September 25, 2010

Loss leaves Richt searching for answers

STARKVILLE, Miss. - Now what?

Georgia coach Mark Richt is asking that very question.

Unfortunately, as he sat in a sweat-drenched interview room following Saturday night's 24-12 loss to Mississippi State, any immediate answers unfortunately escaped him.

"We've got to look from within, starting with me as to the things that have kept us from having the success we want," Richt said. "That's what we're going to do."

It's not a pretty situation.

With Saturday's loss, the Bulldogs fall to 1-3 and 0-3 in the SEC for the first time since 1993.

"I'm definitely in a position I've never been in as a coach, or as a player that I can remember. It's certainly not a good place to be but we are where we are and we must do a really good job No. 1 of sticking together," Richt said. "We've got to stay together and I've seen no signs of change in that; we're also a close-knit family."

Still, there were certainly no smiles from the players involved. As the Bulldog players trudged from their lockerroom and down the hill outside the Leo Seal M. Club Building and onto their waiting busses before meandering through a waiting swarm of cowbell-waving Mississippi State fans still celebrating their team's 12-point win.

"All you can do is go back and look yourself in the mirror and see what you can do better," defensive end Demarcus Dobbs said. "There's nowhere to go but up from here."

This time, mistakes and penalties helped do the Bulldogs in.

Georgia, which rushed for just 113 yards, was penalized nine times for 63 yards, including a second-quarter holding call on Marlon Brown which negated 40-yard touchdown pass to Kris Durham.

A first-quarter fumble by Washaun Ealey inside the MSU 5 negated another score while an offsides penalty took away an interception by Vance Cuff which would have set Georgia up inside the 50-yard line.

Defensively, the Bulldogs allowed MSU to rush for 179 yards, including 97 from quarterback Chris Relf who also completed 8-of-13 passes for 135 yards and one touchdown, a 33-yarder to Arceto Clark.

The touchdown to Clark beat cornerback Branden Smith and preceded a 1-yard touchdown run by Vic Ballard with 3:15 to go to ice the game at 24-6.

Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray completed a 40-yard touchdown pass to Tavarres King in garbage time, but by that time the outcome had long been decided.

"We blew coverages, we had missed opportunities, we were undisciplined," Dobbs said. "We made some plays but because we were undisciplined … We simply made too many mistakes."

Murray finished with respectable numbers, completing 18-of-31 passes for 274 yards with no interceptions.

Considering their mistakes, Bulldogs were fortunate to go into the half trailing by just a 7-6 score.

After taking the opening kickoff, Mississippi State (2-2, 1-2) roared right down the field for the game's first score, a quick 4-play, 53-yard drive that Ballard culminated with a 13-yard touchdown run.

That was just the beginning.

Later in the first, Murray hit Ealey with a 21-yard gain down to the 3. But on a play that brought back memories of South Carolina, Ealey fumbled into the end zone giving MSU the ball at the 20.

A 25-yard field by Blair Walsh cut the lead to 7-3 and on MSU's ensuing possession, Todd Grantham's defense was able to force a quick three-and-out.

But alas, Georgia's bad luck would continue when Bacarri Rambo allowed Heath Hutchin's punt to glance off his leg with Chris Cameron recovering the ball.

For a moment, it appeared that Georgia would rue the miscue, but linebacker Darryl Gamble saved the Bulldogs when he intercepted running back LaDarius Perkins' throwback to Relf at the UGA 13.

A personal foul on Relf moved the football out to the 26 and 15 plays later Walsh drilled a 35-yard field goal to bring Georgia within 7-6.

It should have been more.

Facing a 2nd-and-10 at the MSU 40, Murray tossed the ball up to Durham, who weaved his way through a host of defenders for an apparent touchdown.

But hold on.

Brown was called for holding on the play. The Bulldogs were forced to go back to the 20, but only picked up three yards before calling on Walsh for the field goal with 1:21 in the second quarter.

"It's very frustrating," Durham said. "We shoot ourselves in the foot when we have great opportunities and Mississippi State capitalized on their opportunities and you have to give credit where credit is due. We just need to go back, look at ourselves and just continue to work hard and get ready for next week."

The Bulldogs led another opportunity slip through their fingers in the third when an offside call negated an interception by Cuff would have set UGA up inside the 50-yard line.

Georgia could have used the turnover as early in the fourth, kicker Sean Brauchle knocked down a 44-yard field goal to make the score 10-6 with 13:59 to go.

Georgia returns to action Saturday when the Bulldog travel to Boulder, Colo. to take on Colorado.

"I never would have predicted it," Richt said of his team's 1-3 start. "But that's where we're at."

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