Monday, October 29, 2007
Richt's motivational gamble pays off for Georgia
By Mark Schlabach
Tacky or tactically brilliant?
When Georgia coach Mark Richt ordered his Bulldogs to celebrate after scoring their first touchdown against Florida on Saturday, he didn't realize his entire team would run onto the playing field at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium.
After watching his team mostly go through the motions during the first seven games of the season, Richt ordered his players to celebrate until officials threw penalty flags. If the Bulldogs didn't, Richt told them, he would "run every one of them at 5:45 a.m."
"That thing, it became a bigger mess than I expected it to be," Richt said Sunday, a day after the Bulldogs upset Florida 42-30. "We have spent a few games playing at a very high level and a few at a low level when it comes to the emotion it takes to win the big game."
The Bulldogs had played mostly at a very low level against Florida for much of the past two decades, losing 15 of the previous 17 meetings in the game formerly known as the "World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party." Richt had lost five of his previous six meetings against Florida, the only victory coming against a Ron Zook-coached team in 2004.
|Georgia's first-quarter storming of the field
provided the proper motivation in a 42-30 rout of Florida, and all it cost Bulldogs coach Mark Richt was an apology.|
There were few reasons to believe Georgia would end Florida's dominance this season. The Bulldogs were coming off a 20-17 victory at Vanderbilt on Oct. 13, a game in which they needed a late Commodores fumble and senior Brandon Coutu's 37-yard field goal on the last play to escape with a win.
Richt knew he had to invigorate his team, even if meant using an artificial tactic.
"I didn't want to live through that again," Richt said. "I told them, 'We are going to liven it up and create some excitement.'"
Richt didn't know how excited his team would get. After the Gators lost a fumble on their first possession, Georgia ran the football nine consecutive times, with redshirt freshman Knowshon Moreno scoring on a 1-yard run to put the Bulldogs ahead, 7-0. Georgia's bench quickly cleared, with nearly 70 players celebrating in the end zone.
"I was envisioning the guys on the field that were on offense to go celebrate until the official threw the flag," Richt said. "I didn't tell the whole team to run off the sideline and go celebrate. I said I wanted it to be a team celebration. I didn't really expect the whole mass to run off the sideline. But when they started running, I was like, 'I guess that is what they heard me say.'
"The entire team took off and I was like, 'Oh boy.'"
Richt insists he wasn't trying to show up the Gators.
"People who know me well enough know that I wasn't trying to disrespect anybody," Richt said.
But Richt realized he was opening himself to criticism. After all, if the Bulldogs had lost the game, they would have looked pretty silly for their not-so-impromptu celebration.
"That's OK," Richt said. "I was willing to take that risk. I have been through too many games where there is not enough emotion. We had to make sure we created it. If it cost us, it cost us. At least we were going to play with a lot of heart and a lot of energy."
Bulldogs quarterback Matthew Stafford, who threw for 217 yards and three touchdowns in the game, said Richt's surprising command meant even more to the team because the coach is normally so reserved. Two weeks earlier at Vanderbilt, Richt ordered his team off the field as the Bulldogs started to jump on the Vanderbilt logo at midfield.
"I was kind of caught off guard, especially coming from him," Stafford said. "He's such a low-key guy and tries to do things a certain way most of the time. I think coach Richt wanted to let us loose and see what happened. I think he showed a lot of trust in us and showed he believed we could go out and win the game."
Depending on fans' allegiances, Georgia's mosh pit celebration might go down as one of the greatest motivational ploys in recent college football history, or at least one of the most unique.
Legendary Notre Dame coach Knute Rockne's plea to go "win one for the Gipper" is perhaps the most famous motivational speech in sports history. Against Army in 1928, Rockne told the Fighting Irish to win the game for George Gipp, the greatest player in Notre Dame history. According to legend, Gipp asked Rockne from his deathbed to one day inspire his team by invoking his memory.
Nearly a half-century later, Notre Dame coach Dan Devine had his players change into green jerseys shortly before they played USC in 1977. Before the game, the Notre Dame student body wheeled a homemade Trojan horse onto the field to symbolize the historic fall of Troy. The Fighting Irish won the game 49-19 and wore green jerseys the rest of the season. They beat No. 1 Texas 38-10 in the Cotton Bowl to win the national championship.
College football coaches have gone to even greater extremes to rally their teams. Prior to a 38-14 upset of Texas in 1978, Baylor coach Grant Teaff ate a live earthworm in the locker room as a motivational tactic.
Before Mississippi State played the Longhorns in 1992, Bulldogs coach Jackie Sherrill had a bull castrated in front of his team. Sherrill said the castration was done more for educational purposes than motivation.
"The whole story came when I asked our players what a steer was and none of them knew what a steer was," Sherrill told reporters after his Bulldogs upset the Longhorns 28-10 on Sept. 5, 1992. "Is that a bull, or is he a steer?"
