An Interview With:
COACH Mark Richt
COACH MARK RICHT: Well, we are very excited and honored to be at this ballgame. It's one of the greatest games that there are in the country. I've been blessed to be at a lot of National Championship games during the time that I was at Florida State, and been able to be at this game I guess for the fifth time now. This game is unbelievable as far as the passion of it and the atmosphere and just what it means.
To win this league is a tremendous accomplishment. Just to get to this game is a tremendous accomplishment in our league. We don't take it lightly. We are very thrilled to be here.
COACH MARK RICHT: Well, that was the plan coming in. You know, definitely wanted to play for a National Championship and win it here at Georgia.
As you said it, hasn't happened yet and we do have that opportunity. And really, I guess this is as close as we have gotten to this point.
I just feel like, again, that this game itself, I think sometimes, I think this year especially maybe, every National Championship ‑‑ and we are, too, to a certain degree, but coming to Georgia, the thing I realized in a hurry a was, No. 1, how hard it was to win any game in this league and also how hard it is to win the league and how important it is to be able to win the league. I think our fans, everybody in this league understands what a big game this is and how important this is to be able to win a Southeastern Conference championship.
So I don't want to minimize the importance of the SEC Championship. But to know that the winner in all likelihood is going to play Notre Dame for the National Championship that, does add a lot more juice to the game I think and certainly our fans are excited about it. Our players are excited about it. We as coaches are, too.
But our goal has been to on a daily basis, stay in the moment, focus on today, focus on what can we do today to get better. Even throughout the year, our goal was to get back to Atlanta. We were here last year and didn't finish very well obviously so, we wanted to come back and have a better showing than we had a year ago.
So not only did we want to get back here, but we wanted to improve throughout the season, so when we got here, we would have a chance to play well. And I think we have been improving as the season has gone along and we have a lot of momentum right now. But you know, obviously Alabama does, as well.
But anyway, we are here, we are thankful and hopefully we'll play better than we did a year ago.
Q. How hard is it to being undefeated in this league and what kind of appreciation do you have for Notre Dame and maybe Ohio State?
COACH MARK RICHT: It's hard to be undefeated. Obviously there are not many teams that are undefeated, you mentioned the two, Notre Dame and Ohio State, and my hat is off to them.
Even going back to the time at Florida State, all those championship games, I think there was only one season we went undefeated out of all those years. And I think Coach Bowden after all those years only had one undefeated season. So I know how difficult it can be. And certainly in our league, it's tough.
We have had a lot of SEC champions that have had two losses, sometimes three losses going into the game. So it's very, very difficult to do.
But whether you're in this league or not, it's hard to get a team ready to go 12 times in a row and stay healthy and have everything just work out to where you can win them all. The way it's set up, in our league, especially you don't have to be undefeated to win the SEC and really, I think most National Champions have not been undefeated over the years.
When you lose one, you feel like ‑‑ it feels like death in some ways but you also know that mathematically ‑‑ for us, mathematically we knew we were still in it. We knew that South Carolina had to lose a couple of games but there were games to be played.
We never got to the point to where we had to change our goals, re‑set any of our goals. And the one unique thing about this year is when we lost to South Carolina, we lost control of our destiny. We had an open date, and the next week we played at night I think it was and by the time we kicked off, South Carolina had lost again.
So the very next game we played, we were already back in the driver's seat which is very rare, very unusual, which is miserable, going through that open date, but as it turned out by the time we played again, we were back in the driver's seat.
Q. You mentioned wanting to play better from a year ago; having a lot of players play in this game last year and getting a taste of it, will that be an advantage for this game?
COACH MARK RICHT: Well, I don't know if it will be an advantage over Alabama, but I think it's good to have guys that have experienced this before and know a little bit about what it is about and it's more about getting excited and coming out of the gate fast. It's going to take more than that. So hopefully that will help us.
Q. Wanted to ask you how the blitz may or may not affect the game from your offense's point of view. How good is Aaron Murray at reading a blitz pre‑snap and thinking ahead of it and hurting it before it hurts him?
COACH MARK RICHT: Well, there's a lot of ways to handle the blitz. Sometimes you may have some run game that you like versus the blitz if you can know what's coming and get everybody coordinated. So sometimes a check to the run might be the way to go.
But most of the times when you're throwing the football, you can protect with as many as eight guys sometimes if you want to; you can have seven‑man protection or six‑man, or just let your linemen handle it and free release all your backs. So if you are going to free release all your backs and all your five eligibles, then you better know who to get the ball to and get it to them in the hurry. Basically what people call hot bricks was you've got to get rid of the ball quickly.
I think Aaron understands that well and I think he understands how to slide his protection towards the blitz, and hopefully he can get a hat on everybody and be able to throw the ball down the field. Just depends on what kind of protection you have going into it.
