Streaking Georgia closes in on SEC East title
When Mark Richt’s coaching future looked bleakest, he relied on
his religious faith to carry him through.
Meanwhile, his Georgia players took care of business on the
The No. 14 Bulldogs have won seven in a row, their longest
streak within a season since 2002. The surge has carried Georgia to
the brink of the Southeastern Conference championship game and
calmed all the talk between the hedges – at least for now – about
an imminent coaching change.
”We’ve had dreams and aspirations ever since January to make it
to Atlanta for the SEC championship game,” said quarterback Aaron
Murray, who is closing in on the school record for touchdown passes
in a season. ”Right now, we have that opportunity. We’re
definitely stoked about that.”
Georgia (7-2, 5-1 SEC) can clinch its first division title in
six years with wins Saturday over No. 24 Auburn and the following
week against Kentucky – quite a comeback from the first losing
record of Richt’s 11-year coaching tenure and an 0-2 start to this
When the Bulldogs seemed headed for more disappointment, the
heat on Richt nearly boiled over. Everywhere his players went, they
heard talk that a coaching change was coming, that their leader was
out of touch and could no longer compete with the SEC’s other
They turned the criticism into a rallying cry.
”We always want to play for coach Richt,” tight end Aron White
said. ”This past year, the way everybody was so hard on him in the
offseason, and especially after we started off 0-2. Nobody wanted
to be that team that ended the Mark Richt era. That was not the
legacy we wanted to leave at all. We’re definitely playing our
hearts out for him this season, and he’s coaching his heart out for
Richt insists he never let the pressure get to him. While he’s
never been shy about his discussing his Christian faith, he went a
step further at his regular weekly news conference, actually
reciting a Bible verse that helped him cope with his
”I love the game of football. I love my job. I love Georgia.
But what I do is not who I am,” Richt said. ”I think sometimes if
we become what we do, and then things aren’t going just right, then
all of a sudden our entire world falls apart. I’ve got a faith in
my Lord and savior Jesus Christ, and I know that God loves me and
is going to take care of me. I just truly believe that. When all
the games are done and all the life is lived, I know where I’ll be
He said a passage in Colossians was especially helpful.
”Not to say I don’t care about what happens in this world,
because that’s not true,” Richt said. ”Colossians 3:23 says,
`Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as unto the Lord,’ so
that’s what I was doing on a daily basis. I was doing my job as
best I could and trying to do it for his glory and trying not to
worry about anything else. That’s kind of how I navigated that time
and there will be more tough times, I’m sure. That’s the way life
Of course, defending national champion Auburn (6-3, 4-2) would
love nothing more than to ruin things for its opponent in the Deep
South’s oldest rivalry.
The Tigers are out of the running for another title, but they
still have a shot at turning this into a pretty successful
rebuilding year in the post-Cam Newton era.
”We’re going into a tough SEC environment. The atmosphere’s
going to be electric,” coach Gene Chizik said. ”For them, a lot’s
at stake. For us, every week a lot’s at stake. We’re expected to
win every week, no matter who we’re playing or where we’re
There figures to be some lingering bitterness from last year’s
game, which featured plenty of chippy plays and a couple of injury
causing hits that knocked Murray out of the game. In all, 10
personal fouls were called, and two Auburn players wound up with
suspensions after throwing punches.
”Unfortunately some things happened last year that I wish
didn’t,” Chizik said. ”We’re always trying to do things the right
way. I don’t expect there to be any issues at all.”
Murray insists that he’s moved on.
”Obviously, there were some big hits,” he said, managing a
chuckle. ”But you’re going to get that in an SEC game. I play a
position where people want to take my head off. I understand that.
You’ve just got to suck it up, take the hits, get back up and
With star receiver A.J. Green now playing in the pros, Georgia
has relied on a much more diversified offense. Murray has connected
with nine receivers on 23 touchdown passes, leaving him just two
shy of the school record held by Matthew Stafford, who went on to
be the top pick in the NFL draft.
The Georgia offense will be bolstered by the return of freshman
running back Isaiah Crowell, who was suspended from last week’s
rout of New Mexico State after reportedly failing a drug test. He
apologized for his mistake and vowed it wouldn’t happen again.
With Newton joining Green and Stafford in the NFL, Auburn hasn’t
been nearly as dynamic on offense. The Tigers rank in the bottom
half of the league in scoring, total yards and passing yards.
They’ve also been through a quarterback change, with Clint Moseley
taking over for Barrett Trotter.
Other than an upset win over South Carolina, Auburn has
struggled on the road. The last trip away from Jordan-Hare Stadium
produced a 45-10 loss to No. 1 LSU. The Tigers earlier had a
two-touchdown defeat at Clemson and a 38-14 blowout at
”We can’t implode like we did on the road the last time we
went, and that is self-destruct with turnovers and big plays given
up defensively,” Chizik said.
While Georgia is riding high at the moment, a loss to Auburn
could quickly spark renewed speculation about Richt’s future.
”You go week to week in this business,” said former Georgia
coach Vince Dooley. ”That’s the way things are. It will always be
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