's nothing more than two yards after contact. Before you know it, it's third and short again.
It's a big deal to play very strong up front and try not to give much room to run because, if they get them started, they're definitely hard to slow down.
Q. With all the wins LSU has had this year ‑‑ you've seen Florida through the years when they were quite good, and Alabama last year and Auburn last year, I guess. Where do these guys stack up from your perspective that's sort of the history of college football you've seen? They've had some impressive wins through the year.
COACH RICHT: They have. I don't know, I think they're really not ‑‑ they're not trying to be fancy. They're just lining up and whipping you. They're saying we're going to be ‑‑ we're just going to physically line up and kick your tail. They're very, very strong up front on both sides of the ball. Their special teams are outstanding.
Fundamentally they're outstanding. They tackle so well. They block well. It's just really good fundamental football. And they've got enough skill players to make plays at the receiver position. The running backs are very, very physical, as we mentioned. Quarterback's very capable. Both of them are. Both played extremely well. So they've got a lot going for them.
Q. Hey, Coach, if you had to just like Cliff Notes it, both of these teams met twice in a three‑year stretch, and both of these programs actually took a little dip in the last two or three years. What would you say if you had to pinpoint just the reason for the slippage and the chief reason for the turnaround this year?
COACH RICHT: You were saying LSU slipped?
Q. No, but I mean just focusing on your program. If you had to pinpoint ‑‑ I know you could go on for a hour, but like a Cliff Notes version.
COACH RICHT: I don't know, just ‑‑ we didn't win the close games, that's for sure. That's a big part of it.
Q. What about this year? What would you say the chief factor in turning that around has been?
COACH RICHT: I think just taking care of business in the off‑season, getting bigger, stronger, faster. Getting better at what we do defensively. Offense. I think our offensive line, even though we didn't have a lot of depth this year, they stayed healthy and got better. I think we were a team that certainly needed to improve throughout the year. I think we have improved. I don't know to what level that we're at right now, but we're a lot better than we started this year.
Q. Mark, not only you've heard all year that the West is kind of stronger this year with Alabama and LSU, of course. How important is the challenge to not only represent Georgia well in this game but try to stand up maybe for the SEC a little bit to get maybe a little respect back when it's kind of a down year for the East.
COACH RICHT: I don't know how big of a motivational factor that will be for us. We're just trying to take care of business on a weekly basis, and like I said before, just try to get better every week. Just try to do the things that it takes to win. Play in such a way that it gives us a chance. Even something as simple as the turnover ratio has just been such a big deal. In our ten wins, we've not lost a turnover battle in all those games.
Again, I think ‑‑ I know LSU's ahead of us in that category. I think they're plus 19. We're plus 10 or something like that. They might lead the nation in that category. When you win that category, you've got a lot better chance of winning.
So we're just going to be working on a daily basis to get better and try to compete extremely well and get after them and see what happens. I don't think we're trying to prove anything for the east or anything else. We just want to play a good ball game.
Q. Mark, when you're going up against a secondary like LSU's, do you try to simplify the passing game? Or at this point, is it just work with their game plan and just kind of make it easier on Aaron or anything?
COACH RICHT: I think, if you change too much, you're just going to probably cause more confusion than anything else. I'm sure we'll have a wrinkle here and there, but we'll just try to continue to do what we've been doing all year long. Most of the route concepts and protections ‑‑ you know, just everything, the reads and all. I don't want to change anything. I've played quarterback, and I've coached quarterback forever. I think the worst thing you can do is change ‑‑ just too much change is not good.
Also, I don't think it's good for the quarterback, but I don't think it's good for anybody else. We're in this game for a reason, because we've done some things well enough to get here, and I don't want to make too many changes.
Q. Also, Isaiah Crowell, do you expect him back? Has he done anything since the game?
COACH RICHT: I think he will practice tomorrow. Unless there's a setback, I think he will play in the game.
Q. Mark, when you look at LSU, obviously, they have a lot of kids from Louisiana. Have you all ever really tried to go in there and get some from over there? I guess my point is it seems very, very difficult to get guys from there.
COACH RICHT: You're not going to have much luck going to Louisiana and trying to get a great player out of there. It's just not going to happen. If it happens, it's not very often, and there may be something else going on where maybe the kid just moved to Louisiana maybe his junior, senior year something like that. If that kid grew up in Louisiana and he's a great one, it's going to be very difficult to get him out of there.
Q. Mark, I know you guys tried to get Jarvis Jones the first time. Now that he's gone through the whole season, what kind of impact has he had? Has he been even better his first year? I know he practiced with you last year. Has he been even better this year, his first year through the league, than you thought he might be?
COACH RICHT: I couldn't have predicted this much productivity as far as sacks and tackles for loss, but we knew we had a special player. We thought he was special out of high school, of course, and then after letting him ‑‑ having him practice with us most of the year ‑‑ he didn't practice all the year. I don't know when exactly he began practicing, but when he did, he started just getting to work on our scout team.
Shoot, the guy just ‑‑ you can tell he loves football. Every day he'd show up, and he'd have a good time, and he'd get after it, and he just had all this ability. We couldn't wait to get him out there. And he really ‑‑ I think he sincerely loves it here at Georgia. So thankful that he came back. California's a long way from home, man, and he missed home. When he wanted to come back, we were more than happy to accommodate him. We were thankful we had a scholarship available when that timing came about.
He's just ‑‑ he works hard every day. He loves football. He loves Georgia and his teammates and coaches, and he's really been a catalyst for us on defense and for the entire team, in my opinion.
Q. Hey, Mark, just wondering if you can compare ‑‑ does this team compare at all to '05? It seems the scenarios are similar. LSU is probably going to be a big favorite. Does that affect it much?
COACH RICHT: I don't know. I talked to the team about that earlier in the year that I thought that this team had the potential to be similar to the 2002 and 2005 and maybe the 2007 seasons. A team that, if we keep getting better and better as we go, that we might be a solid team, quite difficult to beat. I don't know if we've reached that or not. I really don't. I'm not as certain.
I think at this time of the season, those other years that you had mentioned, 2005, for example, I think I knew more about them than this one. I still don't know if on a consistent basis that we've put it all together. We've had a couple moments, some halves ‑‑ the Auburn game was a really solid game top to bottom. Even this last game was pretty solid, and that's been good.
I think we were a little bit more consistent in that regard in 2005.
Q. Mark, I wondered if ‑‑ not philosophically, but I guess they have a really good chance to go to the National Championship game whether they win or not on Saturday. Has that helped you guys going into this game?
COACH RICHT: I don't think so because I think ‑‑ I think that, if they knew 100 percent, maybe, but there's no ‑‑ I don't think it's going to be a factor at all, and I think that, when a team is as good as they are and are in the habit of winning, all they know is winning. They're not going to let that creep in there in their mindset, I wouldn't think.