But we do have a way of handling it with the run game and we have a way of running a seven‑man protection and a five‑man protection and even some six‑man protections will handle certain blitzes.
So I think the main thing for the quarterback is to understand, will this protection hold up against this blitz, and if it does I should be able to drop back and step up in the pocket and throw it. If it won't handle it, then I know I've got to get rid of the ball quickly and I've got to know which receiver to get it to. Aaron, he's as good as anybody I've coached doing that.
COACH MARK RICHT: Well, I think first of all, we were able to stay the course. We were able to know that we really were not that far away from having a good season. I think there's a lot of 6‑6 teams that could easily have been 9‑3, and there's probably a bunch of 10‑2 teams that could have been 7‑5. The margin of victory sometimes is not very big, and if you win your close games, you become champion. If you lose your close games, a lot of times you find yourself fighting just for a Bowl bid.
I'm thankful that our administration believed in us and gave us an opportunity to make sure that we could get back in it and could continue to fight. There were some things that we feet like we had to change and we do that, every year, whether you're winning or losing, you're always evaluating what you do on a year‑to‑year basis and try to decide what is the best course of action in the future.
But most of the principles that we use to get back in it were the ones we've been using all along and we just didn't lose faith. We didn't panic. We stayed the course and it worked out for us.
Q. After the loss, did something change or click with this team?
COACH MARK RICHT: Well, I think that when we lost to South Carolina, I can remember talking to the team afterwards, because you've always ‑‑ what am I going to say now, you just got beat badly, so what do you say to the team. The thing I said to the team is: The bad news is we got whipped pretty soundly. I said, the good news is, we got whipped together.
It was not a situation where the offense played good and the defense played bad or vice versa, or the special teams blew it, quote, unquote, or the coaching staff made a bunch of mistakes that cost the game. It was a little bit of everybody. We all had some ownership in that defeat.
So, all right, well we lost together, let's go back to work together; let's go back and win together; let's stay together; let's stay unified. So that helped a lot. And then, I'm not going to try to minimize Shawn Willilams' comment that went public about questioning the manhood of our team and in particular our defense, calling everybody soft. Sometimes those things happen in a closed door meeting, and he blurted it right out in front of the whole world to hear with our media.
And you know, when I heard it, I wasn't really that mad. I kind of grinned because I knew something was about to give here. And I think some of the guys got their feelings hurt and some guys got mad. But I think everybody understood that Shawn's heart was he wants us to play better. He wants us to win. He didn't come back to Georgia for his senior year for that type of performance, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
I do think that was a catalyst for the way we have been playing lately, and came to a moment of truth in the Florida came and that game was more about our manhood and whether it was we could beat Florida. And I was like, are we a physical bunch of guys or not; are we tough enough physically or are we soft, you know.
So that became the challenge and the war cry for that week, and as it turned out we played a very physical game and we ended up winning. We could have played just as physical and lost obviously, but there was the turnovers and all that in the middle of it. But I think that helped us get going defensively.
Q. Coaches are always preaching to get better. After reviewing the first game of Alabama and the last game, where have they improved offensively and defensively?
COACH MARK RICHT: Well, I'll be honest, I haven't watched the first game. I didn't watch the first game. We'll break down some film maybe about a five‑game break down. We are not going to watch every single ‑‑ we may watch, but we are not going to study it. Because what we want to do is find games of teams ‑‑ we want to watch teams that are very similar to us.
So like if I'm being an offensive coach and I want to study Alabama's defense, I want to study it versus a team that lines up the way we line up. If they line up in a different way, or like Michigan, very quarterback‑run oriented, well, we don't do that a lot, so that didn't give us a lot of value, so we didn't study that too much.
But I think Alabama, has certainly improved throughout the season. I think Alabama is very, very disciplined in the way they play the game of football on both sides of the ball and in their special teams. Very obvious that they are well‑coached and very obvious that they have been preparing well physically and mentally and it's obvious that they are one of the better teams in the nation. They have been proving it for quite some time now.
COACH MARK RICHT: Well, I do think Jarvis is one of the best football players in America, if not the very best. He did have a little bit of an injury issue and quite frankly the last two games we played, we played triple option football teams, very difficult to get a sack when they throw it five times a game and throw it kind of in a different way. It's hard to affect the game quite as much at the position he plays in those types of games.
So I think that probably hurt him a little bit. But Jarvis, I can tell you, is not worried about national awards. He would be honored to accept one, but he loves playing football, period, and he loves Georgia and he's just so excited about where we are right now.
He was the first guy who was draft‑eligible to last year say, I'm staying. He never even put his papers in with the NFL. He didn't even want to know. He said, I know I can improve as a player; I love Georgia; I'm enjoying my experience here and I want to do something big with these fellow seniors and upper classmen.
