November 6, 2011

Destiny in their hands

One might have thought there would have been a lot of celebrating in the Mark Richt household late Saturday night after Arkansas dispatched South Carolina to put the Bulldogs in the driver's seat for the SEC East crown.

But apparently, that wasn't the case.

"I haven't talked to the players yet, this is their day off, and I didn't get a lot of text messages from the guys, but I know they understand what's at stake and the fact we are in a better position now in that we do control our destiny," Richt said during Sunday's weekly teleconference with reporters. "We've been fighting like mad to do that ever since South Carolina beat us, but the thing that's got us this far is to just try to take care of business and that's got to be our focus, for every man to do his job."

For the Bulldogs (7-2, 5-1), the mission is simple.

Beat Auburn (6-3, 4-2) on Saturday (3:30 p.m., CBS) and Kentucky next week and Georgia will head to the Georgia Dome for the SEC Championship game.

Richt issued a challenge when asked about the focus of his team.

"That starts tomorrow. Don't wait until Saturday. From every man on the scout team to every special teamers … everybody, coaches … we've got to focus," Richt said. "Focus on the process and we feel like good things will happen if we do."

Richt did say he watched the Razorback-Gamecock contest at home, before checking out the ending of Saturday night's big game between LSU and Alabama.

"My wife (Katharyn) and I were just sitting side by side on the couch, it was just us and I think we both were kind of tired," Richt said. "We were awake and we were interested, we were excited no doubt, but we didn't jump up and down or anything. But we were happy, no doubt."

With Saturday's 63-16 trouncing of New Mexico State, the Bulldogs jumped up to No. 14 in the AP and No. 16 in the USA Today/Coaches Top 25 football polls.

Richt also said he expects running backs Isaiah Crowell, Carlton Thomas and Ken Malcome to return with a new sense of purpose after serving their one-game suspension.

"I think they'll be very thankful to play. All last week you guys saw just a taste of it, they did a lot of extra work, they did a lot of extra work early in the morning and they did a lot of extra work during practice, pulling sleds, sprinting and probably lifting more weights," Richt said. "In some sense they'll be in better condition and even more ready to play because they missed an opportunity. I don't think you'll see them take anything for granted and I think you'll see them try to play even harder this weekend to make up for what they've done."

Richt said that Crowell would take the snaps with the first team during Monday's practice.

As for Brandon Harton, who led the Bulldogs with 98 yards against NMSU, Richt didn't rule out using the redshirt sophomore more in the future.

"I would think he would be no worse than No.3," Richt said. "We'll just play it out this week, practice hard and then see where we stand. Both Branden Smith and Brandon Boykin also looked good and I'm sure we will have ways to get them the ball, too."

Richt also expects to have freshman receiver Malcolm Mitchell back in the fold.

Mitchell has missed the past three games since injuring his hamstring against Tennessee, but the freshman is expected to be back on the practice field come Monday afternoon.

"(Monday) is a very light practice, but I think he'll be practicing at the tempo we go. We don't go at breakneck speed, tomorrow," Richt said. "Tuesday is more of a competition day, we'll have our two-on-two drill where he pulled a muscle last time, our one-on-one routes, 11-on-11 stuff and we may or may not let him go in those. I'm just guessing, but we'll probably just let him do the scout team work. It's competitive, but it's not full speed. By Wednesday we'll see how he's doing and we may let him go full speed that day and compete in some of the 11-on-11s, one-on-ones, but pass skeleton, I don't know if we'll do that or not."

Anthony Dasher is the managing editor for UGASports
and he can be reached via email at [email protected]