ATHENS – Georgia’s SEC title hopes are dead. The offense is nearly as dead. There are rumblings of dissension among Mark Richt’s assistants and Richt’s own job status appears more tenuous than since he first stepped foot on campus 15 years ago.
It’s Kentucky week. Who knew there would be so much interest?
“Alright. Here we go. Kentucky Wildcats. Coach Stoops is really doing a fine job there, putting together some really good recruiting classes . . .”
And … blah, blah, blah.
Richt opened his weekly news conference Tuesday like any other, dryly going through the depth chart and statistical analysis of the opponent, no doubt realizing nobody really cared who Kentucky’s leading tackler was. (Josh Forrest, a converted wide receiver, has 66, should that come up in a sports bar debate.)
But Richt momentarily delayed what he knew was coming: questions about his future, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, the cohesion of his coaching staff and who’s starting at quarterback (lather, rinse, repeat).
He gave pat answers on the subject of media criticism (“It’s the nature of the business; it’s the nature of leadership.”), on what he tells players (“Ignore the noise.”), on upset fans (“I’ve always wanted to be at a school where people care.”
He went all Knute Rockne on us.
“Here’s the deal, everybody,” Richt said, in a seemingly rehearsed response following an early question about potential changes given offensive failings. “You all can pay attention to this. We’re Georgia. We’re a team. We work together. We’re gonna fight. We’re gonna fight together …”
I’m not sure the monotone pep talk was the way to go here. But if Richt’s intent was to deflect and not really answer the question, he had few options.
It’s a tough week. Get ready because there will be more before the Liberty Bowl conference call.
Georgia can’t lose to Florida 27-3, and Alabama 38-10, and Tennessee by any score in a span of four weeks – with a 9-6 snorefest over Missouri sandwiched in between – without the roof catching on fire at the Butts-Mehre building.
Richt stomped on red embers at every turn Tuesday, but he can’t change the narrative. Only results do that, and the truth is even wins over the remaining four opponents isn’t likely to convert skeptics. Kentucky and Auburn are a combined 3-8 in the SEC; Georgia Tech is 1-5 in the ACC and 3-6 overall; Georgia Southern is Sun Belt fodder. I’m not sure what going 4-0 in that stretch would prove.
Richt can’t fix every problem at Georgia the rest of this season. But it would help if he could fix what he knows best, and that’s the offense. That means taking over play-calling.
The Dogs rank 10th in the SEC in scoring in conference-only games, 11th in passing offense and 10th in total offense. As reminder, there are only 14 teams and one of them is Vanderbilt.
In the last two games against Missouri and Florida, Georgia failed to score a touchdown. This wasn’t lost on wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell, who was asked to describe the team’s offensive problems in the last two weeks.
“Scoreless,” he said.
No reason to waste words on the obvious.
There is no nice way to put this: The Schottenheimer hire has been a disaster. He hasn’t made any of Georgia’s quarterbacks (Greyson Lambert, Brice Ramsey, Faton Bauta) better or given opposing defenses reason to pause with his play-calling. The Dogs might have lost to Florida regardless, but there’s no logical explanation for starting Bauta, the “running” quarterback among the trio, but not utilizing a package of plays that would exploit that.
It’s a coaching staff’s job to squeeze out the most production possible from the talent available. Four field goals in the last eight quarters screams that Schottenheimer hasn’t done that.
That’s why Richt needs to step in. He played quarterback in high school and college. He coached the position and was the offensive coordinator at Florida State. He called plays as the head coach at Georgia from 2001 through most of the 2006 season, until former offensive coordinator Mike Bobo took over in the final regular season game against Georgia Tech game.
Richt gave short answers to two questions.
Have you had any recent conversations with athletic director Greg McGarity or president Jere Morehead regarding what’s going on in the program, your coaching staff or your personal situation?
At any point have you considered taking over play-calling duties?
“No. We’re going to be fine.”
That’s generally a safe response Kentucky week. But given the past four weeks, nothing seems certain these days at Georgia. Maybe the head coach should take something into his own hands.