ATHENS, Ga. — Mark Richt says his upbeat message to his Georgia players at the team’s lowest point of the season came to him quickly because it was “very heartfelt.”
Richt said Tuesday he told his players after a Sept. 10 loss to South Carolina he was more convinced than ever they could be a special team, even when the 0-2 start left little reason for optimism.
“I go back to the locker room after the game and I basically said, ‘Men, just don’t put your heads down,’” Richt said. “’Don’t lose heart. We’ve got a chance to be good team.’”
Richt’s players responded with a dramatic recovery. No. 13 Georgia has won eight consecutive games and can clinch a spot in the Southeastern Conference championship game by beating Kentucky on Saturday.
The turnaround is redemption for Richt, who began the season on the hot seat. He said he didn’t want his players to worry about his future, especially after the 0-2 start.
Richt said he told his players “Don’t focus on anything swirling around – good or bad. Just do your job.
“So I kind of have been in that mindset and I’m still in that mindset right now. I’m not sitting here saying that there’s been any moment in time that I’ve had some kind of weight lifted. I’m just trying to finish the drill. I’m trying to do my job.”
Georgia (8-2 overall, 6-1 SEC) is trying to advance to its fourth SEC championship game in Richt’s 11 years. Georgia ended a 20-year drought by winning the SEC championship in 2002 before losing in the 2003 title game and then winning another championship in 2005.
This team’s path to the brink of SEC championship game is notable. Georgia has wins over Tennessee, Florida and Auburn in the same season for the first time since 1981. It has won six consecutive conference games for the first time since 1982 and eight in a row overall for the first time since 2002.
The 45-42 loss to South Carolina was devastating for the Bulldogs, but Richt said he saw a Georgia team that could have won if it not for three turnovers.
Richt said he told his team “we have the right stuff.”
Added Richt: “Now, what are we going to do with it? Are we going to keep grinding and keep believing, or are we going to fall apart and start feeling sorry for ourselves and start pointing fingers?”