And so to me, he was one of the biggest reasons why the majority of our guys stayed. We had like 12 guys put their papers in the NFL and 11 of them came back and all of them on defense came back and Shawn Williams being one of them. I alluded to his comment about, hey, we didn't come back for this; where are we; let's go get 'em. But I think Jarvis's leadership has been unbelievable.
Just to brag about him a little bit more. We know he's a sack artist, and some guys that can get sacks are just speed rushers, they come around the edge and get their sacks that way. He can come around the edge, go up and under, he can bull‑rush a guy; he can play middle linebacker; he can draw up in coverage and get picks; he's stripping balls left and right, and he's recovering fumbles left and right.
When he gets a sack, a lot of times there's a fumble to go along with it because he's very conscious of how the quarterback is holding the ball and he's become just a very vocal leader for our team. I think it's a little bit unnatural for him. I think he likes to just lead by the way he plays but I believe he looked around and realized that guys do look up to him and he's a leader, whether he liked it or not.
So he began to become more of a vocal leader, as well, as the season went on. Just proud of him. He's a great kid, too. He kind of looks mean, but he's a very sweet‑spirited human being. He's a great guy.
Q. Do you think this team is mature enough to keep playing instead of start pressing?
COACH MARK RICHT: I hope so. You just never know how a game is going to start. You don't know. The bottom line is, I always tell them, if we start out 10‑0, so what? Because we know how fast that could evaporate.
If we start out behind 10‑0, we have to just keep our poise and keep playing the game. It is a 60‑minute game. We have to understand that. I think they do. But then when you begin to live it out, it's tougher sometimes. Obviously when we got down early against South Carolina, we didn't have any answers back then. So hopefully we've learned from that.
Q. Aaron has obviously struggled in some big games. Is that something you discuss with him? Do you leave it alone? How do you approach him mentally?
COACH MARK RICHT: No, we didn't talk about that. We just talk about, like the gentleman here was talking about, picking up the blitz, we are talking about the scheme, we are talking about the game plan, we are talking about what it's going to take to have the victory.
So the goal with Aaron is to just prepare him and he is trying to prepare himself in such a way that whatever comes up, he's able to handle it. It's just like ‑‑ I always liken it to a math test or something like that.
If you study and you know the material, you're going to walk into that math test confident that you're going to do well. If you didn't study, if you're not prepared, you're going to walk in there nervous. That's one thing about Aaron, is he prepares, so he'll be ready to play.
Q. You and Nick had very emotional responses to losses during the season; why should you two right now be considered the top two one‑loss teams with the winner moving on?
COACH MARK RICHT: Because that's where the BCS voted us. (Laughing).
I don't know, there's a formula and here we are. I'm just thankful that we are here.
Q. The last time you guys saw Alabama was the Blackout Game, they call it now. Can you take anything from that game and apply to this game or was it so far ago ‑‑
COACH MARK RICHT: Don't wear black jerseys. (Laughter) We're wearing red.
Q. Last season your receivers in the game against LSU managed to drop a couple of balls that could have put you out to a on a 17‑, 21‑point lead, and you had problems with that again this season. How are you going to try to minimize that ‑‑ against a team like Alabama that is going to punish you?
COACH MARK RICHT: They are going to punish us? They are going to try to, anyway. Well, there will be some punishing hits on both sides of the ball, I can promise you that. You know what, you have to make the plays when they present themselves and that's all there is to it and when you don't, you don't score, or you have to kick a field goal.
There's no doubt that there were some situations a year ago in the first half that we could have capitalized on some opportunities that we didn't. Would it have been enough of a margin? I don't know. Would we have enough of a lead to be able to handle some of the adversity early on in the second half? I don't know. But these guys are human and they are trying their best. They want to catch the ball. They want to make the play.
So I've got faith in them, I'll say that. I've got faith in them.
Q. Murray and McCarron are the top two passers in the country. Does McCarron in a lot of ways remind you of Murray?
COACH MARK RICHT: Well, they are very similar in styles. First of all, offensively, both teams have a very strong running game. Both teams try to have a lot of balance. I know Alabama's yardage number is amazing. Their balance, their rushing offensive yards, their passing offensive yards is almost identical after an entire season.
So both guys are very good at getting their team in the right play in the run game and the run game helps their play‑action pass ability. And both of them have proved that they can spread the field out and make full‑field reads and be very accurate passers.
I mean, you're not going to be No. 1 and No. 2 in the country in pass efficiency unless you're really good at what you're doing, because you know, today, so many teams throw the ball so well; it's hard to be No. 1 and No. 2 in those categories.
So those guys, not only are they great leaders, but they are just very good at what they do.
Q. Would you vote the winner of this game No. 1?
COACH MARK RICHT: Winner of this game, would I vote them No. 1? No, I'll vote Notre Dame No. 1. I vote the winner No. 2.
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