Strength in fourth key for Bulldogs

Photo by Christine Troyke

Photo by Christine Troyke

MACON -- Will change come to Georgia's football program?

The kind of change that's full of resurrection, and a throwback to the past -- a blast back to the future.

If it comes, Mark Richt knows when and where he will see it.

"In the fourth quarter,'' said Richt, who was on hand Tuesday at the Peach State Pigskin Preview at the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame.

That's where Richt will be pointing his finger this season. How do you go from 6-7 -- the worst blemish on Georgia's record in the Richt era -- back to national prominence?

"Simply put, we've got to win the close games,'' Richt said. "There are going to be close games every season, and the teams that win the close games they have become champions, historically. The years we have won the close games we have either won it or been right in it.''

The key is playing better down the stretch.

"There's a lot of things,'' Richt said. "We did a lot better on turnovers and penalties, but still there were crucial times we had turnovers that killed us and at crucial times we had penalties that changed the momentum of some of those games. And making a play, (we need to be) making a play in the fourth quarter.

"It's not very complicated,'' he said. "You have to do the little things. You have to compete to the end. You have to be in the type of condition to play as good or better in the fourth quarter as you did in the first.''

Georgia's downfall was during the final quarter a year ago. The Bulldogs beat opponents in each of the first three quarters all year, but were outscored, 92-68, in the fourth quarter -- and 3-0 in their only overtime game, a tough loss to Florida.

Richt's players want a change in mentality. No one wants to go through another 2010 season.

"Last year it was mental lapses,'' said senior linebacker and GAC grad Christian Robinson on Tuesday. "In some of the games we didn't show up when we needed to. That's not the coach's fault. People will talk about the coaches and all of that, but it's what we do on the field that counts. If we don't do what we're supposed to do it's our fault.''

Robinson said it's a new world at Georgia this season.

"The difference this year is we are holding every guy accountable,'' he said. "We're doing it ourselves. We're pushing each other. We have the mindset whether we are lifting weights or running or whatever we are doing to make sure everyone is accountable. The players are going to hear from other players.

"That's the mindset we have,'' he said. "We have to change the culture. We have to have a winning culture, and we are definitely going to be on each other. We want to be a player driven team instead of a coach driven team.''

That change in attitude started right after Georgia's 10-6 loss to Central Florida in the Liberty Bowl.

"When we are the bus after the bowl game we were talking about what we needed to, talking and texting each other about what we had to do,'' Robinson said. "That was the first realization. It was like, 'Man, we don't want to be back here again and go through this again next year. We have to change this.'''

Some of that mentality has already changed.

"I think you can sense that attitude,'' Richt said. "The rubber meets the road this summer. It's the time of year where they have to motivate each other. Workouts are not mandatory. The highest accountability in the summer is from one teammate to another. They've got to watch each other and be accountable to each other. I think it's the greatest time of the year to watch that thing grow.''

Richt knows that added push can't hurt, especially in a program that needs to make a statement after suffering its first losing season since 1996.

"It's good. It's healthy,'' Richt said. "I've always said if you have a player driven team you've got a chance to be good. If you have a coach driven team you can only go so far.''

Richt knows what the standard is at Georgia better than anyone, and he has put his name on the standard, winning 96 games since arriving in 2001, including four 10-win seasons in a row from 2002 through 2005.

"We want to be great,'' he said of this year's team. "Our expectations are to be great. Everybody has a lot of passion about it and cares about what's going to happen. We know it's an important season, but we look at all of them the same way.''

"I know I've been hired to do a job the very best I can,'' Richt said. "I've never thought any differently. Nothing has changed.''

There is so much hype surrounding Georgia's recruiting class -- a class that Richt has called "The Dream Team,'' it is sure to add even more pressure to this year's season. However, Richt takes that pressure along with the rest of it.

"Doesn't everybody expect us to win every year? Does it really matter,'' Richt said with a smile. "I don't think it does. If you said you had a good class or not the expectations are about the same. I know they're freshmen, and I know they have a long way to go. But you know what, they believe they're pretty good. We'll let life teach them a lesson if they need it. I want them to come in with the expectation of making an impact.''