TAMPA, Fla. - Mark Richt pondered the question carefully - of all the concerns he had when the calendar flipped over to 2011, what issue worried him the most?
Did his Bulldogs actually succeed?
The answer was yes, although as Richt explained, his biggest worry had nothing to do with Xs and Os, or even personnel - it had to do with whether or not his team would buy into the changes that were about to be thrust upon them following a forgettable 2010 campaign.
"People use the term team chemistry, team unity, whatever you want to call it," Richt explained before practice Saturday at the University of Tampa. "There is energy in guys working together - they call it synergy - when a group of people start working together for the same common goal, buying into all the things that it takes to be successful, so you never know from year to year how a team will do that."
Richt conceded there were some on the team who were not particularly thrilled.
But as the 18th-ranked Bulldogs (10-3) prepare for Monday's Outback Bowl against 12th-ranked Michigan State (10-3), the fact was the majority were willing to accept the forthcoming change. Richt said that ability helped pave the way to the success that led to the team's SEC East title.
"I had a pretty good feeling that our guys would buy in," Richt said. "I know early in January there were some guys who were not quite there and there was some fallout as you well know, but the guys who stayed I was pretty confident they were going to buy into doing it the Georgia way and I felt that would breed success."
That theory was obviously tested early after the Bulldogs dropped their first two games, but after winning 10 straight, culminating with a trip to Atlanta for the SEC Championship, Richt feels the culture in Athens is back to where it was before the program's recent slide.
"I got some good indicators from the future seniors, the guys I know that will be leaders in the future who said 'Coach, I really like the way the season went as far as the approach everybody took, the coaches, players, everybody and we want to keep it going,'" Richt said. "So I'm encouraged they think what we did was good and we're building a culture that I think is going to be really good for the future."
Murray - LeMay making strides
Quarterback Aaron Murray had some kind words for his understudy, freshman Christian LeMay.
"He's doing unbelievable. I've talked with Coach (Mike) Bobo the last couple of weeks and we're like 'wow, he's made some huge strides.' Not only with his knowledge, but his footwork and comfort level," Murray said Saturday. "Early on in the season he would go out there and just try to throw it as hard as he could. He was over-striding and his footwork was always off, but now that footwork is better, he's making accurate throws and the ball is coming out better."
LeMay is expected to battle Hutson Mason for the backup job this spring, although he could receive an early promotion should Mason decide to transfer after the bowl.
"Coach Bobo tells him (LeMay) he's got a strong enough arm and doesn't need to throw it 100 mph, so when he relaxes and throws it naturally the ball just flies out of his hands," Murray said. "It starts with his footwork; he trusts his footwork more and he's gotten a lot better."
Dawgs wrap up bowl preparations
Saturday's practice was the last one for Georgia before taking the field Monday at Raymond James Stadium.
"I think we've been getting ready. It's still a couple of days before the game, but I think we're as ready as we can be," Richt said. "We're ready for this dress rehearsal, which is our last practice and our last chance to solidify what we're going to do. We prepared well back home and they prepared well here. I think they're ready."
Monday's matchup will be the third all-time between the Bulldogs and Spartans with Georgia holding a 2-0 edge.
"I've been very pleased this week. We've had great practices and morale has been good," Richt said. "The Outback Bowl has been very good about having some events for the guys to do and they've enjoyed those, but not make it so busy where you wear them slap out, enable them to get some rest and maybe do some things that they want to do and that's true for the coaching staff, too."
This and That
Richt said he has not talked to any of the Bulldogs' draft-eligible players since they turned their papers in to the NFL Advisory board. "I just told them the goal should be to get as much positive, historical data as possible and make sure it's coming from a good source, then get with your family and decide what you want to do," Richt said.
According to Murray, the Bulldogs will have an 11 p.m. curfew tonight although Richt said he probably wouldn't be up to watch countdown to midnight anyway. "I'll probably be asleep before the ball comes down," he said. "I'm worried about the game; I'm not worried about who kisses who at midnight."