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October 13, 2005

Richt on the airwaves

Georgia coach Mark Richt said on Wednesday that he is changing the way the team practices to some degree as we near the midpoint of the 2005 season. This morning on ESPN2's Cold Pizza he was asked questions about the Tennessee game, the play of D.J. Shockley, and the most over talked about topic in college football, a playoff system.

"I am not in favor of a playoff for college football," said Richt. "I think that college football is the greatest sport for fans because the regular season is so exciting."

Richt has shared his views on this topic many times over the past few years and they have never changed.

"Every game means so much," he continued. "I think that if you get into a playoff system that some of the regular season games might not mean as much. You might be able to handle a loss or two and still be able to get into the playoffs, and I do not think that the [regular season] games would be as exciting and meaningful as they are today."

Earlier in the program, Richt was asked another question he has been fielding a lot lately, how he stayed so cool on the sideline during the Bulldogs' 27-14 win over Tennessee last Saturday in Knoxville.

"I think better when I am calm, I try to stay calm, and I tend to do better when I am not quite so excited," said Richt.

With the showdown for the SEC Eastern Division lead looming this Saturday in Nashville, Richt is not taking any chances in getting any of his players banged up this week in practice.

"We are having our normal week of practice now that we are off our open date," Richt said on the SEC Coaches Teleconference. "We have decided not to tackle anybody all the way to the ground, and we are probably done doing that because of the time of the year.

Richt went on to say that the team may have full contact during the bye week in early November, but, due to being close to the midway point of the season, they will try and avoid injury in practice.

"Overall I think that the guys are working really hard, they were excited about the win, but they know there is a lot of work yet to be done," said Richt.

At 5-0, the Bulldogs have two relative lightweights on the schedule the next two weeks before traveling to Jacksonville and the World's Largest Cocktail Party on October 29th. If things go right for Richt and company in the next two weeks, the Dawgs will be virtually assured a ticket to the SEC Championship Game with a win over the Gators. As good as things look, Richt isn't punching his ticket to the Georgia Dome just yet.

"I think that winning is contagious, and winning helps the attitude of everybody's self belief, but if there is a false sense of security there and you run into a brick wall, you start thinking you are a little bit better than you are, and it could come crashing down in a hurry," said Richt. "You have to have a realistic view of what you have accomplished."

A large part of UGA's success this season has come not only on the arm and legs of Shockley, but what is going on between his ears. He has answered the questions and concerns of the off-season and whether or not he was ready to take over the team have been answered.

"I knew that he was a great man of character and a guy that was very patient and loyal to this team," said Richt of his fifth-year senior and first year starter. "He is a guy that earned the respect of his teammates without ever having a start, and that is hard to do. Usually you have to be productive on the field before the team will look to you as their leader, but because of the way D.J. handled all the time that he had to wait, and everybody knowing how talented he was, they gained a huge amount of respect for him."

Richt has spoken many times in the past about how the win in Knoxville in 2001 was a milestone in the success of his tenure in Athens. The last minute drive to win, the Hobnail Boot call from Larry Munson, and the coming out party for David Greene. As bad as things looked after that 62 yard screen pass from Casey Clausen to Travis Stephens for the score looked with 44 ticks remaining on the clock, the Dawgs came back to win. There was a similar situation for Shockley in last Saturday's game when Tennessee seemed to take momentum of the game with an interception that was returned to the UGA 1 yard line. The Vols scored and the teams headed into the 4th quarter with the Dawgs on top 13-7.

"I think that when things got tough in the middle of the ballgame, we had started out well with a 13 point lead, which is not a real good lead especially when you throw an interception for a touchdown," said Richt. "There is a chance to start pointing figures, a chance to start panicking, but that did not happen. D.J. Shockley did a beautiful job of staying calm under the adverse situation and the team responded to him."

On the ensuing Georgia drive, Richt called another play action pass for the first play and it resulted in a 30 completion to Kenneth Harris.

"He is the kind of player that knows he made a mistake and he is not going to get down on himself," said fullback Brannan Southerland. "He is out leader, and that is exactly what we needed and that is exactly what he did. He led us. We went right back out there the very next drive and he threw a 30 yard strike to Kenneth Harris. The crowd was really on us when we had the ball on the 10 yard line, but when he threw that ball to Harris, the crowd just went flat."

Now that the first five games are behind the team, the last thing Richt wants is for them to let up, to "overlook opponents" as they say. Something he is sure will not happen this week against Vanderbilt.

"I think that the main thing is that we have to prepare for it well, and I think to the point that we have," said Richt. "Emotions only last so long, and I think that the habits that you create during practice are what is going to carry you once that game settles down."

The Dawgs practice this afternoon for their final time before heading to Nashville on Friday.

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