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Richt Talks SEC Race, Defense, Gurley’s Status, Turnovers in Weekly Teleconference

Todd Gurley and Jonathan Rumph

Photo: Rob Saye/BI

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Georgia coach Mark Richt, in his weekly teleconference Sunday, says the race to Atlanta among SEC East Division teams is basically “anybody’s ball game.”

That’s because when the Florida Gators went down to LSU Saturday in Baton Rouge, everyone in the division except for unbeaten Missouri is now saddled with at least one defeat. And the Tigers have lost starting quarterback James Franklin for the rest of the regular season with a shoulder separation sustained in the win over the Bulldogs and still have Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ole Miss and Texas A&M all left to play.

“There’s no doubt there’s still a long way to go,” said Richt. “I’m not going to get much into that with the guys but the best thing to do right now is obviously get ready to play Vanderbilt and try to get a victory in there. It’s been tough to be able to do that, especially the last time we were there. It was quite a game (33-28 UGA win) if you remember and we were very fortunate to get out of there with a win. So we have to try and take care of that business and then with the open week we can probably see how the dust is settling prior to the Florida game. But the biggest thing we can do to help ourselves is to get ready this week.”

In other subjects Richt touched on Sunday night:

On not much rotation in the secondary in Saturday’s game:

That Brendan Langley has been doing a good job for the team but that Shaq Wiggins has also done very well in practice and as fans saw in the loss to Missouri, Wiggins is playing very well and that with Josh Harvey-Clemons doing well in the “Star” position, the Bulldogs had two safeties and two corners in most of the game. They didn’t really have many three-corner sets and that’s the reason Langley didn’t see the field much.

On possibly making some starting changes on the Bulldogs’ struggling defensive unit:

The defensive players are always competing and the coaching staff is always making determinations to get the right people in there. “But we have to be careful not to change too many because then we don’t have any continuity at all,” Richt said. “We’re not in position where we’re going to make wholesale changes right now.”

On the playing status of Todd Gurley, Tray Matthews and Jonathon Rumph this week:

That junior college wide receiver transfer Jonathon Rumph is the only player that Richt feels comfortable about practicing Monday. That he’s still not sure about tailback Gurley and safety Matthews but later added: “We want a healthy Todd Gurley. We want him to be at his best because we don’t want another setback. When he looks healthy and feels healthy, he will be in there. And I will say this, he’s close, real close.”

On why sophomore cornerback Sheldon Dawson hasn’t got playing time in the secondary after making plays in spring practice and preseason camp:

That Georgia actually had a plan to get Dawson in Saturday’s game when the Tigers entered the red zone, to help cover Missouri’s tall receivers, but with the Tigers striking for a number of long distance touchdowns, that plan didn’t materialize. “But he’s practicing, getting better and is certainly helping us on special teams,” said Richt.

On teams’ injuries to key players deciding who will represent the two SEC divisions in the conference title game in December:

“No, I think it will come down to who can handle adversity the best, who can bite, scratch and figure out a way,” Richt said.

On what he thinks of the 3-3 Vanderbilt Commodores: Richt said he has seen them only on tape in their loss to Missouri.

It’s hard to say. That was the only game that got away from them. The others they either won or were real close. I have to look at the film to learn more about them.”

On whether the staff will use the motivation of the last two years’ game against Vanderbilt (coaches Franklin-Grantham feud in 2011, Bulldogs’ 48-3 redemptive win last season, etc.) in preparing for the Commodores this week:

“We’ll motivate them any way we can,” said Richt. “But mainly we just want to get better blocking, tackling, securing the ball, get turnovers but any way we can figure out something to get these guys ready, we’ll do it.”

On the four costly turnovers in Saturday’s defeat and the Bulldogs’ inability to force the same from the opponent:

“If you don’t win the turnover ratio, it’s very difficult to win the game. We have to continue working hard on securing the ball and making good defensive decisions and force turnovers. We’ll keep working and teaching on that.”

On whether Georgia’s defensive backs are getting closer to forcing some turnovers:

Right now Richt said the players are little by little getting more capable but rather than attempting to strip the ball and so forth they are simply just trying to make plays on the ball, get lined up right, knock the pass down and get the guy with the ball on the ground. Do that and the turnovers will eventually come.

On the offensive line’s up-and-down performances this season:

“We definitely struggled in protection (against Missouri), blocking those ends. They came hard with bull rushes and no doubt we struggled on the edge in pass protection,” he said. “Now, running the ball, I thought we did pretty good and maybe should have done it a little more. But when you get 18 points down, it causes you to throw it more than you normally would.”