Sherrill was on the wrong end of a motivational ploy five years later. Before Georgia played Mississippi State in 1997, then-Georgia coach Jim Donnan drove a steamroller into practice.
"I told our team we were either going to be the steamroller or the pavement," said Donnan, now a college football analyst for ESPN. "They were doing some road work by our practice fields, and I asked the guy if I could borrow his steamroller."
Georgia rolled. Mississippi State was flattened. Georgia won the game 47-0 and finished 10-2 in Donnan's second season.
Now that Georgia is back in the SEC East race this season, Richt hopes he doesn't have to go back to the motivational well anytime soon.
"Everybody did seem to think that it jacked the boys up more than they've seen in a long, long time and it might have been a factor in helping us win the game," Richt said. "I'm just glad it's over with. I doubt that will happen anytime soon, not by us anyway."
On (and Off) the Mark
On the Mark
Clock-eating tailbacks. Texas' Jamaal Charles (33 carries for 290 yards and three touchdowns in a 28-25 win at Nebraska, including 216 yards in the fourth quarter). Tulane's Matt Forte (44 attempts for 278 yards and two touchdowns in a 28-27 loss to Memphis, his fourth straight 200-yard game). Washington State's Dwight Tardy (214 yards and two touchdowns in a 27-7 win over UCLA). Houston's Anthony Alridge (27 carries for 204 yards in a 34-31 victory over UTEP). Georgia's Knowshon Moreno (188 yards, three touchdowns in a 42-30 upset of Florida). Ohio's Kalvin McRae (200 yards, three touchdowns in 38-27 win over Bowling Green). Clemson's James Davis (129 yards, one touchdown in 30-17 win at Maryland). Oregon's Jonathan Stewart (103 yards, two touchdowns in 24-17 win over USC). Connecticut's Andre Dixon (167 yards on 32 carries in 22-15 win over South Florida). New Mexico's Rodney Ferguson (146 yards, two touchdowns in 34-31 win over Air Force). Iowa's Albert Young (179 yards, two touchdowns in 34-27 win over Michigan State). Illinois' Rashard Mendenhall (189 yards, two touchdowns in 28-17 win over Ball State). Colorado's Hugh Charles (121 yards, one score in 31-26 victory over Texas Tech). Utah's Darrell Mack (151 yards on 20 carries in 27-3 win over Colorado State). Kansas' Brandon McAnderson (183 yards, two touchdowns in 19-11 win at Texas A&M). Purdue's Jaycen Taylor (157 yards, two touchdowns in 35-17 win over Northwestern). Ohio State's Chris Wells (133 yards in 37-17 win at Penn State). Central Florida's Kevin Smith (175 yards, two touchdowns in 34-17 victory at Southern Miss).
|Texas running back Jamaal Charles exploded in a big way during the fourth quarter against Nebraska.|
Off the Mark
We've long touted the coaching ability of Navy's Paul Johnson, who has led the Midshipmen to a school-record four consecutive bowl games and dominated service academy football by winning the Commander-In-Chief's Trophy four straight seasons.
Johnson's recent track record is what makes the Midshipmen's 59-52 loss to Division I-AA Delaware even more surprising. The Blue Hens scored on nine of their first 11 possessions. Delaware quarterback Joe Flacco completed 30 of 41 passes for 434 yards and four touchdowns.
Navy, which needs two more victories to become eligible for a fifth straight bowl game, has allowed 40 points or more in three consecutive games and has surrendered 305 points in eight games.
"We tried everything I know of [to stop Delaware]," Johnson told reporters after the game. "We have to get better at what we have."
The good news for Johnson? Notre Dame is up next on the schedule. The Fighting Irish, who have won 43 consecutive games against Navy, the longest winning streak against one team in NCAA history, have scored 80 points in eight games this season.
On the Mark
Replacement players. Michigan's Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown combined to run for 289 yards and three touchdowns in place of senior Mike Hart in a 34-10 win over Minnesota. Boise State's D.J. Harper and Jeremy Avery had 277 rushing yards and four touchdowns after replacing Ian Johnson in a 34-21 victory at Fresno State on Friday night. Arizona State's Keegan Herring and Dimitri Nance ran 45 times for 181 yards and three touchdowns in a 31-20 win over Cal, the Sun Devils' first game without Ryan Torain, who is out with a broken foot.
|Brandon Minor ran for 157 yards and one touchdown for Michigan.|
Off the Mark
SMU's Phil Bennett became the first coach fired after the Mustangs lost 29-23 at Tulsa on Saturday, eliminating them from bowl consideration. Bennett has an 18-48 record in his sixth season at SMU.
Pink slips might be coming soon for these coaches whose teams lost again on Saturday: Nebraska's Bill Callahan, Texas A&M's Dennis Franchione, Duke's Ted Roof, Baylor's Guy Morriss and Colorado State's Sonny Lubick. Washington's Tyrone Willingham, Syracuse's Greg Robinson, Marshall's Mark Snyder, Arkansas' Houston Nutt, UNLV's Mike Sanford, Mississippi's Ed Orgeron ,Washington State's Bill Doba and Arizona's Mike Stoops remain in trouble.
