ATHENS — Georgia safety Dominick Sanders gave a direct answer to a direct question: What is there to play for now that a championship is off the table.
“Team. Coaches,” Sanders said.
When you say coaches –
“Yeah,” Sanders said, nodding, not needing the question to be finished.
The heat on head coach Mark Richt is at a peak now, with Georgia falling to 5-3, eliminated from SEC East contention, two of the losses coming in lopsided and embarrassing fashion. National and local media members are calling for Richt’s 15-year tenure to end.
Does Sanders feel like the team is playing for Richt?
“Everybody,” Sanders said. “Every single coach on this staff. I give my all for them.”
The Butts-Mehre athletic complex has a literal bubble over it, and a figurative one as well. But the players are aware of the growing noise around the program, and Richt’s future. Senior left tackle John Theus said he tries to stay away from the “negativity” on social media, though granted that some of it seeps through.
“We’re playing for each other, we’re playing for our coaches, we’re playing for our fans,” Theus said. “It hasn’t changed.”
Sanders and Theus were the only two players made available to the media after Monday’s practice. Neither player said there was a grand message in the team’s weekly meeting. Richt, speaking later on his radio show, said the team discussed the 2006 and 2011 seasons, when the team overcame tough times, and the need to “fight together.”
Theus said the main message was “control what we can control,” and that the season’s not over.
“Sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes people get lose when you get in situations like this,” Theus said. “But coach Richt addressed the team and kind of told them what we have to work for. We definitely still have some goals, and I have faith in the guys to work towards it.”
The major problem right now is Georgia’s offense, which has failed to score a touchdown in two straight games. The quarterback situation remains up in the air, the offensive line has struggled, and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer is facing just as much heat as Richt, if not more.
If there are any more planned tweaks to the offense, Theus wasn’t saying. As for the offensive line, where Richt said personnel changes were being considered, Theus deferred any questions on that to Richt and offensie line coach Rob Sale. (Though the fact Theus was allowed to speak to the media indicates his job is at least safe.)
Georgia is a 16-point favorite over Kentucky on Monday, a number that seems pretty large considering the Bulldogs have combined for 12 points the past two games.
“I think I’m optimistic about what we can do,” Theus said of the offense as a whole. “The athletes we have. The players we have. The coaches we have. We know what we can do in the remaining games that we have. It’s up to us to come to work every day and put us in the best position. Take the gameplan and execute it.”
Sanders didn’t want to speak directly to the criticism directed Richt’s way. If a change is made at the top it’s likely to trickle down to all coaches. That’s not something Sanders said he wants.
“It’s a pleasure having these coaches as a coach. They’re all great coaches,” said Sanders, a sophomore. “I would love to have them my four years here.”