Rousing Richt

One SEC football coach came away with some fire after getting the hell beat out of him in Knoxville.

That would be Georgia's Mark Richt. Following a 35-14 butt-kicking by Tennessee last Oct. 6, Richt decided to ratchet up his team's intensity by ratcheting up his own intensity. The result was seven consecutive wins, a No. 2 ranking in the final Associated Press poll and recognition as the team to beat in many preseason polls for 2008.

And he owes it all to getting embarrassed at Neyland Stadium ...

"After getting beat so bad by Tennessee, without much emotion, I was taking inventory of that game," Richt recalled at the recent SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala. "I was kind of wondering what went wrong. As I looked around, I was seeing that everybody was kind of waiting on someone else to do something – coaches and players. I was getting kind of mad at them until I looked in the mirror and realized that they were just basically reflecting me. I was sitting there watching, waiting for somebody to do something, too."

Realizing that his team played with minimal emotion in the loss at Knoxville, Richt figured decisive action was needed.

"I said, 'Something's got to change,'" he recalled, "and I knew it had to start with me. And then it did kind of catch fire, you know."

The change didn't happen overnight, however. One week after the beat-down in Knoxville, the Bulldogs were still somewhat listless in a 20-17 win at Vanderbilt. Following an open date, however, Richt's troops found their fire ... in Jacksonville, Fla. Ironically, the move that fanned the flame more accident than incident.

Prior to facing defending national champ Florida on Oct. 27, Richt preached the need for more enthusiasm, telling his players that, "Even if we've got to fake it, we're going to have more energy."

Richt decided to "fake it" by ordering his players to celebrate their first touchdown so animatedly that they would incur a 15-yard penalty. What transpired was not exactly what the coach had in mind, however.

As Richt recalled: "Now I'm thinking in my little pea brain, 11 guys in the game ... we score a touchdown ...11 guys jump up and down and celebrate until the official throws the flag. That's my intention of what I had said."

Something was lost in translation, however. When Georgia scored its first TD against Florida, the 54 players on the sidelines joined the 11 celebrating on the field. By the time officials cleared the end zone, the Dawgs had incurred two 15-yard penalties for excessive celebration.

"I was in shock as much as anybody else," recalled Richt, who insists to this day that he envisioned only the 11 players in the game celebrating that initial score.

If the ensuing melee was an accident, it proved to be a beneficial accident. What began as a choreographed show of fake energy turned into something very real.

"When I saw the exuberance, when I saw the energy, when I saw the passion and the fire get unleashed that had been dormant in this football team, I got excited," Richt said. "I was fired up."

So were his Bulldogs. Spurred by that incident, they whipped Florida 42-30, giving Richt just his second victory in seven tries against the hated Gators.

Although that end-zone melee in Jacksonville proved to be the defining moment of a turnaround that started three weeks earlier in Knoxville, Richt now says the incident represented a tactical error on his part.

"In hindsight, I shouldn't have done it," he said. "I won't do anything like that again. It could have easily turned into a big stupid brawl and everything else."

It didn't turn into a big, stupid brawl, though. It turned into a seven-game winning streak whose momentum might carry Georgia to the '08 national title.

And it all started with a Dawg-whuppin' in Knoxville.

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