On the Mark
Defensive difference makers. Mississippi State defensive end Avery Hannibal had three tackles for loss and two sacks in a 31-14 upset at Kentucky. Georgia defensive end Marcus Howard had two of the Bulldogs' six sacks in a 42-30 upset of Florida. Cornerback Terrence Wheatley had three of Colorado's four interceptions in a 31-26 win at Texas Tech; Jordon Dizon returned the other one 42 yards for a touchdown. Oregon free safety Matthew Harper had two red zone interceptions, the second coming with only nine seconds to go in the Ducks' 24-17 win over USC. Kansas linebacker James Holt had 10 tackles in the win at Texas A&M. West Virginia linebackers Reed Williams and Mortty Ivy combined for 23 tackles in a 31-3 win at Rutgers. Oregon safety Patrick Chung had 13 tackles against the Trojans. Ohio State linebacker Marcus Freeman had 14 tackles, two tackles for loss and one forced fumble at Penn State. Nittany Lions linebacker Dan Connor had 18 tackles, one tackle for loss and one interception in the loss to the Buckeyes. Michigan linebacker Shawn Crable had seven tackles, 2½ tackles for loss and two sacks against Minnesota.
|Georgia's Marcus Howard was one of many to get a hit on Florida QB Tim Tebow.|
Off the Mark
Urban Meyer used his high-octane spread offense to guide Utah to an unbeaten record and BCS bowl game in 2004, then won a BCS National Championship in only his second season at Florida last year.
But nine games into Meyer's third season at Florida, the Gators have an inexcusable flaw: They can't even line up and hand the football to a tailback. It was painfully obvious in Saturday's loss to Georgia that Gators quarterback Tim Tebow is hurt. He rarely ran against the Bulldogs because of an injured right (nonthrowing) shoulder and was sacked six times.
Meyer made his own bed. Tebow ran 138 times in eight games and even the super sophomore can't absorb the hits he's taken along the way. The Gators haven't developed a tailback whom Meyer and offensive coordinator Dan Mullen trust, so Tebow and the team's speedy receivers are the only options in the running game.
Junior tailback Kestahn Moore is mistake-prone and worked his way back into Meyer's doghouse by fumbling twice against the Bulldogs. The situation is so bad the Gators were reduced to running a reverse on fourth-and-2 at the Bulldogs' 25 late in the game. The Bulldogs snuffed it out and Stafford threw a 53-yard touchdown to Mikey Henderson two plays later to put the game away.
"I'd like to be able to hand the football to the tailback and we have to get that corrected," Meyer said. "I don't know what the answer is."
On the Mark
West Virginia quarterback Pat White (156 rushing yards and one touchdown, 144 passing yards in win at Rutgers). Arizona quarterback Willie Tuitama (510 passing yards, five touchdowns, including three in the fourth quarter of a 48-41 win over Washington). Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan's comeback. Iowa's comeback. Arizona's comeback. Buffalo's 4-1 start in MAC play. Bulls coach Turner Gill's stock in Lincoln, Neb. Mississippi State coach Sylvester Croom's big win. Marshall's first win. North Carolina State receiver Donald Bowens (11 catches, 202 yards and two touchdowns in 29-24 upset of Virginia). Hawaii receiver Ryan Grice-Mullen (13 catches, 195 yards, three touchdowns in 50-13 win over New Mexico State). Hawaii quarterback Colt Brennan (29-for-46 passing for 425 yards and six touchdowns against New Mexico State). Tennessee kicker Daniel Lincoln's big field goals. Toledo quarterback Aaron Opelt (22-for-28 passing, 387 yards and four touchdowns in 70-21 win over Northern Illinois). Arizona receiver Mike Thomas (10 catches for 165 yards and three touchdowns versus Washington). Michigan receiver Mario Manningham (five catches for 162 yards and one touchdown against Minnesota). The Saban Bowl. Vanderbilt receiver Earl Bennett's SEC-record 209th career reception. Washington quarterback Jake Locker (336 passing yards, 157 rushing in loss to Arizona). Portland State quarterback Drew Hubel (nine touchdowns in first college start -- a 73-68 loss to Weber State). Texas Tech receiver Michael Crabtree's NCAA freshman records (100 receptions, 18 touchdown catches, 1,451 receiving yards). Miracle finish for Division III Trinity (Texas).
|West Virginia quarterback Pat White did a little of everything, as usual, against Rutgers.|
Off the Mark
Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell's four interceptions. Kentucky quarterback Andre' Woodson's three interceptions. Prevent defense at Virginia Tech. Michigan State's collapse. Kentucky's "off week," a week too soon. UCLA. Florida International's 20th consecutive loss. Minnesota. California's three-game losing streak.
Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.