Although many in the Bulldog Nation will argue otherwise, Georgia coach Mark Richt said Tuesday he doesn't sense any emotional letdown or feeling of doom from his team despite starting the season 0-2 heading into Saturday's non-conference contest against Coastal Carolina (1 p.m.).
"Right now, no. We spent time with them yesterday, we had our meetings and we had our practice," Richt said. "There's not a cloud hanging over us. There might be perceptionaly but as far as what I'm seeing in our staff meetings, what I'm seeing as we prepare day and night as a staff, what I'm seeing with these guys, their belief in each other and what they're doing, they know."
Richt points to last Saturday's 45-42 loss to South Carolina as an example.
Although Georgia fell to 0-2 with its first SEC defeat, Richt Tuesday re-stated what he said right after the game, that despite the three-point loss, his team showed significant improvement from the opener against Boise State.
Of course, the Bulldogs did themselves no favor with four critical mistakes, including two (a Pick-6 and a fumble) by quarterback Aaron Murray that directly resulted in Gamecock touchdowns.
Another fumble by Isaiah Crowell and a fake punt for a touchdown proved crucial as well, mistakes defensive end Abry Jones said put a big damper on what was otherwise a solid overall effort against the defending SEC East champs.
"Moral victories don't do much for us because we all want Ws," Jones said. "But it does bring a little comfort. It's always good to see you improve, even though we didn't get the win. At least we can we are improving instead of getting worse."
That seemed to be the message Richt tried to get across to a skeptical media contingent during his weekly pregame press conference when the question was posed what his season goals were and if they have changed.
"Win the Eastern Division and win the SEC. Is it attainable? Oh yes, you kidding me? When was the last time the Eastern Division had an undefeated team? I don't know, but it's been a long time. That's our goal. That hasn't changed one bit," Richt said. "Let's face it. Could the game Saturday have gone either way? I think it's pretty obvious it could have. We improved tremendously in a lot of areas, there's no doubt about that. I left the field sick about losing but encouraged about the team, encouraged about so many things that are important to winning."
Richt said he's also encouraged by the way many of his players are vesting into what's going on.
"I'll mention this again, we had veterans trying to get on the special teams. They're taking rookies and saying get out, I'm in. Shawn Williams took a rookie out of there and he had a knockout block that sprung (Brandon) Boykin for the longest return of the day," Richt said. "We had guys I knew that were banged up, but they were saying "I'm not coming out.' We had some really horrible things to swing momentum and we came back to take the lead a couple of times after those things."
As for those perceptions, Richt said had Georgia beaten the Gamecocks, they would be completely different than what they are now.
"If the game went the other way then Georgia is the front-runner in the East and everybody's thinking about all the positive possibilities. The difference between winning and losing is that big of a difference in where we are," he said. "I don't think there is. We're going to keep improving and after this week we have a four-game stretch before an open date with some SEC foes. We'll just battle them out and see where we're at."
Crowell set to start
A heal injury to Richard Samuel has Crowell primed to start receiving even more reps than he has in the Bulldogs' first two games.
"I saw more of urgency on his part even in yesterday's practice. He seems excited about what the future holds. Right now we do have him slated as the starter for this week," Richt said. "His production as a runner is a big part of it certainly, but Richard (Samuel) is also kind of hobbled. Now that he's in that role, a lot of guys will get an even greater sense of urgency in their preparation. I think he is a very special back."
According to Richt, Samuel has what is being described as a heel contusion. His status for Saturday is unclear.
If Samuel is unable to play, junior Carlton Thomas will go into the contest as the No. 2 back.
Richt not ready to rule on Rome yet
Richt said he's not ready say whether or not freshman tight end Jay Rome will redshirt, although he certainly appears to be headed that way.
"Not yet, but I mean let's face it he is sitting behind a pretty strong core of tight ends right now. That in itself is going to be tough on him. I guess it's of similar to Michael Bennett," Richt said. "Him and Michael are a lot of like in my opinion as far as I though Michael was mature enough to play SEC football a year ago, but with the guys we had at receiver and how much he would have actually got to play we felt like it was in his best interest not to."
Physically, Richt said Rome is capable of playing right now.
" I think Jay is a guy that is mature enough to play Southeastern Conference football, but he's also sitting in a spot where it's going to be tough to him enough reps to really justify it," he said. "It's still relatively early and you don't have to make any decisions yet, but that's kind of where he is right now."
This and that
Richt said his Bulldogs need to start winning games before he worries about giving any of his freshmen offensive linemen playing time.
The Bulldogs won't make a final decision as to who will start at middle linebacker in place of the injured Christian Robinson, although it appears freshman Amarlo Herrera (Moe) and junior Mike Gilliard (Mike) will get the respective nods.
Anthony Dasher is the managing editor for UGASports
and he can be reached via email at [email protected]