ATHENS — These are not the type of questions a major-college football team wants to face in November:
Who’s your quarterback this week? Will you score a touchdown for the first time in three games? Is your coach going to get fired? How many seats will be empty in the generally sold-out stadium?
But those are the type of questions that surround Georgia’s football team going into Saturday’s game against Kentucky at Sanford Stadium.
The Georgia program and its fan base arrive at the next-to-last home game of the season in a state of tumult.
Last week’s ugly loss to Florida — Georgia’s third loss in four games in October — ended the Bulldogs’ hopes of winning the SEC East and stirred calls for coach Mark Richt’s exit. Things have gotten no better in the intervening week amid reports of dissension and dysfunction in the program. By Thursday, Richt took to Twitter to shoot down Internet speculation that defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt was gone.
It’s doubtful, or at least debatable, whether anything that happens in November will repair much of the damage done to the Bulldogs in October. But the season continues, regardless, with four regular-season games remaining for Georgia.
“Obviously, we’re all disappointed,” tight end Jeb Blazevich said. “We’re still searching for answers.”
“I was dreaming of Atlanta,” said linebacker Jake Ganus, referring to the site of the SEC Championship game. “I think a lot of these other guys were, too. Obviously, we can’t get there now. But I think there’s still a lot left on the table.”
The four opponents left on Georgia’s schedule — Kentucky, Auburn, Georgia Southern and Georgia Tech — have a combined record of 17-16. Kentucky’s defense could be a short-term salve for Georgia’s beleaguered offense, or vice versa.
Kentucky (4-4, 2-4 SEC) has allowed 30, 42 and 52 points in its past three games, all losses. Georgia (5-3, 3-3) has scored nine and three points in its past two games and has gone eight consecutive quarters without scoring a touchdown.
When Georgia and Kentucky played a year ago, the Bulldogs scored 63 points. By contrast, Georgia scored 53 points in four games last month, an average of 13.25 per game.
Bulldog Nation entered October excited about a team that was undefeated, ranked No. 8 nationally and preparing for a long-anticipated home game against Alabama. But Bulldog Nation is in a very different place entering the first November game — disenchanted about losing to Alabama and Florida by a cumulative score of 65-13 and about blowing a 21-point lead in a 38-31 loss at Tennessee.
“People have opinions, and when things don’t go well I don’t blame people for getting mad or upset or whatever,” Richt said. “But I do want everybody in the Bulldog Nation to support our players. I think that’s the most important thing.”
Richt’s future — and Pruitt’s and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer’s — undoubtedly will be the talk of the pregame tailgates.
Georgia’s players insist they have something else on their minds: the game against Kentucky, which has an all-time record of 4-26-2 in Athens.
“You have two options,” wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell said. “You either choose to move in a way that allows for positivity, or you can look at negative things. My choice is to not look at the negatives.
“I’ve heard it twice since I’ve been here,” Mitchell said, referring to the fire-Richt talk. “The 2011 season, we lost the first two games and people were saying the same thing. Now 2015, and they’re saying the same. I’m not sure I’m interested in that conversation.”
It’s hard to ignore, though.
“I try to avoid it, to not listen to it,” linebacker Jordan Jenkins said. “It’s definitely something I think about every now and then.
”If we don’t finish strong, one of the coaches might be fired. It might be a clean sweep, like some other schools are doing. I feel like that’s something that’s detrimental to the program because when you fire a whole staff, you fire a coach, it just sets back everything that was set in motion. I’ve always thought badly about staff that did that and fans who wanted that.”
Another question: Can a season that has gone very wrong get any worse?
Answer: Lose to Kentucky, a 14-point underdog, and sure it can.